May 31, 2009

I Capture The Castle - Dodie Smith

I purchased I Capture The Castle last week when I was in need of comfort reading - I had read it before and knew it would do the trick in soothing me back into the reading groove - and it did not disappoint.

That's not to say that this is an "easy" read in terms of topics covered or the subject matter - I think some of the issues mentioned in the book do cause you to sit back and think - but the way the story is told through the journal narration of a 17 year old discovering love for the first time is comforting in it's simplicity.

The family focused on in the novel has its quirks and idiosyncrasies, the narrator, Cassandra Mortmain, lives with her older sister Rose, younger brother, Thomas, father, step-mother and a family friend/worker, Stephen, in a crumbling, run-down castle in the English countryside. The castle is as much a character in the novel as any of the people - the family had moved in there after the unexpected literary success of the first novel of Mr Mortmain - a success that has not been followed up with a second novel of any description many years later. All of the families precious furniture and special items have long been sold to help pay for their basic living needs.

The arrival of a pair of American brothers, Simon and Neil, who have inherited the estate belonging to the castle causes some stirs within the family and it is decided that the elder daughter, Rose, will be the one to marry one of the boys, thereby rescuing the family from their poverty - very Jane Austen-Esq!

The unfolding of Cassandra as the novel progresses is beautiful, and at times, painful to watch. She is at the same time, young and wise, funny and serious, clever and daft - a perfect 17 year old! I absolutely loved Cassandra and the novel as a whole - I feel perfectly comforted now so thank you very much Dodie Smith! My only sad point is that there is no follow up to I Capture The Castle - I would have liked to have read about Cassandra as she continued to grow into adulthood - although maybe that would ruin the magic...

May 27, 2009

Comfort Reading...

The last couple of weeks have been pretty full on work wise - I have found myself coming home with not much brain power or energy for reading and the feeling that I need a book to comfort me - if that makes sense??

So, I went on a book buying mission for this very purpose and came home with I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith with it's gorgeous Vintage Edition cover. I have read this book before but thanks to my inability to retain my reading for longer than a couple of weeks it's like I'm reading it for the first time. Except for that glorious, comforting feeling - I do remember that!
What other books have people read that bring on that comforted feeling??

May 24, 2009

The Gift of Speed - Steven Carroll

The Gift of Speed is the second book in the Australian suburbs trilogy (not the official title but it is how I am referring to the books!) by Steven Carroll.

After reading and loving the first book, The Art of the Engine Driver I was keen to keep moving with this series. The Gift of Speed picks up about 10 years after the first book, in October 1960, and although I liked to have the context of that first book in mind when reading this one it should be pointed out that the books could easily be read independently of one another.

The main focus of the story, as the title points out, is speed and how it can be achieved - especially in relation to the character of 16 year old Michael and his dream to bowl the perfect fast cricket ball delivery. Now, I don't think you need to be a cricket fan, or even necessarily have any cricket knowledge to enjoy this book - but it would help. Michael is obsessed with the game and his dream to be a fast bowler and his narrative in this book coincides with the West Indies cricket team tour of Australia over the summer of 1960/1961. Fortunately, although I wouldn't say I was a total cricket nut I do have some knowledge of the game thanks to growing up with a sports journalist for a father and a brother who reminds me a lot of Michael!

Although Michael's story isn't the whole of the story in this novel it is a great percentage of it - it is certainly the story that I was most interested in - how much do we want things when we are young (personally, I wanted to be a singer just like Olivia Newton John!) and how much does it hurt when we don't get them.

The rest of the story does keep showing us what is happening in Michael's suburb and particularly what is happening with his parents, Vic and Rita, and their relationship.

I did not enjoy The Gift of Speed as much as The Art of the Engine Driver but still a beautiful and memorable story which will lead me to reading this last book in the series.

May 23, 2009

Library Sale Purchases!

We were meant to travel to Sydney yesterday for the Writer's Festival but I have been feeling a little under the weather all week and just didn't feel up to making the trip in the continuing yucky weather yesterday. If anyone did happen to make it there I would love to hear about what I missed.

So, I was feeling a little disappointed but a trip into town in the afternoon cured that a little when my partner and I stumbled upon the annual library sale!

I managed to pick up 4 hardcover books for $4 each - you've got to be happy with that!

My collection included:

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris - I have just started re-reading Chocolat in preparation to read this one which I had just borrowed from my local library but it was due to be returned soon so it's good that I now have my own copy!

Chart Throb by Ben Elton - I did read this one when it first came out and it is absolutely hilarious - I laugh just thinking about this book!

Windfall by Penny Vincenzi - After reading a review about this one by Tara it sounds like the perfect book for the upcoming winter months over here.

Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee - I have not read any books by this South African author before but I would like to give them a try. Has anybody got any feedback on this one?

May 19, 2009

Fingersmith - Sarah Waters

I actually finished Fingersmith a while ago now but I have been waiting for inspiration so that I could write a post and a review that did justice to the book. Unfortunately inspiration is sadly lacking in my life at the moment - work and other "duties" feel like they have taken over - so I thought I should at least get a post together on this one before all of my thoughts slowly leave me (one of my faults - no matter how much I love a book I quickly forget all of the details about it and only a vague feeling will remain).

After reading and loving Affinity earlier this year and previously loving The Night Watch everyone kept telling me that I had to read Fingersmith - I am so glad I listened.

I was totally captivated by the story of orphan Sue Trinder, living in the London of 1862 with a group of petty thieves (fingersmiths) who form her family. Sue moves to the country early in the novel to work as a ladies maid for Maud Lilly - a job that forms part of a plot to seduce the young lady in question and steal her considerable wealth.

The storyline and characters in this novel are so much richer than I can describe without giving too much away. There is a real depth to every character portrayed in this book - but especially Sue and even Maud as we learn more about her from her own perspective later in the book.

This was an amazing novel - one that I would like to read again (knowing what I now know about how the story turns out). I can't wait to read the new Sarah Waters novel now!

May 18, 2009

A New Blogger!

I just wanted to let everyone know that one of my dearest friends has joined the blogging world at The Cubby House. She is one of the most creative people I know - always inspiring! So, if you get a chance drop by and welcome her to the wonderful world of blogging!

May 15, 2009

The Art of the Engine Driver - Steven Carroll

I have discovered a new favourite writer - even though I loved The Lost Life I was still a little hesitant about reading some of Carroll's earlier novels - I wasn't quite sure that a story about an Australian suburb in the 1950's would excite me too much - but I was wrong!

The Art Of The Engine Driver felt seamless to me - the writing, the story and the characters just flowed. I didn't want the story to end but at the same time I just couldn't stop reading it.

The story begins with a family, Vic, Rita and Michael, walking down their street to attend an engagement party for a neighbour. As they walk we learn about their past and what has led them to this suburb at this time. We learn about Vic's passion for his job as a train driver and how he and Rita first met and fell in love. We also hear about Vic's serious drinking problem and how that is impacting on his relationship with both Rita and Michael and, as the story unfolds, we learn about a secret that Vic is keeping from his employers.

As the family walk down the street and pass each house the story of the people in that house is told and reflected upon so that by the time the family reach the party we have a really clear picture of the neighbourhood - and some of the tensions that will be evident at the party.

This suburban story is happening at the same time as a train journey from Melbourne to Sydney - a journey that will correspond with the events at the party as the story goes on.

I know it sounds quite simple - and in some ways it is - but the storytelling is divine and the characterisation perfect. I felt for all of these characters, loved some and hated others - but they all evoked a reaction from me.

The Art Of The Engine Driver is the first book in a trilogy and I will certainly be reading the other two very soon.

May 14, 2009

Library Loot

More books picked up this week:

The Art of The Engine Driver and The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll - after reading and loving The Lost Life last week Antipodean Owl suggested I might like Carroll's earlier work. These books are the first two in a trilogy set in the Australian suburbs from the 1950's - a very different time and space to The Lost Life but I fell so in love with Carroll's writing style I am definitely going to give them a go.

Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss - I have been meaning to pick this one up since I read The History of Love earlier in the year (still my favourite read of the year so far I think). I have a feeling this author won't let me down.

Graceling by Kristen Cashore - you are probably thinking this book is a little outside my normal reading areas - and you would be right! I actually picked this one up for my partner. He had seen it in a bookshop but as it was an export it was quite expensive so luckily our library has a copy. When I read the description of this one I actually thought it sounded quite interesting even though it definitely isn't the type of book I would normally read. Has anyone read/heard of this one?

May 10, 2009

The School of Essential Ingredients - Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients is not a book I would normally pick up - anything to do with cooking I try to steer away from as it is not exactly my forte! But this book actually made me want to learn to cook - that means it was pretty good!

The setting of the book is a cooking school being run at a local restaurant owned by Lillian. As the book opens we learn about Lillian and what led her to her passion of cooking. We then hear about each of the characters that are attending this particular cooking class in turn - what has led them to the class and what it is they need to get out of it. It is clear that the cooking class is really a front for many other issues and the students learn that food and how we prepare and consume it can represent so much more.

When I started the book I was a little bit afraid that the writing would be too flowery for me and the constant references to food and its impact in people's lives a little too over the top - but this was not the case. I eased into the book and the setting Bauermeister was creating. I even loved the way the book left you wanting just a little bit more at the end - like any good meal!

May 09, 2009

Drood - Dan Simmons

I was not intending to include this book in any challenges but as I have just finished the 775 page chunkster I think it is only appropriate (and fair to me!) that I list it as my first completed book for The Chunkster Challenge - because it certainly fits into this category!
Drood by American author Dan Simmons was a book that was recommended to me (I am so sorry but I can't remember who by!) after I started to get into a bit of a Dickens phase after reading Wanting and Girl in a Blue Dress earlier this year. I must admit I was a little put off after I collected the book from my library and saw it's size but all of that doubt disappeared after reading the first few pages - I was hooked.

The narrator of Drood is the author Wilkie Collins - I have to be honest and say that I have never read any of Collin's work before and (if I am being completely honest) I had not even really heard of him before joining the blogging world and hearing so many of you praise his novels. This was all quite funny for me as I started reading this book as the narrator Collins seems to feel he will not be remembered by many in the years following his death;

Some say that I am a gambling man and those that say so are correct, so my wager with you, Dear Reader, would be that you have neither read nor heard of any of my books or plays"(page 3).

The context of the book is that Collins has written a memoir (the book we are reading) about his friendship with Charles Dickens and the events following a serious train accident at Staplehurst involving the author in June 1865 in which many people are killed and injured. Dickens himself is uninjured physically but the emotional and psychological impact of the accident means that he never returns to his prolific writing career afterwards. When speaking to Collins after the accident Dickens talks about a strange character named Drood whom he met while attending to the dead and injured - the exact nature of who (or what) is Drood become the focus for this novel as well as the actual novel Dickens was writing at the time of his death in 1870, just 5 years after the Staplehurst accident.

Collins is an extremely unreliable narrator - he is addicted to opium and takes it in ever increasing doses as the book goes on. His love-hate relationship with Dickens also makes us wonder at his real motivation behind the writing of this "memoir". But these are techniques that really only add to the effect and impact of the book - you want to see if the real motivations ever become clear - and even if they don't, you are really enjoying the story too much to care! There are many mysteries buried within the narration - Who is Drood? What role does he play in the lives and writings of Collins and Dickens? Is Drood real? Is Dickens a murderer?

This book is quite frightening in places - I rarely become scared when reading a book but it was a testament to Simmons writing that this book certainly evoked that reaction in me many times - it probably took me a lot longer than it should have to finish this because there were times when I couldn't read it before going to sleep!

As I said, this book hooked me in from the very beginning and easily kept my interest for all of its 700 plus pages. A great character novel, a great mystery and a really, really great read.

May 08, 2009

The Lost Life - Steven Carroll

I must admit I have not really been tempted to pick up one of Steven Carroll's books before - even though he is an award winning Australian author I just didn't think his novels and their subject matter were all that appealing to me. I am so, so glad I was tempted to pick up The Lost Life though - because it means I have now discovered another amazing author to add to my TBR pile.

I was drawn to The Lost Life for a couple of reasons - firstly the cover. I know it is completely superficial but the cover of a book does make a difference for me - I have to feel drawn to it and it has to feel "right" - by that I mean, right for the book it is representing and portraying. The cover of The Lost Life felt perfect to me - and I feel that way even more now that I have finished the book.

The second thing that drew me in to reading this book was it's setting - England, September 1934 - both a location and an era in time which I love reading about.

The story of the book centres around two couples - Catherine and Daniel, young and newly in love and an older couple T.S. Eliot and Emily Hale. The paths of the two couples cross over in the garden of an English country estate one September afternoon where Catherine and Daniel observe the older couple (without their knowledge) engaging in a poetic and romantic ritual declaring their love for each other - a love that cannot be openly acknowledged due to Eliot's marriage to another woman.

The events of that afternoon lead to interactions between the two couples but especially between Catherine and Emily and we see quite clearly the different stages the two women are at both in terms of their relationships and their lives in general. It is these narratives that guide the story and allow us to see into the lives of the individuals, but also the relationships, in such an acute way.

I must admit I am not a huge poetry reader and really only know about T.S. Eliot from having to study his poems (particularly The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock) in my university days so I was not sure how close to reality this fictional relationship between the poet and Emily Hale actually was - this article from The Australian has some interesting insights - although it does have a couple of spoilers in relation to the book so I would recommend reading it afterwards if you are interested.

This book is simply gorgeous - I read it over two nights but could have finished it quicker if I didn't need sleep! A quote on the back of the book from The Australian newspaper declares this "A writer worth cherishing. His prose is unfailingly assured, lyrical, poised" - I could not possibly put it better myself.

May 06, 2009

Library Loot

I had 4 books I had placed reserves on waiting for me to collect this week:

1. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister - a book I saw when I was browsing the bookshop shelves a couple of weeks ago - the story sounds so sweet and the book itself looks gorgeous.

2. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee - again, a gorgeous cover that drew me in but I did actually read a wonderful review of this one over at Matt's blog so that's really what made me pick this one up.

3. The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry - there are so many great things being said about this one around the blogging world - has anyone read this and hasn't liked it??

4. The Lost Life by Australian author Steven Carroll. I started this one last night and am already half way through - fabulous!

May 04, 2009

Nocturnes - Kazuo Ishiguro

I was so excited about the release of Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro. I only really discovered this author last year when I read a couple of his books - The Remains of The Day being an absolute favourite. Even the thought of his new book being a collection of short stories didn't put me off - thanks to Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri which I read last year I am definitely now on board with this genre.

But I have to say - I was pretty disappointed with this book. I'm not sure if I'm just a dense reader (and that truly could be it) but I just did not get these stories at all. I felt they were quite childish and the story lines ridiculous in many places (can anyone please tell me what is the point of the "dog" storyline in the second story of the collection - "Come Rain or Come Shine"??).

All of the stories are written around a theme of music - I am wondering if this is why I might not have connected with the book? I certainly enjoy and appreciate music but I am definitely no musician. I have always thought that this did not have to be an impediment to enjoying and appreciating a book - I like to read books about topics and areas that I know nothing or little about. For some reason this was not the case with this book.

The last story - Cellists - did redeem the collection a little for me. I could actually see some motivation behind the character's actions and I felt the character's themselves had some depth and realism to them.

As I said before - Maybe I am missing the whole point - if I am, can somebody please fill me in? I so wanted to enjoy (and even love) this book.

May 03, 2009

Weekend Reading

My reading this weekend was a little all over the place. I had to travel to see my aunt in hospital as she has just had major surgery (and doing well at this stage thankfully) and to help look after my young cousin so I was quite distracted and my mind really was elsewhere. But - my reading is something that always helps me when I am worrying about other things the only problem was that this weekend nothing was really keeping my focus so I just kept picking up book after book to see if it would do the trick.
I have been reading Drood by Dan Simmons (amazing - I'll write another post about it soon) but it was way too large and daunting to take away with me this weekend.
So, first I started with The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard. This is a book I first read ages and ages ago but I remember really enjoying it so I have been meaning to re-read it for a while now.
I then moved on to Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult - I had promised myself that I was not going to read this one. I have been so disappointed with her last few books that I didn't feel like wasting my time on this latest one. But, I was in a town which did not have a great selection in terms of books and I know I can rely on Jodi to have a nice neat formula with predictable characters to follow so I picked it up. I have to say that I have read quite a bit of it over the weekend - it is predictable and ridiculous really but it got my mind off other things so I guess it did the trick!
When I got home last night I turned to the latest book by Kazuo Ishiguro - Nocturnes. This is a book of short stories and I have only read the first two at this stage so I am reserving my judgement until I have finished the whole book.
So, back home - and thinking I need to put together a bit of a reading plan so I stop reading all over the place!