BOY-MAN-BLOKE TO LOST-WOMAN-LOVER: 'YOU'RE WELCOME TO STAY TO WATCH THE FOOTBALL' - REVIEW OF '27' A GENERATION FACEBOOK NOVEL
How do you judge a book?BOY-MAN-BLOKE TO LOST-WOMAN-LOVER: 'YOU'RE WELCOME TO STAY TO WATCH THE FOOTBALL' - REVIEW OF '27' A GENERATION FACEBOOK NOVEL
How do you judge a book?
Perhaps our feelings and responses to how a story ends are a reliable guide.
Most writers hurl grappling hooks into our eyes and swarm into us with their treasured creations in their opening graphs. But how many times have you read a book with a great opening, but never got to the end, or got to the end with a sense of relief?
I was at the 98% mark according to my kindle, on a train heading through London. Such was my focus on reading those last 2% I swear to you I almost missed my stop and ended up hurtling to Gatwick airport. As I only had a few more minutes of reading left this would have been a double disaster as I would have been stuck on the train for an hour with nothing to read. As it was, I barged off the train through a crowd of people getting on and finished reding '27' as I walked down the platform towards the tube, again bumping into the odd person, including one who was also reading her kindle on the hoof.
This is the best of signs for '27' because it means I was engaged, committed and there for the author, just as I was when I started reading. So the book is a success.
So what is it about? Six university friends get together again when they are 27 and a sequence of events flows from their reunion because relationship issues remain active and aspects of their characters have become underscored with time.
Most readers will probably recognise something of themselves and their own university friends in the six characters. So, too, most readers will be familiar with how Facebook and TV provide backdrops to their own lives. All this is expertly captured in '27'.
The six face a host of normal problems. Problems caused by absent parents, expectant parents, romantic rivalries, disappointments in love and work, pressure, drink, choices, choices. All the issues are familiar and real.
The author puts her characters through the mill, too. I found myself liking laid-back Dave, then not liking him. I found myself wishing Katie would outdo Renee for a change. I was envious of self-made Steve when cupid scored what turns out to be a very dubious bullseye on him. I was impressed by how the author nails the deviousness of an alcoholic in his efforts to hide his little secret.
Yes, there were points in the story when I was chuckling happily at the way modern lives were satarised. I thought it was brilliant. The moral compass bearing of '27' is set firmly to LIFE'S A BITCH - DEAL WITH IT.
The six characters are not bad, none of them are evil. Yes, they all have their flaws. But they are OK. The most flawed character is arguably a highly compassionate care worker whose life was lived within such a narrow horizon as to make him derisibly dull.
I can't disclose the central plot theme which had my eyes going for it right to the end when my mind was screaching, 'Open the letter, Renee!' But I will say this: Dave the beta male pawn on the love board stands N O chance. But then a boy-man who says to a super-uber-mega distressed woman whose husband has just walked out on her and whom he has just had sex with, "You are welcome to stay and watch the football", is clearly destined for a shocking cumuppance.
So I enjoyed '27'. It is intelligent, amusing and moving contempoary read. The author won my curiosity and kept all her plates spinning, characterwise and storywise.
The best part of the story for me though was the outcome for an unpromising peripheral character, the social wallflower, Sam. Sam is not really one of the six. They can barely remember her. She is in the background of their photos, just as she is in the background of their memories. But.. It is the way she pursues a ridiculous dream of happiness against vicious odds and her excruciating social gaucheness that provides the setting for much of the story. I was extremely happy about how Sam ..
My lips are sealed. You will have to read '27' yourself to find out how the author lands her finely conceived story. The ending sets things up sweetly for about three more books, which I for one will happily read, as I want to know .. what .. happens .. next .. to Dave, Katie, Renee and daughter. 27...more
The book put it's arm round myWhen I got to the end of A Light in the Cane Fields I felt sad - sad that the read was over, that I'd finished the book.
The book put it's arm round my shoulder from the outset and made me its friend.
We can't stay with a book forever, but a book can stay in us forever. And A Light in the Cane Fields will always be in me from now on.
Because it is a moving story expertly and at times beautifully written.
Set in the Philippines during a violent time in the its history, the story is as much set in the heart and soul of the country as in its villages and mountains, drawing as it does on the country's historic struggles against the Spanish and then the Americans and the Japanese.
But perhaps the worst struggle of all is the civil war between the exploitative and politically-powerful rich and the repressed poor - a universal and timeless theme. Strongman Ferdinand Marcos presides over a state based on despotic nepotism.
Jando is a young boy who gets caught up in the mounting terror of the moment and whose life as the son of a small landowner is throw up in the air as revolutionary rebels battle it out with big landlords, local militia and bandits.
His story is that of all the millions of children whose innocence has been stripped from them.
A Light in the Cane Fields gives us an insight into Jando's place in his rural backwater, where life has a traditional feel to it, with everything and everyone is more or less in their place. Yes, there are stresses, but people seem to get along for the most part. There is a beauty in the setting, too, and the people are close to it.
But events are afoot and the story gradually gathers pace as everything is turned on its head during an escalating cycle of violence, blood and death.
There is great cruelty and great tenderness. Hatreds and friendships are deep and strong, as is the pervading sense of futility.
The second half of the book is a fast-paced series of increasingly violent events which produce some surprising shifts of loyalty as Jando, a bright and charming boy, finds a new family.
Above all, the story's boy soldiers are a tragic indictment of the way adults can foul things up, through selfishness and doctrine. On an individual level though, not all is lost, quite the opposite as you will see when you get to the end of Enrico Antiporda's compellingly woven story.
The language bossed my eye also. To quote a callous character about to watch a ritual crucifiction, 'This is the best part.' The author's prose paints some vivid characters, beautiful, if at times harsh, settings, with a natural poetry, zipping along like a dragonfly, its 'transparent wings throwing prisms in the sun.' Magical stuff.
Above all though, I got a sense of being from Jando, who likened the fragmenting of a guerilla band to the 'breaking up of a family', and whose dream was to be, 'living a normal life with a normal family.' A Light in the Cane Fields reminded me of two other great reads: Lord of the Flies because of the way humans tend to split into warring tribes; and Vasily Grossman's majestic Life and Fate because of this quote, which seemed to direct the reader's eye back into the lighter side of the human spirit, 'But I could not help myself. I felt so hopeful.'
Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina is a collection of deftly penned yarns and portraits of life in the Carolinas. Great wit runs through the collection and there are many passages of fine language. You will love the feral Mr.Bockers, a backgammon playing rooster, and will shake your head at the lengths the residents will go to escape the shadow of Shangri-La's chemical plant, and nod at the resilience of those who stay.
The final parts of this collection -- which bossed my curiosity from start to finish -- showcase some of the author's other stories. By the time I got to the last quarter of the book I was familiar with the author's skills and was won over. I was impressed by way she evolves some very different characters. In 10,000 NEW YEARS EVES two dispirate party girls ready themselves for a sudden jaunt to New York, while in LEAVING THE COMFORT CAFE a new boy in town finds himself stuck in a seemingly impossible job.
Welcome to Shangri-La, North Carolina is not a regular collection of short stories and as such was a bit baffling at first glance. But once I was into the author's style I was OK with that. The collection is a bit like Mr.Bockers. It does its own thang. Indeed, let me stress this. When I finished I found myself thinking, 'Hmm, which of these stories showcased here am I going to read next?' I want to know more about the girls' trip to the big apple and I want to know more about the newbie in town. I will definitely read at least one of these stories in time, and suspect I will end up reading them both.
Vic's Big Walk is an excellent read because of the author's motivation for writing his story and the inspirational nature of the achievment it chronicVic's Big Walk is an excellent read because of the author's motivation for writing his story and the inspirational nature of the achievment it chronicles, especially, but not exclusively, for anyone approaching their 60s or 70s. VBW is not overtly a self-help book as at no point does it promise to change the reader's life in some wonderful way. Yet this may actually be one of it's secret benefits for some readers because it shows how someone may set themselves an adventurous and difficult goal and then actually knuckle down to work out how to do it and then get on with the achieving of said goal with minimal fuss.
I could not walk some 30 kilometres a day for 70 days on the trot. Something would give, be it physical or mental. The more I got into the read the more I was astonished - a couple of black nails and one or two other wobbles apart - at the author's sheer resilience.
But Vic had a very strong motivation for his feat: charity. The onset of his 70th birthday seemed to become secondary to this more selfless motive. I am sure that Vic's singlemind dedermination to 'do something' for others must have given him great energy on the way.
While VBW chronicles the 70 days of the walk, it also reveals the depth of planning needed over a much longer time, and the indispensible help of Vic's wife Gay at every step. So while the book was about Vic's walk, it is very much the story of a well organised team getting it right. The intelligence and patience required are inspiring.
Vic says himself he did not have any great thoughts on his walk as he was too busy doing the actual walking. As one prone to wallow in sentiment and metaphysical specualtion, this pragmatic approach to a long-term task is very appealing. Vic set out to do something and did it. Simple enough you might say. But in this age of instant pleasures and absurd rush, we often lose sight of the value of taking our time over something worth doing
That said, as Vic's walk neared its conclusion VBW does offer some touching insights into the author's young life in less frantic times. How different we all were then. Life is materially richer for most of us now, but are we the happier for it? Vic the walker notices how fast we drive around, how difficult it is to get away from the sound of traffic, constant traffic in much of England.
And a thousand kilometers back -- the cuckoos of France, endless cuckoos. One of the joys of VBW is the often witty insights into Vic's surroundings. His quest for coffee and blueberry muffins was eternal. His musings on the physical advantage of trees to the walker, on the attitude of the French to their trees, on the vagaries of way often had me chuckling. So, too, his encounters with hostile dogs and coincidental meetings with people were always engaging as were his insights into French history, eepecially in the region in which he now lives.
I felt as if I was on a journey as I read VBW. Perhaps I was measuring myself against Vic, perhaps I was thinking, could I do that, how would I be in that situation. All of which is good. Vic may have strayed from his path a few kilometres here and there, but his moral and compass gave him a true bearing from start to finish from which he did not deviate.
I love history generally and have a taste for local history. So I was a natural reader for THE TUNNELS OF HERTFORD, especially as I do not live that fI love history generally and have a taste for local history. So I was a natural reader for THE TUNNELS OF HERTFORD, especially as I do not live that far away and have visited Hertford.
I found the essay interesting on several levels.
Firstly, it displays a detailed knowledge based on close research into and familiarity with a very historic English town that played an important role in our history. I appreciated the dedication to source materials and to getting things right.
Secondly, I enjoyed the forensic thrust of the essay and the way it showed how a journalist and a few people with axes to grind can whip up a media bandwaggon by applying the don't-let-the-facts-get-in-the-way-of-a-good-story principle. The Dan Brown story clearly takes this approach to the ultimate level. The local angle on the tunnels of Hertford is like a flea in coat of that very shaggy dog story. Yet the debunking is not done in a mean spirit. The essay merely examines the evidence, or lack of any evidence to substantiate the press story of Hertford's tunnels. It provides balance. This is vital. There must be scores of similar stories every year that go unquestioned and pass into local faction.
Thirdly, the essay stimulated a great curiosity in me about the actuality of the Knights Templar, their connection with Royston, and their repression. I will certainly be reading more about said knights thanks to reading this enjoyable critique of a local myth.