Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Brightest Star in the Sky (Marian Keyes)

Title: The Brightest Star in the Sky
Author: Marian Keyes
Published: 2009
Publisher: Penguin UK
Pages: 614
Source: Own copy
Genres: Contemporary Fiction / Chick Lit
Goodreads  |  Amazon.com

There's this thing that happens when you get pregnant where all of a sudden your energy levels decide to leave you to go on holiday and your concentration seems to have hitched a ride in the suitcase. This results in the need to re-evaluate your reading list and start choosing titles that require, well how do I put this diplomatically, a little less brain power.

As such I picked up The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes. I love Keyes. Her books tend to have the best mix of low key chick-lit writing with themes that have a bit of substance thrown in for good measure. My favourite so far has been Anybody Out There and I would recommend it to anyone.

The Brightest Star in the Sky centers around a 'being' of some kind (explained later in the book) that comes down to 66 Star Street in Dublin and watches the residences in the building's 4 apartments. The book quickly jumps between the characters lives slowly interweaving the stories as time goes on. The chapters are quick enough and the characters interesting enough to keep the pages turning and I really enjoyed reading as the various plots unfolded. There was a lot of mystery surrounding the couple in the bottom flat but I did guess the mystery long before it was revealed within the pages.

I must admit I didn't enjoy the ending, things just didn't quite seem to round up in an interesting enough way and the 'being' stuff was a bit too much out of reality for me to buy into it. This meant that unfortunately the whole book was a bit more disappointing in the end even though I enjoyed the middle part so much.

Ultimately if you haven't read a Marian Keyes before I certainly wouldn't recommend starting with this one and there are a lot better books out there to read but if you're after an easy to read popular character fiction it's still worth the time.

Monday, 9 June 2014

When Will There Be Good News? (Kate Atkinson)

Title: When Will There Be Good News?
Author: Kate Atkinson
Published: 2008
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 352
Source: Found it
Genres: Mystery / Crime
Goodreads  |  Amazon.com

The most interesting thing about this book is how I came to have it. You see I collected this book from my local dump transfer station. Now before you start to judge me and think I go trifling through rubbish tips looking for books that's not quite how this story goes.

You see what happened was, I was at my local transfer station doing some recycling of old moving boxes like one does and I noticed a woman pitch over the side of the paper container a pile of books. Of course I was a little dumbfounded by this; there are plenty of charity shops and second hand stores that love to get a hold of books so I sidled over to take a look expecting them all to be ripped or disfigured in some way. To my surprise they were neither. In fact many of them were in pristine condition and many of them were titles released in the past few years.

Another woman as surprised as I was to see so many books just carelessly discarded asked the book dumper why she hadn't donated them. The response? "I didn't have time, I just need to get rid of them". Well my new transfer station pal and I decided the books still deserved a second chance and thankfully the transfer station attendants see this often enough that they have a policy of rescuing items like this wherever possible and donating them to a local charity shop. The three of us fished all the books back out of the container ready for a new home.

The attendant also gave us first pick and I had read many of them I did manage to grab this book I am reviewing today.

I have never read a Kate Atkinson book so didn't know what to expect. I'm also not a huge fan of the murder mystery / detective novel type genre but I like the odd one now and then. Considering this one starts off with a young girl witnessing the murder of her entire family I thought I might be in for a bit of a rough ride.

Thankfully it tames down a little after that and isn't quite as graphic. There are a number of subplots that all merge together and there are a lot of characters which meant it was a little hard to keep track of who was who, as the writing jumps around in the various chapters. I found myself reading for longer periods then I normally would just so I wouldn't lose track.

I did like the character of Reggie - a tough 16 year old orphan girl who looks like a child and who has a bit of a nasty brother. She was a pretty tough and resourceful kid and I liked reading her sections.

Overall it was an okay light read but certainly not a star of this genre due to excessive characters and distracting subplots but hey still worth rescuing from a dumpster!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Disappearing Act

For those of you who have followed my blog semi-regularly you may have wondered what was the deal with my sudden disappearance and blogging silence? Yes I am still here, promise! It may take a little bit to get back into a regular habit of blogging but expect to see a bit more activity around here.

So what happened?! Well basically I had one of the busiest, craziest, emotionally charged and financially stressful years of my life! Why is that? Well in the past year my boyfriend and I bought a house, got married, had a honeymoon on the other side of the world and now we're having a baby! Say what?! Yep we're a bit nuts like that, but even for us holy moly it was a lot to cram into a year!!!

So please forgive my absence but I had very good reason to put my blogging on hold while other things took over my life. Of course things will never quite be back to normal now that two will be three before the end of the year but at least I now have a spare minute to read a book (in between my naps). And oh I can't wait!

See you all again soon xx

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Circus of Ghosts (Barbara Ewing)

Title: The Circus of Ghosts
Author: Barbara Ewing
Published: 2011
Publisher: Little Brown Paperbacks
Pages: 416
Source: Library
Genres: Historical Fiction
Goodreads  |  Amazon.com

Circus of Ghosts is the sequel to Barbara Ewing's fantastic novel The Mesmerist. The Mesmerist was set in London in the 1830s and follows the story of Miss Cordelia Preston, a beautiful, ageing actress who, faced with poverty, reinvents herself as a Lady Phreno-Mesmerist, a practice of entrancing patients for healing purposes that has captivated the city. I read The Mesmerist two years ago and found it an incredibly captivating read. I have always enjoyed Ewing's novels for their strong female character leads and in depth research.

Circus of Ghosts follows Cordelia Preston over 10 years later as she has taken her daughter Gwenlliam and her misfit collection of "family" across to New York and set themselves up with Silas P. Swift's circus. Unknown to them a venomous duke from their past plots with an unscrupulous lawyer against the mother and daughter; to kill one and to abduct the other.

The amount of research that would have gone into this book must have been quite substantial as the descriptions of New York during that time; of the gangs and the docks and the police and the stark contrast between poverty and high class society are simply stunning. That coupled with the incredibly detailed picture of San Francisco during the gold mining era was fascinating. I would love to read more about this time in America's history so if anyone knows some great books to dive into let me know.

Unfortunately that was the best thing I liked about this book. Unlike many of her other books this one simply lacked something in the character relationships that should really engage you into a novel. I found many of the character interactions and drivers to be surface level, the story jumped all over the place and was quite disjointed and it lacked the pace of the first book. This made it just an okay novel instead of a great one.

Skip It

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)

Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Originally Published: 1939
My Edition Published: 2011
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 536
Source: Book club
Genres: Classics
Goodreads  |  Amazon.com

The Grapes of Wrath follows the Joad family during the Great Depression as they are displaced from the land they work in Oklahoma and follow thousands of others as they head west to California with the promise of work and a better life. What they find there is anything but.

This is the first Steinbeck I have read and I think he is an incredible writer. The writing is so vivid and descriptive that you can't help but be transported into the lives of this family and the struggles that they go through. The story is quite simply one of the most harrowing I have read. Tom Joad is released from prison (there because he killed someone defending himself in a fight) and heads home to reunite with his family only to find his family have been kicked off the farm they work due to ecological disasters and the hunt for more and more profits from greedy bankers. There begins a journey across America with 11 other family members and an ex preacher in the back of a truck with all their worldly possessions. They join thousands of others heading west due to the promise of work, a lie used to drive down wages as more and more people demand work on the cotton and fruit fields. Anger, death, hunger, and violence await them at the end of their journey.

This book is not for the faint hearted but it is an incredible story and well worth the read. Steinbeck has been able to capture the human spirit of determination and will to survive when all else is lost, the need to battle and fight no matter what, and the bond that will hold a family together no matter what hardship is thrown at them. It is also a very realistic depiction of what life during the depression would have been like. Steinbeck also tries to overlay the families story with information about how the country ended up in the mess that it was in, and why the families were all on the move. This really helped put a lot of things in context across the story. Steinbeck wrote character speeches phonetically allowing you to pick up accents and colloquialism of various people throughout the story. Some chapters were also written in a stream of consciousness style which can be difficult but I think did enhance the overall story.

I want to talk about the ending but I better not give any spoilers away but I will just say that I found the abrupt ending very difficult to digest and it left me wanting more. I'm now really looking forward to reading some of Steinbeck's other novels as I think he's one of the greatest writers I've had the pleasure of reading. If you haven't picked up The Grapes of Wrath yet I urge you to do so.
"And the failure hangs over the State like a great sorrow. ...and in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage."

The Grapes of Wrath was read as part of my 100 book challenge of must read novels.
(22 read. 78 to go!).