April – Days Without End

Having two weeks off in April is enough to make you wish that the days didn’t end, they did though, and back to work I went. while I was off I read the two books for this month, and a couple of others, this made me long for the summer, when I can really get my read on (hopefully in the garden, with a cool G&T in my hand).

Days without end – Sebastian Barry

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To begin with, I have to acknowledge that this is not a book that I would have chosen to read, I am not really a fan of historical fiction, nor do I enjoy books or films that involve war, but I gave it a chance. It is the 1850s, and Thomas has arrived in Missouri by way of Quebec, a journey that is revealed only in snippets that lightly inflect the novel, such as his brief explanation of the aptitude he and those like him show for soldiery.

Having teamed up with a boy named John Cole, he becomes a dancer, rigged out in women’s clothing to entertain miners starved of female company; a so-called “prairie fairy”. In working as a ‘girl’ Thomas realises that he is, in fact, happy this way, and often reverts to dressing as a woman. Given the time when this was set, I was surprised that nobody tried to take advantage of him (her) and then go crazy when they discovered it was a man, for me, it just didn’t ring true.

The book was incredibly disappointing,  I thought it was going to tackle the issue of being Gay or Trans in the 1800s and that it would go into the challenges of coming to terms with your own sexuality in an unaccepting society. The majority of the book is about civil war, fighting, killing and the battle between the native Americans and the white Americans. I am not overly keen on American history, and I am even less keen on war and war-related stories, and in this book, there are pages and pages of it.

There are inconsistencies, not least at the end which I will not give away because some of you might want to read it. Personally, I’d rather spend my time doing almost anything else (even housework), it felt like the book without end. So my advice would be don’t bother, and I rated the book 1.5* for the bits when the boys were working as showgirls, which could have been the basis of a really interesting story. The rest of the group gave the book between 1* and 3.5*, so not a total flop, but you know, there are many other better books out there.

Sleeping Giants – Sylvian Neuvel

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Sleeping Giants was a welcome distraction after the hard work involved in reading days without end, and a change of genre was just what I needed. The story is told by way of case files, transcripts, diary entries, and other documents; the novel covers four years, beginning with a prologue set when Rose (one of the main characters) is 11 years old. The style worked really well for this book, it made a welcome change from the first-person narrative.

The book begins when an 11-year-old Rose falls into a huge hole and finds a giant robot hand and follows the story of the giant; Where is the rest of it? What is it? Where did it come from? Some of these questions are answered in the book, others are conveniently left unanswered to lure the reader into reading ‘Waking Gods’ book 2 in the series. The story is reminiscent of ‘The Iron Giant’, but in my opinion not nearly as good. The story quickly fasts forward 17 years and we see an adult Rose working as a physicist, in charge of investigating the composition of the hand that she landed in as a child.

The team tasked with finding the other parts of the giant soon begin to unearth the other pieces all over the globe. This raises issues with international relations and there are the political ramifications of removing items from foreign soil to deal with. Who owns the giant? How can it be kept in one country, when it came from many? I do not want to spoil the story of this giant, so am loathe to go into detail about all of the issues that it causes. It is not as clever as it could have been, the author writes a mystery interviewer into the story to cause suspense, but I found this lacking, as I would have preferred a well-developed character with a twisted agenda. I found this book readable, it would be accessible to young readers, and easy enough to get into for a holiday read, but at no point was I tempted to buy book 2, which speaks volumes.

I gave Sleeping Giants 3.5* which I suspect was over-generous, based on the fact that it was not ‘Days Without End’. The rest of the group rated it between 1* and 4* so for ‘Sleeping Giants’ it is very much a matter of taste. If you like Sci-Fi and want an easy read, give it a go, if you want something with depth, skip this and grab a copy of ‘The Iron Giant’ instead.

Happy Reading!

Mel x

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July – All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

When you are busily writing the July blog post on the night of the meeting, you know this is a book that you want to shout about! All the ugly and Wonderful Things is that book! Also, I am totally aware that I am a little behind with my blog, so yes, I probably will post July before May & June, but that’s not the end of the world, is it?

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – Bryn Greenwood

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What an apt title this book has, I mean it is just perfect. The book is indeed ugly and wonderful, as is the relationship it refers to. It was one of those books that you just can’t put down, I had to occasionally, but if I had a couple of days free and could just get stuck into a book, this is the kind of book that I could easily get lost in. Alex read it in two days, Steph read it in three days, it is easily done, you just want to know what is going to happen next.

The book tells the story of Wavy (Wavonna) from the time when she is 5 years old until she is twenty-one. When she is first introduced, we are certain that she is unusual, but not sure why. Wavy doesn’t talk, she doesn’t eat, unless she is alone in the middle of the night and the food is stolen from a neighbour’s house or from the bin and she doesn’t like to be touched. The book begins with narration from Wavy’s cousin Amy. Amy explains why Wavy is staying with them, she describes Wavy as a skinny, odd little girl, but with an adult way about her. Amy is the only member of the family that accepts Wavy into her home and into her life fully, the others all have their misgivings and feel awkward around her.

Throughout the book, we learn about Wavy’s home life, her family and their failings, and her relationship with a man called Kellen. Ths story is told by everyone in her life, with each new chapter being narrated by a different character. This works really well because it gives the reader insight into how each of the characters view her behaviours and their understanding of Wavy’s situation. She does not have a happy family life, being raised by a junkie mother most of the time, and by her father, her Aunt, her grandmother and other people when it suited. The constants in Wavy’s life are her brother Donal, her cousin Amy and Kellen. The others are less reliable.

The book is a tough read, but beautifully written, it would not be such a tough read if it was not written well. Whilst I did not agree with all of the actions or perspectives of all of the people surrounding Wavy, it was easy to understand them, they made sense as fully rounded characters and nobody was undeveloped. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting something that they can really get stuck in to. I gave the book 4.5* and the rest of the group gave it 4*- 4.5*, it is not lighthearted, it is not an easy read, but it is a bloody good book!

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

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As a teenager I wasn’t that much of a reader, I read occasionally, and when required to for school, but rarely just because I wanted to read, then I discovered Agatha Christie and I was hooked. I devoured her books, and also watched all of the films, which fast became some of my favourites,  second only to Hitchcock.

Murder on the Orient Express is not new to me, but I last read it 30+ years ago, so there was no way I could get away without updating myself on the story, and I am so glad I did.  In spite of having read the book in the past, and having seen the film several times, I still could not remember ‘whodunnit’. The beauty of Christie’s writing is that there are many credible outcomes, and as you read the book you change your mind several times before eventually coming to (usually the wrong) conclusion. There are formulas in Christie’s writing, but not so obvious that the story becomes predictable.

The range of characters on the train is interesting, each character is well developed, and each could easily have been involved with the murder, what more can you want from a murder mystery? For me, I would have liked a last-minute twist on the twist, but maybe that’s because it’s 2018 and we are so used to being overstimulated by a story. I was not disappointed at all by the book, in fact, I really liked it, but I wasn’t challenged when reading it. I’ll try and explain, the whole ‘OMG somebody’s dead’ storyline is great, but there is no description of the murder, nor is there any recounting of the event by the murderer from their thoughts. It’s kind of like the films where a couple kisses, then they are in bed, the meaty bit is missing. That said I gave it 4*, I think Christie is fabulous and I  really love the naivety of her writing. The other members of the groups gave the book between 3.5* and 4*.

Happy Reading!

Mel xx