Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Spell

by Charlotte Bronte

The SpellThe Spell is an early work and does show some signs of what is to come but there is very little in the way of plot or real story. The characters are well described, but at the same time, shallow and ill-defined. This is Charlotte honing her craft, but lacks the clarity and drive of her later work.

As the story begins to unfold there are hints of the supernatural. How can one man be in two places at once? The answer was all too obvious far too early, but then, I have seen this type of plot before, but at the time it was written I suppose it was a less common theme.

Did I enjoy the book? Yes I did, but it didn’t hold my attention and I had to work on it. I also found the irrelevant references to mythology and other literary works to be a distraction. At times I felt that Charlotte was more interested in showing off her classical education than in taking the reader with her on a journey.

For what it is, an early work by a well-respected author, it is enjoyable enough, but hardly a classic in its own right. Something for the fans. If you really want to read a classic by this woman, stick to Jane Eyre.

Banks of Green Willow

by Kevin Myers

Banks of Green WillowI had never heard of Kevin Myers until I came across this little gem amongst a pile of books at a local garden centre – a fate that this book does not deserve!

From the very first line to its powerful and emotional ending, Banks of Green Willow is a surprising mix of humour, compassion and the brutal reality of civil war.

At the heart of the book is the story of two lovers, separated too soon. After a whirlwind weekend in 1972, teenager Gina Cambell returns to her home in Louisiana, leaving Stefan in Ireland. Even as she boards the plane, Gina knows she is making a mistake.

We all have those moments in our lives when we are faced with making decisions that could, and often do, change our lives forever. Whether the decisions we make are the right ones or not, we have to learn to live with them. Most of the time we don’t even realise that we have turned down a new path. For Gina and Stefan, her leaving Ireland for the USA was just such a moment, and one that changed her life forever.

Gina builds a comfortable life for herself, but never forgets the enigmatic Irishman with Baltic heritage who changed her life forever during that unforgettable weekend.

The action of the book moves between Ireland, Louisiana and the horrors of the Bosnian war, spanning 30 years.

Whilst the story of Gina and Stefan is not original, and the twists in the plot not unexpected, the flash-forwards to evens in Bosnia are gruesome and compelling. As the central character, Gina Cambell faces a number of challenges that test her emotional strength. From a loveless marriage to the horrors of separation and illness, she fights to maintain her identity and the love of those she cares about.

I found Banks of Green Willow a wonderfully moving book.

Persuasian

by Jane Austen

PersuasianHaving recently visited the Jane Austen House Museum, I had to reacquaint myself with one of her books. On this occasion I chose Persuasion. It is quite a while since I last read the exploits of Anne Elliot and her rather dysfunctional family, and I enjoyed it much than I did last time around.

Jane Austen is well known for her wit and satirical insight into the manners and intrigues of early 19th century polite society, and it is rarely more obvious than in this, her last novel.

The Elliot’s of Kellynch Hall are a family to be pitied. Widowed Sir Walter Elliot, the confused father of three daughters, has absolutely no idea of how to manage his estate or his money. He finds himself financially “embarrassed” and, reluctantly, and against all his objections, finds himself forced to lease his family home and take up residence in Bath. He takes with him his eldest daughter, who is equally as dippy, and her friend Mrs Clay, a widow with designs on the title and the estate.

Sir Walter is probably the vainest gentleman you will ever come across, both in terms of physical appearance and social status, something he shares with Elizabeth.
His youngest daughter, Mary, has married “beneath her station”. Her husband is wealth, but not from one of the better families!

Only his youngest daughter Anne has any sense, and it down to her to keep the family within its financial means. Seven years prior to the start of the book, Anne had let herself be talked out out of a marriage that was seen by both her family and her closes friend, Lady Russell, as being ill-advised. But time has not healed the wound and when her former “lover” is back on the scene, Anne must now decide for herself where her happiness lies.

I feel that Persuasion is often overlook, but the wonderful characters, witty dialogue and compelling narrative make it an excellent read. I had forgotten just how good it was. A great way to spend a few hours as the summer begins to draw to an end.

Red Rising

by Pierce Brown

Red Rising(#1 of the Red Rising Trilogy)

I picked up a copy of this book after coming across several very good reviews.

Red Rising is Pierce Brown’s debut novel, and the first book of his Red Rising trilogy.

Although it is set on Mars, it is more fantasy that science fiction. Set in the far future, mankind has spread out across the solar system, but not without some serious conflicts on the way. Society has evolved, or returned, to a colour-coded caste system. At the top of the pile are the Golds who rule with brutal efficiency, whilst at the bottom, literally, are the Reds.

Red Rising follows the story of Darrow, who works in the mines below Mars’ surface, working to help build a new home for humanity. But they have been betrayed. Mars is already inhabited with cities and forests sprawling across its surface.

Circumstances conspire to give Darrow an opportunity to work towards redressing the balance and giving his fellow Reds the opportunity to reap the rewards of their labours. Torn between revenge and justice, Darrow finds himself completing against and befriending young Golds as he takes his first steps on the road to bringing down the system that enslaved his family for generations.

Taking inspiration for several sci-fi/fantasy sources, and with more than a nod to Greek mythology, Pierce Brown’s debut is as exciting and well written novel. I was hooked from the very beginning. There is plenty of action with the plot taking several unexpected twists along the way.

Pierce Brown is a great story teller. I just hope the rest of the series is as good.

Perfect Match

by Jane Moore

Perfect MatchHaving read only one Jane Moor novel before (Fourplay) I was expecting the same sort of thing – a light, funny chick-lit book with just enough plot to keep me amused for a couple of hours. What I actually got was a surprisingly touching story with characters I found some sympathy for.

In a nutshell, Karen and Joe Eastman have a far from perfect marriage but they are happy, never more so than when their son is born. But when they discover that young Ben has a terminal illness, their lives are changed forever. The only way they can cure Ben’s illness is by having a “designer baby”. For any parent this would be a no-brainer, but things are not as simple as they seem. Well, it wouldn’t be a very interesting book if it was would it?

For Karen and Joe, the secrets that are revealed during the search for a cure threatens to break up the whole family. They must both make very difficult decisions and face some unpalatable truths if they are going to save their son.

From the very first page, Perfect Match was compelling, emotional and entertaining and completely different from “Fourplay”. It is not exactly great literature, but it is a very engaging read.

Station Eleven

by Emily St John Mandel

Station ElevenThere are plenty of post apocalypse books out there at the moment, but this one definitely stands out from the crowd. For one thing, there is not a zombie in sight! 

Station Eleven is a well-constructed view of a world devastated by a deadly virus that strikes down almost the whole population. Those who survive the collapse come together in new settlements far from the old cities that are left in ruins.

The book follows the lives of several characters whose lives are linked by an Actor who dies on stage on the night the virus arrives in North America. Among those who share the stage with him that night is young Kirsten, a child actress who becomes the main focus of the book.

Twenty years later, Kirsten is part of the Travelling Symphony, a group of musicians and actors, travelling the area around the American/Canadian border performing Shakespeare and classical music to the settlements that have sprung up in the region. 

With flashbacks to events leading up to and immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic, we learn of the events that link Kirsten and several other characters to each other and the now dead actor Arthur Leander. It is a well-paced story that had me gripped from the very beginning. Jumping from past to present can sometimes be confusing and often distracting from the narrative, but in this case it just adds to the overall effectiveness of the story. 

I had originally thought this was going to be a science fiction book, but it is not. Station Eleven is a story about survival and hope. There are well researched passages and Emily St John Mandel goes to great lengths to be as realistic as possible, particularly with regards to things such as the shelf life of fuel, but it is the characters that really drive the plot. 

The Travelling Symphony’s motto is “Survival is insufficient”, taken from Star Trek: Voyager. For those travelling with the Symphony, that is definitely the case as they keep their love of music and literature alive during the collapse of the world as they knew it. On the back of the book the publishers ask the question: what would you preserve if civilization was lost? Would it be music, art, books, and science? An interesting thought.

I found Station Eleven to be a captivating read. It has great characters and a simple but effective plot. It as a refreshing change from the majority of post apocalypse books out there at the moment, and reminds me a little of the 1970s TV drama “Survivors”. 

Red Rising (Red Rising #1)

Red Risingby Pierce Brown

Red Rising is Pierce Brown’s debut novel, and the first book of his Red Rising trilogy.

Although it is set on Mars, it is more fantasy that science fiction. Set in the far future, mankind has spread out across the solar system, but not without some serious conflicts on the way. Society has evolved, or returned, to a colour-coded caste system. At the top of the pile are the Golds who rule with brutal efficiency, whilst at the bottom, literally, are the Reds.

Red Rising follows the story of Darrow, who works in the mines below Mars’ surface, working to help build a new home for humanity. But they have been betrayed. Mars is already inhabited with cities and forests sprawling across its surface. 

Circumstances conspire to give Darrow an opportunity to work towards redressing the balance and giving his fellow Reds the opportunity to reap the rewards of their labours. Torn between revenge and justice, Darrow finds himself completing against and befriending young Golds as he takes his first steps on the road to bringing down the system that enslaved his family for generations.

Taking inspiration for several sci-fi/fantasy sources, and with more than a nod to Greek mythology, Pierce Brown’s debut is as exciting and well written novel. I was hooked from the very beginning. There is plenty of action with the plot taking several unexpected twists along the way. 

Pierce Brown is a great story teller. I just hope the rest of the series is as good.