Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Stoner by John Williams

John Stoner is born into a poor farming family in Missouri at the end of the 19th century. John’s father recognises that farming changes with time and he sends his son to university to study agriculture before coming home to work on the family farm.

However, at university John falls in love with English Literature and his life changes course completely as a result. He begins a lifelong career as a scholar and academic and marries into a ‘proper’ family, far removed from the world he left behind in Missouri.

For John, life never really lives up to his expectations and he finds his life full of disappointments. Circumstances drive him deeper into himself where he hopes to find some peace; but can solitude really bring John the serenity he desires for himself?

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time and I think that is because it is one of the most skilfully written books I have ever encountered.

The character of John Stoner is one of the most ordinary characters I have encountered in my reading. There is nothing exciting that happens to him and he certainly does not live up to his early promise. However, it is this sense of the ordinary that catapults this book into the extraordinary.

Other than his early love for literature nothing terribly interesting or eventful happens to John throughout the entire novel. As a reader, I like my reading material to move along at an appropriate pace and to contain enough events to keep me engaged. So, in theory, I should not have liked this book.

However, I was completely hooked from the first page right through to the last because the skilful execution of the writing held me completely captivated. For an author to be able to take such an ordinary character surrounded by the mundane and elevate him to being a character that I not only wanted to read about but who I genuinely cared about and who has remained with me after the conclusion of the book takes an intelligence and skill not often seen in an author.

This book has had a lot of hype recently and I am always wary of books that have as I am so often disappointed. However, this book is an exception and I have no criticism to make of it. It was top rate writing and I would recommend it to everyone.

I borrowed this book from the library and it has reminded me of what a valuable resource our libraries are. To be able to read a gem like this at no cost to the reader is something that deserves celebrating. My local library in Uckfield is not massive but it is jammed packed full of carefully chosen books that will appeal to everyone. The staff are both cheerful and helpful and a visit there always reminds me how fortunate we are to have such a good resource in our town.

ISBN:  9780099561545

Publisher:  Vintage Classics

Price (based on today‘s price on Amazon.co.uk):  £6.29

Total saving so far:  £322.27

Sunday, 20 July 2014

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

Aaliya Saleh lives alone in her Beirut apartment, surrounded by stockpiles of books. Godless, fatherless, childless, and divorced, Aaliya is her family’s “unnecessary appendage.” Every year, she translates a new favorite book into Arabic, then stows it away. The thirty-seven books that Aaliya has translated over her lifetime have never been read—by anyone.

In this breathtaking portrait of a reclusive woman’s late-life crisis, readers follow Aaliya’s digressive mind as it ricochets across visions of past and present Beirut. Colorful musings on literature, philosophy, and art are invaded by memories of the Lebanese Civil War and Aaliya’s own volatile past. As she tries to overcome her aging body and spontaneous emotional upwellings, Aaliya is faced with an unthinkable disaster that threatens to shatter the little life she has left.

A love letter to literature and its power to define who we are, the prodigiously gifted Rabih Alameddine has given us a nuanced rendering of one woman's life in the Middle East.

This is the description of this book that I received from the publishers. I had really high hopes for it as it sounded just the kind of thing I really enjoy. It also had a fabulous beginning which drew me straight in and I was hungry for more and then................

........and then it just died for me and I stopped reading about 25% of the way through the book which I very rarely do. However, this book became a series of quotes from other people reminiscient of writing my university dissertation when I believed that quotes from well respected academics would impress. Now, while that may have it's place in an academic work, I was left feeling that this book didn't really know whether it was a novel or an essay and was trying to be a little bit too clever for it's own good. I just was not interested enough to read on.

I have very mixed feelings about giving up with a book. On the one hand, I think it may be worth keeping going in the hope that it will become amazing and I have had that happen. In fact, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was one such book where, for me, it became brilliant about half way through and I was so pleased that I stuck with it.

On the other hand, I think that there are so many excellent books out there that it makes me question whether it is worth sticking with the mediocre ones. What do you all think?

On the other hand (yes, I know that three hands but I just thought of another point and I don't want to start using my feet to illustrate) if a writer has gone through blood, sweat and tears in producing this book then the very least I can do is see it through to the end before I make a judgement.

I don't often review books that I feel negative about particularly if I haven't read it through to the end as I figure that, as readers, you are probably more interested in those books that I have read and think you might be interested in reading for yourselves (if I am wrong in that assumption then please let me know.) However, I am always very aware of the subjectivity of reviewing as my reviews are only my humble opinion and your opinion of a book may be completely different to mine and is just as valid for it's opposing view.

So, if you have read this book or you intend to read it then please let me know your thoughts. One of the wonderful things about reading is the way one book can touch many of us in different ways and I think that is great.

ISBN: 978-0802122148

Publisher: Grove Press

Price (based on today's price at Amazon): £13.42

Total saving so far: £315.98

Thursday, 17 July 2014

I'm Back!

Hello everyone,

I am back from a wonderful trip to Yorkshire staying with my lovely son.

Between visits I always forget what a beautiful part of the country that my son has the pleasure of living in and I always come home wanting to go back for more.

This visit we also ventured across the border into Lancashire largely because I wanted to go and visit www.minervacrafts.com who are based in Darwen. Not only is this a fabulous Aladdin's Cave for crafty people but the scenery on the drive through parts of the Lancashire countryside was absolutely breathtaking.......and yes, for those of you who are wondering, I did buy yet more knitting yarn!

Getting away from home for a while is such a good opportunity to reflect and to be reminded of what a beautiful country that we have the privilege to live in. We were also blessed with perfect weather (which helped) and left the rain behind in Sussex when we set off.

Not only was it lovely to spend time with my son but I got to meet up with a friend of mine and much tea and chatter ensued in Hilton's Cafe in Barnsley where they sell excellent mugs of tea. Those people have really mastered the art of making a good English cuppa.

Suffice to say that Hubby, dogs and I had a wonderful time and got lots of reading done. I read a couple of excellent books while I was away and one that I thought was terrible.......... but more on those later.

I will be back in a day or two with reviews on those books but in the meantime HAPPY READING EVERYONE!

(Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo)

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

This is the story of three generations of the Cazalet family who ordinarily spend their summers in Sussex. The novel covers the summers of 1938-9 when the whole country is anticipating the outbreak of World War Two. But, set amidst the tranquil countryside, for the family, their relatives and servants life goes on as normal and thoughts of war run alongside childhood games and picnics on the beach.

This is one of those books that has been sitting on my bookshelf gathering dust for years under the category of “I really want to read that one day.”. Well, “one day” finally arrived for this book and now I can only question why I left it on the shelf for such a long time as it is marvellous.

The first in a series based around the Cazalet family it is a little gem of a book. Gently and intelligently written it perfectly encapsulates the time period in which it is set. It is also a wonderful glimpse into a world that has been left behind and deals superbly with the pre-war class system at both ends of the spectrum.

Although, this focuses on life for the family who perfectly depict the upper middle class of the pre-war era we are also given significant insight into the world of the staff. I found Miss Milliment , who whilst only being a minor character, delightful and demonstrates how single women who needed to fend for themselves were treated at this time.

I loved all of the characters in this book but was grateful for the family tree which precedes the text as I did get a little confused about who was who at times. However, this does not detract from either the writing or the wonderful story telling in this novel.

I was actually really surprised to find that this book was first published in 1990 as the writing has a very authentic feel. Having said that some of the themes are addressed in a way that would not have been deemed appropriate during it’s contemporary period. For example, attitudes to sex, homosexuality and relationships would not have been written about with quite such frankness, and dare I say it, by a woman! I acknowledge that I am generalising here and that there are exceptions but on the whole a contemporary female author probably would not have written with such openness.

I adored this book and I would really encourage you to give this one a try if you have not already read it. Of course, the second book in this series is already on my ever lengthening wish list and I am already looking forward to reading it.

On a personal note, I am going to be away for the next couple of weeks visiting one of my lovely sons who now lives in Yorkshire. I often regret that my children have moved so far from home now that they are adults but every cloud has a silver lining as it means we are blessed with a plethora of free holidays all year. Yorkshire is such a beautiful part of the country and I am very excited to be going. Needless to say, I am packing plenty of reading material ………… and my knitting of course.

ISBN:  978 0330323154

Publisher: Pan

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon): £3.85

Total saving so far:  £302.56