Book Reviews: Days by Eva Figes

41is5qT7vvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Days has a kind of violent stillness, great turbulence beneath a surface calm. The eerie thing about her writing here is that the calm seems to increase as the disturbance deepens.” – THE GUARDIAN

“Eva Figes exposes a relentless cycle of human failure, unfulfilled longings, and inescapable responsibility. Through this individual tragedy, seen from a new and disturbing angle, Eva Figes probes the deepest trauma of a woman’s psyche.” – From the book jacket

This book is about four generations of women and how their lives are so saddeningly and hopelessly similar that the protagonist, bed-ridden and alone, seems unsure of which one of them she actually is. Through her confusion we discover that history seems bound to repeat itself, admittedly in different ways, but with the same sad and terrifying conclusion: we all die alone.

A superb book, one that will stay with me forever.

4/5 – I really liked it.

Book Review: Sassinak by Anne McCaffrey

1017600I was a huge fan of Anne McCaffrey in my teens; I read all her series except the Planet Pirate books, so when I saw this book in a charity shop a couple of months ago, I decided it was time to relive my youth and discover what I’d missed.

What a dissapointment! All the passion and excitement I remembered from her other works was absent in this one. The characters lacked depth, and generated no sympathy in me. The plot was far too fast; the first half of the book covers about 40 years and some major life events that would have been worthy of a whole book themselves. In the second half of the book, I kept thinking I’d missed whole passages because at times I didn’t have a clue who people were or what was happening. The ending also involved one of the worst cases of deus ex machina I’ve ever read.

I’ve been thinking about rereading the Dragon Riders of Pern books, but I don’t think I will now. I’d rather remember them as I remember them.

2/5 – It was okay.

Book Review: The Price of Freedom by A. C. Crispin

4558004All in all, I think Miss Crispin did a pretty good job with this bit of Jack Sparrow backstory. I enjoyed the overall tale although I found all the flashbacking in the first part of the book a little frustrating, but once I got passed that it became a page turner. There were a few niggles that I had to force myself to overlook, for example: The Faithful Bride is mentioned as being in Port Royal but any self-respecting PotC fan knows that it’s on Tortuga, there was also the overuse of the word ‘perforce’ (amongst others), and quite a few anachronisms, especially in the dialogue. Other than that, I liked the slightly-toned-down Jack. He was clearly Jack Sparrow, but on his way to becoming the man from the movies. I very much enjoyed Barbossa, Teague and life at Shipwreck Cove, and I thought the female characters were pretty well drawn, although had we not already been given Elizabeth Swann in the films, I would have called Ezmerelda out as being a Mary Sue! I did find the ending a bit of a let down though. The whole story had been building up to what was perhaps the most defining moment in Jack Sparrow’s life, but it just felt a little lame … a little rushed. Still, a nice addition to canon.

4/5 – I really liked it.

Book Review: The Bad Mother’s Handbook by Kate Long

1233206I found this book at the St George’s Church Hall Official BookCrossing Zone in Waterlooville. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I think the cover threw me at first; pastel book covers with titles in unusual fonts normally make me run a mile! I know…I know: never judge a book by its cover!

I found the characters believable and their stories engaging. The humour and wisdom sprinkled throughout the book made me smile. I had tears in my eyes at one point. I think most mothers would be able to relate to all the women. I certainly could.

My only criticism would be that telling three people’s stories all in the first person was confusing, even with the slightly different fonts used. Nan’s voice was very clear, but I sometimes thought I was reading Charlotte when I was actually reading Karen’s and vice versa.

This book deserves a wide audience, so I will endeavour to release it somewhere where someone who will appreciate it might pick it up…maybe outside a Mothercare store!

3/5 – I liked it.

Book Review: ‘Horowitz Horror’ by Anthony Horowitz

1366911This book of short stories, although aimed at readers about twenty years younger than myself, was both entertaining and educational. Anyone interested in writing horror or short stories (or both) would be well advised to read this collection. The prose is swift and lean, the suspense masterful and the humour/horror balance pitched just right. Horowitz takes everyday objects, people and places and gives them a creepy, unexpected twist.

4/5 – I really liked it.

Book Review: ‘The History of Love’ by Nicole Krauss

3867Having had this book recommended to me by several people, I had very high hopes for it. I am pleased to report I was not disappointed. However, this is a book for which you need to keep all your wits about you. The following quote from the book nicely sums up its potential for confusion:

”The History of Love starts when Alma is ten, right?” I said. My mother looked up and nodded. “Well how old is she when it ends?” “It’s hard to say. There are so many Almas in the book.” “How old is the oldest?” “Not very. Maybe twenty.” “So the book ends when Alma is only twenty?” “In a way. But it’s more complicated than that. She isn’t even mentioned in some chapters. And the whole sense of time and history in the book is very loose.”

Having realised not far into the novel that it was going to keep me on my toes, I slowed down and tried to digest every word so I didn’t get lost. This may sound like hard work, but the effort was well worth it; by the end I was in floods of tears. The last page is breathtaking in its simplicity, and having come to know the two characters involved, I could do nothing else but cry for them. It has left me in a very melancholy mood, but that is no bad thing.

The writing is beautiful, the characters are sensitively and convincingly drawn, the plot is complex, but the story is both simple and pure, funny and sad. A delight to read. I can’t wait to read it again.

4/5 – I really liked it.

Book Review: ‘Vanishing Acts’ by Jodi Picoult

14865I hate abandoning books half-way through, and, this year, there have only been two that I haven’t finished. The first was Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon (The less said about that the better.), and the other was Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult. My mum is a Picoult fan, and about a year ago she gave me a stack of her books to read. Three days ago, I finally picked one up and started reading. I stopped reading at page 100, my cut off for books that haven’t fully engaged me earlier on.

It’s not that this book is bad, it’s just that it’s annoying. I found the main character, Delia Hopkins, irritating, and, after 100 pages, I just didn’t care about her or her story any more. The plot seemed contrived: Delia Hopkins has always been good at finding things, and, as an adult, she makes a living as a finder of lost children. Now what would be the most devastating thing for her to find out? That’s right. That she, herself, was also lost (kidnapped) as a child. I could handle this idea, if it wasn’t the crux of the whole book. This is something that might work if the story was about a case she was working on, and then she found out her own secret at the end, but it doesn’t happen like that. She finds out in the first few chapters and then (I’m guessing here because I haven’t read on.) the rest of the book is about her unravelling her own mystery. I don’t think the reader is given enough time to get to know Delia as a person before she becomes a whiny, snivelling victim. The other thing that put me off was that the story is written from four different first person perspectives, which are hard to follow because each voice is not distinctive enough. Sometimes I forgot whose story I was reading.

1/5 – I didn’t like it.

Book Review: ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison

5219In her Afterword to this book, Toni Morrison writes that she wanted The Bluest Eye to be moving rather than touching. In my opinion. she certainly achieved her aim. This is a story which explores some of humanity’s darkest issues: racism and child abuse in its many forms, and Morrison doesn’t pussy-foot around these issues, she confronts them head on, and in graphic detail.

Pecola, a young black girl, believes she is ugly, and that having blue eyes (like the white girls she admires) will make her beautiful. She is bullied at school and neglected by her family. Eventually, she is raped by her father and becomes pregnant with his child, and, after being ostracised by her community, she finally succumbs to severe mental illness.

What makes this story both more and less bearable for me is that Morrison gives each of her characters a history which allowed me to understand (and sometimes sympathise with) even the vilest of the offenders in Pecola’s life.

The prose itself is a joy to read, which makes the subject matter seem all the more dire.

A beautiful rendition of ugliness.

5/5 – It was amazing!

Book Review: ‘The Pianist’ by Władysław Szpilman

777033It took me a long time to settle into this book. It is heavy with narrative (which, I suppose, is one of the characteristics of a memoir), and I always find that hard going. Also, the writing seemed very dispassionate, which struck me as odd given the emotive subject matter, but as I got into the book I began to realise that the author was probably in a state of shock when he wrote it. The most harrowing events are exposed for what they are because they are not over-dramatised or embellished with clever prose.

At the end of the book, having read Szpilman’s own account of life in Warsaw between 1939 and 1945, and the diary entries of the German officer who came to his aid, I was left wondering how the events of WWII had been allowed to happen. It seems preposterous and utterly, utterly wrong, yet I know similar atrocities are still happening in the world today. The epilogue, written by one of Szpilman’s friends, goes some way to explaining events, but I find myself with this quote echoing in my mind: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Book Review: ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry

228303The easiest way to describe this book is as Nineteen Eighty-Four for children, but that would be selling it short. Although written for children, this book easily engaged me. Jonas is a likeable character, and I couldn’t help rooting for him.

One of the rules of the community in which Jonas lives is that all members should speak with a ‘precision of language’. This precision of language is refected in the tight, spare prose used to tell the story. Not a word is wasted, and it is a delight to read. The images evoked are vivid and the weirdness of a near-emotion-free community is quite unnerving at times, as is the whole idea of Sameness. The story made me grateful for all the freedom of choice I have, even taking into account all the pain and suffering that can come with it. A world without choice, without colour, without music, without love would not be a world that I would want to live in.

I’ll be keeping this book on my bookshelf so that I can pass it to my own children, both for their enjoyment and their education.

5/5 – It was amazing!