Sunday, 7 November 2010

Bloggers Book Club Review: Small Island, by Andrea Levy

The BBC book for October was Small Island, a story about life in England during and following the 2nd World War. Queenie Bligh takes in Jamaican lodgers to help her pay the bills whilst her husband is fighting in the war. Her neighbours do not approve. The story is told through the eyes of the book's four main characters - a style I liked as it gave a well balanced story. 

The book starts off with Hortense and Celia in Jamaica talking about Celia's dream to travel to England and have a better life. Hortense showed no real sign of wanting that life at the time, but later effectively steals the life Celia would have had - she steals her boyfriend, bribes him into becoming her husband, and travels to England to live with him and have the good life. It's not quite what she has expected. In Gilbert's last letter before she travels, he promises to meet her from the ferry, waving and jumping up and down with joy - a pretty picture, but of course it is not to be. He has fallen asleep after a long shift and after a wait of over 2 hours, she realises she has no option than to make her own way to his address. When she arrives she is less than impressed with the broken chair, the torn curtains and the the dark brown walls, and hisses "You bring me all this way for just this". She has a short memory, for she is the one that wanted to come (to find Michael).  At first I felt a bit sorry for her, because it's so obviously far removed from her idyllic vision of what England would be like, but then we read a bit more about her and I begin to dislike her intensely. Her treatment of Celia and her mother was dispicable. And once she gets Gilbert Joseph, she treats him like a piece of dirt on her shoe. She got married without committing herself properly - she did not see the need to make any effort to enjoy herself at the wedding party, and thought herself above everyone else. She arrives in England thinking she will have no problem getting a good job with her qualifications, but realises with a shock that the colour of her skin and her nationality detract from any qualifications she may have.

Gilbert Joseph fought in the war, but is certainly not given a hero's welcome by the country he has fought for. I felt sorry for Gilbert, as he seemed to be a very hard working, genuine person, wanting to make a better life for himself in England, a country he fought hard for. He married Hortense to get the money to go to England, but made an effort to make their relationship work. He was greeted with prejudice when he came back from the war and it certainly wasn't the life he had once dreamt of. I felt even sorrier for him once Hortense arrived in England though! He arrived at Queenie's door during the war quite by accident, brought there by Bernard's father, who thinks he looks like Michael, so Queenie had a romance with when Bernard was at war. Gilbert's friendship with Queenie ultimately results in the death of her father in law, due to a riot in which he is shot, but she still takes him in when he comes back after the war as she genuinely seems to care about him.

At the start of Queenie's story I liked her character. She was practical and resourceful in letting out the rooms in her house to pay the bills while Bernard was at war. However, when we read about her childhood, I saw a different side to her - stuck up and mean. Her treatment of the children who had nothing was appalling, and was not learnt by her parents who were generous in giving out soup. Later she only stays with Bernard because marrying him will prevent her going back to the farm she grew up in after her Aunt's death. However, as the war begins and she steps up in looking after Bernard's father, and her work with the Rest Centre, I begin to feel sorry for her, more on a humane level than actually liking her personality. It was a tough life during the war, for all concerned, though I think she was probably one of the lucky ones.

I didn't like Bernard immediately on reading about him. The thought of a man counting out his pennies every time he went to buy something was enough to put me off. (It gave the impression he was a tightwad). Although he eventually stepped up and went to war, he only did so to avoid being placed in the worst ranks if he had been forced to go. When he eventually came back from the war he had a deep rooted dislike of "coloured" people, so he was less than thrilled when he came back to see his wife had rented out the rooms to the jamaicans.  However, I was surprised in the final chapters when he said he would stand by Queenie and the baby, once he had eventually calmed down.

The final few chapters gave a sense of everything coming together. We see Hortense and Gilbert taking the baby and finally making a go of their relationship together on equal footing. Hortense might actually get her golden future yet. We see Bernard and Queenie accepting that they've both been wrong, and been wronged, but are going to stay together anyway. I was heartbroken for Queenie in giving up the baby though. It was a hard decision for her, but she knew that he would have an easier future with Hortense and Gilbert.

I really enjoyed this book. I felt involved with each of the characters, and could empathise with them all at various stages in the book. They all had their own struggles and life during and after the war was a hardship in itself. I would not have picked up this book myself, but am glad to have read it because of the book club!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Bloggers Book Club Review September : Under The Rainbow, by Mary O'Sulllivan

It's a while since I've read female fiction, I'm not sure why because I really enjoy it, but lately I've been reading a lot of crime fiction from James Patterson and the gang. Anyway, this was a very welcome light relief from all the busyness in my life at the minute.

Three friends from school all return to the place they grew up, each thinking the other has a great life, but all have things bubbling under the surface. In some ways the stories are predictable, but I was guessing about the Carla story for quite a while! I thought the Eoin/Adele/Jodi/Kieran story was a bit unrealistic. Adele was pretty forgiving, whether or not she really liked Eoin - Jodi didn't know at the time that Adele had gone off him.

All in all I liked it, some laughs, some tears, but a book I'll be passing on to my friends who are going on holiday or looking for light relief.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Bloggers Book Club Review: Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquival

Sorry to have such a belated review - I read this so long ago, and started off the review as soon as I finished it, that I just never got round to finishing it!

"Like water for chocolate" was my suggestion for the August Bloggers Book Club because I had heard some good reviews for it, although I had not read it myself til last month. I think next time I suggest a book I will read it first! I think I was perhaps blinkered by the word chocolate - oh, yes, that sounds good me thinks!
I started off quite enthusiastic for the idea of the book. I liked the fact that the book was short and I knew I wouldn't have to spend weeks reading it. I also liked the romantic idea that the love between Tita and Pedro was so strong that he would do anything, including marry her sister(?) to be close to Tita. However, on closer inspection I thought ... what?? What a ridiculous thing to do!! He should have fought for her, instead of being weak and crumbling at the first hurdle. Although in all fairness, Tita's mother was a complete cow and would be tough opposition. I thought he was a bit of a fool to be honest - he must have known how hard it would be for Tita to watch him marry her sister and have a family with her. There is a quote in the book later, I can't remember which character it was about (Pedro I think, which would suit him well) "Next time you fall in love, don't be such a coward".

There is a quote from the book "Tita was not meant for the losers role. She played her role with dignity. When she was 14 "she controlled wild horses, shoved the driver aside and brought them to control singlehanded". I found it hard reconciling this version of Tita with the one that let her mother beat her constantly for the smallest of things, and let her mother turn Pedro towards her sister. Although I had great sympathy for her because as is quoted in the book "She had been killing her a little at a time since she was a child". It's easy to say she shouldn't have let Mama Elena have such a hold over her, but she was obviously worn down after years of abuse. It would have been nice to have read that she walked out with Pedro and left her mother to it.

Reading about the relationship between Tita and her mother really upset me. Being very thankful for having very good relationships with my parents, I found it hard to fathom that a person could be so cruel to Tita, right from birth. Thankfully Tita had Mama Elena who was a mother figure in her life. I was very sad to read about her death.

Food in this story takes on a magical power, which was completely unbelievable, much as I tried to go with it. It has an aphrodisiac power - everyone who eats the cake comes over with a wave of longing; the rose petal scene with Gertrudis and Juan the soldier - need I say more??? I thought it was interesting the way every situation/relationship was referenced with food though : Rosaura & Tita are so different, like Tacos & enchiladas; as red as the apples beside her; she understood how dough feels when plunged into boiling oil etc.

All in all, an easy read, and I did enjoy it. I started off thinking I would make the recipes as I went along, but when I saw what went into some of them, that notion was quickly abandoned! I'm going to draft my review for next month's book now, as it's finished. This time I'll make a note to publish it on time!!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Bloggers Book Club Review: The Poisonwood Bible

I'm apologise to anyone who reads this, but I'm going to have to bow out of the reviews for this month. I bought the book approx 2 months ago and I can't find it for the life of me. I went through the month thinking there was lots of time to find it (and read it!), but this month just got away from me I'm afraid. I do plan to read it though, and I'll post a review as soon as I can, but in the meantime I look forward to reading all the other bloggers book club reviews.

On a brighter note, I have read next month's book - Like Water for Chocolate, so there'll be no excuse for no review next month!

Monday, 12 July 2010

A piece of me ... in July 2010

This month...

I like: the way you can find almost anything on YouTube. Big thanks to the people who spend time uploading videos for the enjoyment of others - particularly one person who has uploaded the 1st 4 series of Greys Anatomy!

I don't like: it feels like the teenage years are starting ... 10 years too early!

I want you to know: I've planned: to organise my craft supplies and utility room

I want to say to someone special: See you soon!

This is a game thought up by the Toothfairy so we can all share a bit of ourselves to our readers by completing a set of unfinished sentences every first Sunday of the month. Easy enough right? And fun! Want to join? Click here! :)

Bloggers Book Club Review: The Children's Book, by AS Byatt

Well, I have finally admitted defeat. I just couldn't do it. It's not that I didn't enjoy this book, I just found it incredibly wordy and over-descriptive. I should say that I did give up at an early stage of the book, which is very unlike me, but it was taking so long to read that I could only read a few pages at a time. I liked the idea of the story, but I was bogged down by the incredibly lengthy words, many of which were completely alien to me. I figured if I was really going to "get" the story I was going to have to invest in a dictionary! I was constantly forgetting who was who, and it really hindered my enjoyment of the book.

So I will be keeping it on my bookshelf for now, in the off-chance that I'll have time at some stage to get into it properly, but it won't be for a while, as I'm off now to read The Poisonwood Bible !

You can find the other members of the Bloggers Book Club here. Hopefully they will have had more success with The Children's Book!

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Bloggers Book Club Review: Let the World Spin, by Colum McGann

I was very much looking forward to reading this book after reading the synopsis and other reviews of the book. I love the idea of the lives of eight strangers being linked together, and was looking forward to finding out how, and about the people and their lives. I also saw a documentary about Colum McGann a few weeks ago, just after I had started to read this book, in which he said that he wrote the book as his way of interpreting what had happened in 9/11.

Before I go any further though, I have to say that this book took me longer to read than any book I've read in a long long time. For someone who read the twilight series of 4 books within 5 days (i.e. with a book I love, I can't put it down and it doesn't take me long to read), this is quite frustrating. I found I was really pushed for time this month even though I started the book before the last book review was written, I didn't finish it until a week ago. This is probably a good reflection on my opinion of the book.

Frank McCourt has said "No novelist writing of New York has climbed higher, dived deeper" of Colum McGann. I'm not sure I totally agree. I think it was a fairly depressing picture of New York really. If I didn't already want to go, it certainly wouldn't have persuaded me to visit. It seemed to me that of the 8 characters, each was almost completely swamped with the misery of their situations, and reading about their lives was quite depressing. Corrigan had finally given himself to fully accept the love he had with Adelita, and he came to a miserable end; Claire lives in an Upper East side aprtment, but lives in a quiet misery, and talks to a fridge because she and Solomon couldn't talk about their grief; Solomon has a job he wished for, but when he got it realised that he was trapped in a system and couldn't make the impact he originally wanted to; Fernando (I'm not sure why this character was ever mentioned, he added nothing to the story that I picked up on); Gloria, a strong woman who has survived decades of hardship; Tillie and Jazzlyn, who both envisaged a better life than the one they got. McGann decribed the characters well, I could fully envisage their daily lives, and whilst I was reading their respective stories, I felt like I was with them, but this just further depressed me!

At the end of the book there was a brighter future for some of the characters, but by then he'd lost me somewhat. The whole plot rested on the idea that the lives of the 8 characters were spinning towards each other beneath a man walking between the Twin Towers. But even though it included great detail on the tightrope walker's practice, and run up to the actual experience of walking between the towers, I thought in general it was a huge anticlimax. I was left with questions about the tightrope walker - who was he really? Why?

I'm too sleep deprived to think about it any more, and in all fairness that is probably why I didn't really engage with the book. If the characters had had a bit more get up and go I think I would have stuck with it more, or maybe if I read it at a different time I would have enjoyed it more, but needless to say, I'll be passing this one on to the Charity Shop on Tuesday!

The other Bookclub Bloggers:
I'm looking forward to reading the other reviews. If you want to see what the other Bloggers Cook Club Members have to say, here are their links (Please forgive (and correct me) if I have any details wrong:
Lily (Lily’s blog) (Currently blogging on Cathy's blog)
Lorna (Garrendenny Lane)
Marian (Made Marian)
Treasa (Irish Mammy on the run)
cathy (Irish Rumbling Strips)
Val (Magnum lady)
Jenn (SmurfetteJenn’s blog)
Edie (Munchies & Musings)
Catherine (Dispatches from the Deis)
Marie (Diary of an Irish country wife)
Kirsty (Kirsty Road )
Last of the Mojitos
Susan (Queen of Potts)
Una (Justuna)
Steph (The Biopsy Report)