Monday, 17 March 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? #14

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I don't want to sound like a broken record over here but I honestly can't keep track of how fast this year is going.  It's been a month since I started my new job and I am absolutely shattered a lot of the time but it's been fantastic and I am utterly convinced that moving firms was the right thing so it's a good news story.  I'm finding new ways to fit things in around work all the time so it won't be long before I'm back up to reading and chatting about reading again!

In the meantime, let's talk about my meagre March offerings...

What have I been reading?

For what seems like forever, I've been reading Tess of the D'Urbevilles.  Two weeks and I've read a quarter.  I was supposed to be reading it with Hanna but I fell appallingly behind within about three days and now I'm languishing with the fields and the cattle all alone with only promises of misery to cling on to.  Some days I think I'm enjoying it and others I don't have the energy to pick it up.  It's a tough one to settle into after being busy at work so Tess has taken a little bit of a back seat while I read something a little easier to get into when I've had a long day and just want to unwind with a book instead of battling one.

What am I reading right now?

Aside from the seemingly endless reading of Tess of the D'Urbevilles, I'm loving Running Like A Girl by Alexandra Heminsley.  I picked it up on Sunday evening and I've read more or less half, which compared to my recent reading speed is lightning.  It's funny and makes me want to pick up my trainers every time I read it.   There's something about the tone that I find completely inspiring and I am so looking forward to a solid post-injury run and starting to get properly into training for the Great North Run later in the year!

I've been doing a lot of audiobook listening on my commute too and this past week or so it's been the turn of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.  It actually lends itself perfectly to being listened to because it's told in the first person.  I'm also learning that this is one of the classics that I thought I knew and actually had no clue about.  Well, I knew the basics obviously but I had no idea about the events leading up to Crusoe being ship-wrecked or how long he was on the island and what he got up to while he was there.  It's really interesting from a historical perspective even if I sometimes find the lengthy explanations of tool-making on a desert island less than stellar at 7.00am. On balance, I'm glad that it got picked in the Classics Club spin last month.

What will I be reading next?  

Let's assume for a second that I will at some point over the next week or so be battling along with Tess and move on.  Part of me thinks that I will make Tess my weekend read and that during the week, I'm going to get stuck into some slightly more...gripping stories.  And for some reason over the past few weeks, I've been dying to read Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.  It helps that I also have Crown of Midnight to get to right after and I have super high hopes.

And that's my reading life for the past couple of weeks!  I hope you're all having a wonderful March and reading more than me! :)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Review: 'The Night Rainbow' by Claire King

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Under the sweltering heat of the summer sun, five-year-old Pea - and her vivid imagination - run wild in the meadows behind her home on the edge of a small village in Southern France.

Pea’s father died in an accident, and now she only has her little sister, Margot, for company. Their mother is too sad to take care of them; she left her happiness in the hospital last year, along with the first baby.

Overwhelmed by grief, isolated from the other villagers, and pregnant again, Maman has withdrawn to a place where Pea cannot reach her, no matter how hard she tries.

When Pea meets Claude, a neighbour who seems to love the meadow as she does, she wonders if he could be their new papa. But the villagers view their friendship with suspicion. What secret is Claude keeping in his strange, empty house?


When I closed The Night Rainbow with a tear in my eye, I instantly gave it four stars.  It was an emotional read and a very sweet story and I was really taken with it.  Now that I sit down to write a review of it, though, I'm finding it very difficult to articulate why.  I don't have any real criticisms of the book but I also only have a few things that I can tell you that I loved about it.  One of those books.

Let's start at the beginning.  The story is relatively simple and the book relatively short.  Pea and Margot live in France with their heavily pregnant Maman and they are all living in the shadow of a dead father and a lost child.  In some ways, it's as relentlessly sad as you might expect but in others, it's quietly hopeful.  Pea is too young to fully appreciate death and so even while she understands loss and the fact that her beloved Pa is gone, she is as concerned with making sure that her nature collection of feathers and dead insects and such like are safe.  It's obvious to adult readers that both Pea and Margot don't have enough structure or support in their lives and my heart hurt as they dedicated their days to making Maman happy.  Small tasks like doing some washing and hanging it out, just to try to get attention and to make their mother's life a little brighter.  It's the balance between their natural optimism and their sadness that she can't be there for them that hurt my heart...
The word seems to come out of me all on its own. I think it's strange my mouth would do that. The rest of my head knows she's never there.”
As always with well written books featuring child narrators, what is almost more tragic than Pea and Margot running wild is watching their Maman fighting to keep her family together.  I always think that the sign of a child narrator being really done well is that you get a sense of what the adults are going through without it being clumsy or too obvious.  With The Night Rainbow, it isn't just Pea and Margot's Maman that readers get to know but Claude and Claude is really where King has done something that is brilliant on so many different levels.  Claude is clearly in pain (both physical and emotional) and hints at the cause of that pain in the stories that he tells the young narrators.  He is kind-hearted and paternal and Pea adores him and it is still obvious somehow that local residents are sceptical (to put it politely) about his relationship with his young neighbours.

When I participated in a Top Ten Tuesday earlier in the year, I wrote about how I wanted to read more books set in France and this was a perfect way to follow through on that.  The sun, the markets and delicious food and the endless, beautiful fields.  Oppressive for the characters, true, but wonderful to read about.  King's writing is spot on and the scene where Margot is telling Pea about night rainbows is particularly beautiful.  

There's more to this book than meets the eye but I don't really want to even mention vaguely how.  I toyed with the idea of not mentioning the fact at all but in the end I couldn't resist giving you one more reason to pick this up.  It isn't an action-packed book but it's a very evocative one that if nothing else will conjure up the torrid heat of a French summer and leave you feeling a little bit more with every chapter.

Overall:  The Night Rainbow is lovely.  It somehow manages to be about the resilience of children and their vulnerability all at the same time because while Pea and Margot are surviving, they're fragile and craving affection.  And you'll get all of that and a craving for some sunshine from a mere 272 pages.  A winner, definitely.

Date finished: 8 February 2014
Format: Paperback
Source: Borrowed from my library
Genre: Literary fiction
Pictured edition published:  by Bloomsbury in August 2013

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Thoughts on 'Villette' by Charlotte Bronte

"Villette!  Villette!  It is a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre. There is something almost preternatural in its power"  George Eliot

It's been years since I read and cried over Jane Eyre so, when I signed up for The Classics Club, I knew that I wanted to tuck some more Charlotte Bronte under my belt.  The choice of Villette was more or less random but it's one that I'm abundantly pleased about.  Villette and I had a rocky start and it wasn't all plain sailing but I really enjoyed it over all.  Would I say that I preferred it to Jane Eyre and that it was now my favourite of the Bronte works that I've read so far?  Not exactly but it is a truly great book.

Villette was Charlotte Bronte's last book, written after the death of her brother Branwell and both Anne and Emily.  It's impossible not to notice that this later work has a thread of sadness running through it.  The story itself isn't full of trauma or excessively bleak but there is something about Lucy Snowe's tone as narrator that is almost bitter and hints at something darker.  Something behind the writing that permeates the story and suffuses everything Lucy goes through with an edge.  I'm not always sure that I've ever really read anything and felt as though I could "see" as much of the author through the pages and it made Villette into something quite special.

The mastery of it is really in the narration.  Lucy Snowe is a young woman that has suffered a great, undisclosed tragedy and is making her way through life in the mid-1800s as a single, not particularly wealthy woman.  She is determined and independent and committed and all of the things that you might have come to expect from a Charlotte Bronte heroine but she's also jaded, slow to trust anybody (readers included) and struggling with mental illness.  What's remarkable is how everything that Lucy is is reflected perfectly in her narration.  Readers only know as much as Lucy feels able to disclose at any one time and everything that she is trying to suppress in her personality (her passion and her need to belong) are suppressed as she narrates, showing through only when her trials in the novel push her almost to breaking.  The plot is a relatively simple one - Lucy Snowe grows up among friends but without family, moves to the small French town of Villette, unable to speak French and without any connections, and strives to establish her independence, dreaming not of being swept off her feet by a local nobleman but of economic security and stability.  That doesn't read as particularly ambitious now, obviously, but I can imagine how almost revolutionary it must have seemed to mid-nineteenth century readers.  It's a quiet story in many ways but the telling of it is where the magic happens.

The other characters are hard to get to know because they're masked by Lucy's refusal to ever really open up to her readers.  Her temperament and perceptions shift and with them, the way that characters are portrayed.  She's the ultimate unreliable narrator and, rather than finding it frustrating, I loved it.  Not only do you get to know Lucy through the decisions that she makes and the way she chooses to live her life but you get a sense that she's a real person; she talks to readers sometimes, which in many books I hate but here was used well enough that it didn't feel awkward, just perfectly in keeping with the character that you feel as though you know.  There are twists where Lucy reveals that she hasn't been entirely honest with readers and moments where something just about the tale and it lends intrigue where otherwise there wouldn't be much.  I liked the other residents of Villette and their relationships with each other (particularly Dr Bretton and his mother who lend some often welcome light relief) and with Lucy are interesting enough but there were times when the story felt slow to me and that stopped it being a sweeping glorious success.  Not to mention how annoying Lucy's friend the vapid Ginevra Fanshawe can be...I do understand that she is meant to be frustrating but still.

So it's all impressively clever and the writing is outstanding.  And yet I'm not falling over myself to get you all to go out and buy a copy as fast as your feet can carry you.  Mainly because, even though I fully appreciated Villette's brilliance as a work of literature and one that I would definitely recommend, Lucy Snowe's story just didn't move me as much as good old Jane Eyre's.  I did close the book feeling pensive and the ending is...disorientating but I didn't close it feeling as much as I did with Bronte's earlier work.  I know that comparison isn't really necessary and compared to other books, both are far better than average so it's a hollow comparison in many ways but one that I'm ending on nonetheless!

Overall time: Villette is sheer manipulative literary brilliance. It's not flashy and it isn't a breath-taking tale of adventure but it is a heartfelt story on one woman's struggles, the people she meets and her hopes for a better future.  It's a favourite for a lot of people and a book that I imagine would stand up to re-reading better than most.  It didn't break my heart or rip my world asunder but I'm definitely glad I read it.

A word about editions:  I read the free Kindle version and it didn't include French narration.  My French was enough that I usually got the gist of what was happening but quite a lot of the dialogue hops between French and English so you might want to make sure that you have an edition with translation if you want to understand every word and aren't a fluent French speaker.

Date finished: 5 February 2014
Format: eBook
Source: Downloaded free for Kindle
Genre: Classic; Literary fiction
First published:  1853

Saturday, 1 March 2014

February 2014, Where Did You Go?!

I knew that when I got stuck into my new job my internet time would plummet but it's been a more dramatic drop off than even I expected!  I've read a lot less and I've written even less than that.  The biggest bookish news is, I suppose, my induction into the world of audiobooks.  I used to get a lift to the nearest big city and then get the train out to where I worked but now I drive 40ish minutes to work instead.  It's actually not been that bad an adjustment because it's quicker door to door than my old journey but it's meant that I've lost pretty much an hour a day in reading time.  To try to take the edge off the blow, I've been experimenting with audiobooks.  I started with Bossypants by Tina Fey and I've ramped it up a notch to A Clash of Kings over the past week or so and I'm really enjoying it so far.  It makes driving less dreary and it means that I can stay ahead of where Boyfriend and I are in the Game of Thrones box set at the same time.  Double win.

I miss blogging, definitely, but at the moment, I have to put most of my energy into making sure my new employer doesn't think I'm useless so it'll probably be a couple of months before things settle down.  C'est la vie.

The Reading

Yep, I've definitely read less.  I was going to stop putting in a page count because I couldn't decide how to account for audiobooks but I decided just to add in a new section.  This is the kind of thing that preoccupies me.  

Books finished:  4

Pages read:  1,599 (plus 37% of Echo Boy by Matt Haig on my Kindle)

Audiobooks finished:  1 and a half

Random facts that seem interesting at the moment:  I finished the first book off my Classics Club list and really enjoyed it so I'm hoping to topple two more this month; I was more or less 50/50 when it came to author gender; audiobooks formed a fifth of my "reading" this month

(Images link to my reviews)


 Awaiting Review from February

The Internet Blather

Much less blather this month, which is a bit of a shame but was to be expected.  It's a combination of fewer hours at home and generally being knackered from being smiley and enthusiastic all day because I'm now the new girl.  I enjoyed what I did post and I didn't feel too bad about not posting so I'm not classing it as a slump or anything, just a busy period.  I'm looking forward to the longer evenings that are starting to creep in because I always feel more productive in the evenings when they aren't gloomy or dark.  

Still, in February, I...

...nervously posted a list for my first Classics Club spin

...happily relayed the results of the Classics Club spin (phewf!)

An altogether quieter month but hey, it was shorter.  Roll on Spring!