I reviewed 44 books last year, which must mean I read at least 44 books because I don’t write reviews for all of the books I read.
Category Archives: Miscellaneous
This was our latest book club selection. There has been heaps of publicity – here and here and here. This novel is set in Western Australia and it is always quite nice to read something set in your home town plus it had reading group questions (that should help with the discussion).
Here is the blurb …
Millie Bird (aka Captain Funeral), seven-years old and ever hopeful, always wears red gumboots to match her red, curly hair. Her struggling mother leaves Millie in a local department store and never returns.
Agatha Pantha, eighty-two, has not left her house – or spoken to another human being – since she was widowed seven years ago. She fills the silences by yelling at passers by, watching loud static on the TV and maintaining a strict daily schedule. Karl the Touch Typist, eighty-seven, once used his fingers to type out love notes on his wife’s skin. Now he types his words out into the air as he speaks. Karl is moved into a nursing home but in a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes. A series of events binds the three together on a road trip that takes them from the south coast of WA to Kalgoorlie and along the Nullarbor to the edge of the continent. Millie wants to find her mum. Karl wants to find out how to be a man. And Agatha just wants everything to go back to how it was. They will discover that old age is not the same as death, that the young can be wise, and that letting yourself experience sadness just might be the key to life.
This was reasonably easy to read – although I did struggle to get to the end (I suspect that says more about me than the book). There are three main characters; Millie, Agatha and Karl and we hear from each of them in the telling of this story. I preferred Agatha and Karl to Millie – who seemed a bit consciously naive to me – and who wouldn’t like Agatha’s inappropriate shouting? There is quite a bit of death mentioned – all three characters have lost someone significant – so possibly not for the recently bereaved.
Another review …
We’re reading this for my Victorian book group – I did finally make it to the end, but not in time for the meeting! It is not as long as some of the novels we have read (Bleak House, Little Dorrit), but I still struggled to get to the end. Not because it was difficult to read, it was easy to read, but it needed editing (a lot of editing!).
Here is the blurb …
Hester tells the story of the aging but powerful Catherine Vernon, and her conflict with the young and determined Hester, whose growing attachment to Edward, Catherine’s favorite, spells disaster for all concerned. Catherine Vernon, jilted in her youth, has risen to power in a man’s world as head of the family bank. She thinks she sees through everyone and rules over a family of dependents with knowing cynicism. But there are two people in Redborough who resist her. One is Hester, a young relation with a personality as strong as Catherine’s, and as determined to find a role for herself. The other is Edward, who Catherine treats like a son. Conflict between the young and the old is inevitable, and in its depiction of the complex relationships that develop between the three principal characters, Hester is a masterpiece of psychological realism. In exploring the difficulty of understanding human nature, it is also a compulsive story of financial and sexual risk-taking that inevitably results in a searing climax.
When I try to write what this novel is about I am overwhelmed with possibilities – the role of women, the mother/child relationship, financial speculation, dependence and independence and there is a large cast of characters to highlight all types. Hester and Catherine both strong-willed women who want to take charge of their own destinies – Catherine because she is wealthy achieves this, but even she thinks it would be better for Hester to marry than work, Edward – who at first seems so steady and then risks everything (well other people’s everything) in risky financial speculation, Emma who wants ‘her chance’ (that is the chance to find a husband), Ellen flighty and extravagant, Mrs John (Hester’s mother) who is gentle, loving, but dim-witted, Roland Ashton charismatic and the catalyst for Edward’s speculation, and finally the malicious tenants of the Vernonry.
Nothing about this novel feels forced or contrived. I was never jolted out of the story and reminded that I was reading a novel. It would make a great BBC adaptation.
I think most modern readers would struggle to finish this novel. There is a lot of internal dialogue – there is a whole chapter where Hester wonders if Edward loves her and if she loves him and no one is any the wiser at the end! A good prune and this novel would be exciting as well as insightful. However, fans of George Eliot and Dickens should really give this one a go after all it’s only five hundred pages rather than a thousand!
Here is a link to the Margaret Oliphant page at Victorianweb.
This year my plan of only reading from my stash was a bit unsuccessful, so I shall plan to do that this year! There are a lot of books in my pile.
I read 32 books, but I suspect there are a few more that just didn’t make it to the blog.
This year I reviewed 50 books! That was my goal at the start of the year, so I feel quite smug (admittedly some of them were light and fun – Wicked Business)
A few of my favourites were
Next year I want to read the books in my pile! I’m not really concerned about the number of books I read, but I am worried about the large stack of unread books taking up space!
But as the memory tree grows, Hal, bereft, and increasingly suspicious of the world, turns to his own brand of salvation to make sense of the voices that bewilder and torment him. Mrs Mac, housekeeper and second mother since Paulina’s death, cooks, cleans, loves and worries about her ‘family’. She is even more concerned when Hal brings a larger-than-life stranger to the house for a beer; but Pastor Moses B. Washbourne, founder of the Church of the Divine Conflagration, ex-sergeant of the US Army, soon becomes part of the family, with surprising and far-reaching consequences.
As the seasons pass, Sealie blossoms into young woman, the apple of Hal’s eye while Zav, having spent his childhood quietly trying to win his father’s lost attention, is conscripted for duty in Vietnam.
And all the while, the voices continue to murmur poisonous words to Hal who knows he must keep them hidden . . . until he is persuaded into the most tragic of acts.
Written with humour and compassion, The Memory Tree is a poignant and compelling story of love, loyalty, grief and forgiveness
It was beautifully written – the characters seemed very real and her portrayal of mental illness superb. We know Hal does something awful, but when we finally come to the event it is still shocking and tragic. But Hal is not the only ‘broken’ character; Zav can’t seem to get on with his life he is both self absorbed and selfish dooming Sealie to a life of servitude. And Sealie sacrifices her life so easily I wonder if she had any real interest to live her life.
Along with fabulous characters, there was a real feeling of place. Whether it be the house by the river Hal built for Paulina or the j ward of the mental asylum you could picture the environment. This story is about family, heredity, duty and sacrifice, but it is also about the family we make for ourselves – Mrs Mac, Godown, Will and Scottie.
http://www.writenotereviews.com/m-o.html (You might need to scroll down a bit to find this one)
I wrote a post on The Art of Mending, but WordPress ate it and I don’t have the stamina to write it again.
Here are some other reviews …
My favourite novels of 2011 (that’s when I read them) were Olive Kitteridge, Freedom, A Visit From the Goon Squad, Elegies for the Broken Hearted, Notes from an Exhibition and Because of the Lockwoods.
I don’t have any particular goals for 2012 – apart from the usual clearing of the to be read pile. Maybe I will try to read 50 books (or at least blog 50 books).
This book was recommended here (and she writes such fabulous reviews you should go and read it). I reserved it at the library – I was about fifth in line – and one day an email arrives to say it was waiting for me.
Lexie Sinclair cannot stay. Enclosed within her parents’ genteel country lawn, she yearns for more. She makes her way to the big city, hungry for life and love, where she meets a magazine editor, Innes, a man unlike any she has ever imagined. He introduces her to the thrilling underground world of bohemian postwar London, and she learns to be a reporter, to know art and artists, to live her life fully and with a deep love at the center of it. When that love is threatened, she nearly loses the self she worked so hard to find. But then, she will create many lives, all of them unconventional. And when she finds herself pregnant by a man wholly unsuitable for marriage or fatherhood, she doesn’t hesitate for a minute to have the baby on her own, to be shaped by her love for her child.
Later, in present-day London, a young painter named Elina dizzily navigates the first weeks of motherhood. Her boyfriend, Ted, traumatized by nearly losing her in labor, begins to recover lost memories. He cannot place them. But as they become more disconcerting and return more frequently, we discover that something connects these two stories – these two women – something that becomes all the more heartbreaking and beautiful as they all hurtle toward its revelation.
A stunning portrait of motherhood and the artist’s life in all their terror and glory, Maggie O’Farrell’s newest novel is a gorgeous inquiry into the ways we make and unmake our lives, who we know ourselves to be, and how even our most accidental legacies connect us.
I loved this book. I tried to find more of O’Farrell’s work, but all of my local book stores (both chain and independent) didn’t have any.
It is written in two different time periods – one in the past and one in the present. You know at some stage the stories are going to merge/cross, but at first they seem disparate and as the story unfolds obvious, but how it all comes robe that way is a mystery to the very end.
The story set in the past involves Lexie and Innes. Free-spirited journalists who write about art and culture. The modern story involves Elina and Ted who have just had a baby. The birth was extremely traumatic and Ted starts to remember things long forgotten. O’Farrell writes beautifully about the exhaustion, confusion and overwhelming love involved with a newborn baby.
This story is well plotted and the tension rises with each chapter as you become aware of the final outcome, but how does it come about? I don’t want to reveal too much. This novel is excellent, the dialogue is superb, the relationships brilliantly imagined.
More reviews …