Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Books I Read in April/May


I haven't done a book post in so long - I'm still crawling through my last pick for the 1,000 Books Challenge (The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides) and to be honest it's almost like a chore to pick it up - I'll give it another week and if I still can't get into it I'll pick another number.

In the meantime, I've set myself the task of reading 50 books this year on Goodreads - it was at 100 but I kept falling behind, so if I manage to clear 50 before the end of the year, I'll increase the number.

Here's what I've read in April/May. (All book images are from Goodreads).

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green 
I adored this book, I have passed it over many times and I was livid with myself for not discovering it sooner. I fell in love with the characters and the story - it was just so beautifully told. If someone had told me last year that a YA novel about a 16 year old cancer patient and a 17 year old amputee would turn out to be one of the most touching, warm, books I'd read in years - I wouldn't have believed them. Please read it! Definitely not in public though. It made me do a Dawson cry.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky 
This one was narrated by teenager Charlie, who is said to be on the Autism spectrum (this isn't said in the book), while others think he may be affected by PTSD. I didn't enjoy this book, I have to say. I found it depressing and upsetting. Think of every bad thing that could possibly happen to someone before they reach adulthood - and it all happens. I just don't think I was in the right headspace for reading it, and Charlie really irritated me. The formatting on my e-copy was all wonky too - for example, when he mentioned the TV show M*A*S*H, it came up on my Kobo as MoreInAInSoInHave - I didn't have a baldy notion what he was on about. The film is on my to-watch list, many people have said that I may enjoy it more than the book.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman 
This was a re-read, and I took my time with it this time. Coraline is a young girl who has parents who are always really busy. They don't pay much attention to what she wants or does - so when Coraline finds an alternate reality with a pretty nifty set of really attentive parents, what's a girl to do? She finds out fairly quickly that the grass is not always greener, and with the aid of a new friend in the form of a talking cat, takes on a pretty impressive villain in order to put things right. 

A Heart So Big by Rio Hogarty 
I bought this after Rio appeared on the Late Late Show here a couple of months ago. A little unassuming woman in her seventies, she looks no different on the outside to any other well-groomed lady. But her story is amazing - Rio has single-handedly fostered over 140 children (even before State support was available) over the past few decades. If she saw a child in need, she stepped in. She's a true fighter, she's absolutely hilarious, and she's one of life's good people. This book was such a great insight into her world - I laughed, I cried, and I fell in love with her. 

The Memory Child by Steena Holmes
This was one of those cheap books that catch my eye on the Kindle charts on Amazon sometimes (that one-click is a danger). Brian and Diane have always planned to have children - when Diane finds out she is pregnant, she begins to panic due to a tragic accident years ago after her mother suffered severe post partum psychosis. Brian, however, is overjoyed - and promises Diane that he will do all he can to help her come to terms with the fact that she is not her mother, and history doesn't have to repeat itself. So why, then, has he disappeared? Why has he not come home from working abroad? Why hasn't he contacted his wife, or seen his baby daughter? Why does the Nanny keep making secret whispered calls? It's told in alternating chapters, so we get to see both Brian and Diane's point of view.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce
Written by the author of "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry", Perfect is based on the notion that two seconds can change several lives forever. It's set in 1972, when two seconds were added to the clock to balance things out in accordance with the way the Earth is moving (this has happened a few times since, too). For Byron, this becomes an obsession. His friend James has told him about the two seconds and Byron finds it fascinating. Unfortunately, his obsession leads to an incident that will change the lives of everyone in his family spectacularly. Interweaved with the melancholy tale of what happens because of the incident in 1972 is a present-day account of a lonely, isolated man named Jim who suffers with pretty severe OCD, and his blossoming friendships with his workmates. I would recommend this - it's like nothing I've read before, even if the 1972 parts seem like they were set several decades earlier. I was sure I had figured out the ending - I couldn't have been more wrong. Really good.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman wants a wife - a very specific wife. He draws up a questionnaire and will not entertain the notion of even dating any woman who does not measure up to it - then Rosie comes crashing into his life and guess what happens. Leaving predictable romances aside, Rosie asks geneticist Don to help her with something - she needs to find out who her real father is, and she wants Don to find him. Don and Rosie embark on a frankly ludicrous mission to gather as much DNA as possible from all the guys her mother associated with the night Rosie was conceived. This book was okay - it's not that I didn't enjoy it, it's just that it's blatantly obvious even from the cover what's going to happen, and for a man who definitely exhibits most of the symptoms of Aspergers at the start of the book, it's amazing how quickly he can leave all that by the wayside and just "train" himself  - like the combination of how fantastic Rosie is and the fact that Don's so unbelievably intelligent is enough to just get rid of any spectrum disorder almost overnight. Apart from that, and the cocktail party chapter, it was grand.  I've seen it described as "Sheldon in Love" for those of you who are Big Bang Theory fans. I, unfortunately, am not, so that didn't endear it to me.

Hidden Secrets by Carolyn Brown
Mills and Boon in disguise - and not a very good one, either. This was another one-click disaster, based on 4-5 star reviews on Amazon (whoever gave this 5 stars needs an introduction to Stephen King). A tale of four generations of the one family - a 20 year old pregnant divorcee, her mother, her mother, and her mother. Following? Young girl, her Mam, her Granny, and her Great-Granny all up sticks and move to a farm after it's left to the Great-Grandmother in a will. I kept forgetting which one was which, and in the end I genuinely didn't give a shite, I just wanted it to end. I did read to the end of it but it was so schmaltzy and so "happiness =  men" that I'm surprised my eyes didn't fall out on the table from rolling them so much.

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
The One Plus One is essentially the story of an unconventional road trip - Jess has done a very bad thing in order to give her daughter a chance at a better life, and needs to get to Scotland for a maths competition so that Tanzie can win some money to sort things out. Ed has also done a very bad thing that might result in prison time, so he needs to get away and clear his head for a few days. They cross each others path and form an unlikely alliance - Ed offers to drive Jess, her daughter Tanzie, stepson Nicky, and their great big dog (whose name I can't remember) to the maths competition. It's good, it's an enjoyable read, but I've (somewhat unfairly) come to expect so much more from Jojo Moyes. This one didn't hit me emotionally at all, maybe because I didn't find myself rooting for Jess at any point. I loved Nicky and Tanzie.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Embarrassingly, I'd never read anything by David Sedaris before. I definitely will read some more of his stories - this was so, so funny. The first chapter alone had me crying laughing - the image of his mother standing at the door trying to make small talk about trailers while David shut himself in his room trying to eat all his Halloween candy for fear she might take some of it for the neighbours had me in tears. David treats us to some hilarious family anecdotes in a series of short stories - it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea, but you're in for a treat if you like observational comedy.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
This is a book told from several points of view, and in three parts. In the first part, we meet Sage - a reclusive baker who is struggling with a facial disfigurement after an accident, her affair with a married man, and her assumption that her sisters blame her for the death of a parent. Sage strikes up an unlikely friendship with ninety-something year old Josef Weber at a grief group. Josef is well-loved within the community, and seems like a quiet, happy man - until one night when he confesses to Sage that he is a former Nazi SS Guard and he wants her to help him to die. Sage's Grandmother was a Holocaust survivor - and there begins our real story. The whole middle section of the book is a brutal, harrowing account of the Holocaust as told from the point of view of both Guard and Prisoner. I actually had to put the book aside for a few days, it affected me to the point that I was dreaming about it and woke up in tears. The amount of research Jodi Picoult put into this book is just unbelievable - if you told me it was a real-life account, I'd believe you. By the time we got to the third part of the book, I was fairly sure I'd figured out the ending, but it didn't ruin the story. I could have done without the fairytale woven through the book - a tale Sage's Grandmother wrote during the War in order to help her through it. I do understand why it's there, but I wouldn't have missed it. I also wouldn't have missed that stupid character that worked at the bakery and spoke only in Haiku, or the stupid insta-romance, but the middle section of the book more than makes up for any minor annoyances elsewhere. This one will stay with me for a while!

Summer's Child by Diane Chamberlain
This is a fluffy, light read - definitely what I needed after reading that Picoult one. On the morning of Daria's 11th birthday, she finds a newborn baby girl under an enormous shell on the beach. She carries her home, and her parents end up adopting her and raising her as their own. Roll on 22 years, and the baby is now Shelly (see what they did there, etc), a young woman who wants to find out who her birth mother is. She gets in touch with TV investigator Rory Taylor, who specialises in true life stories. Rory is a former neighbour of Daria and her family, so he comes back to Kill Devil Hills for the summer with his teenage son to see if he can help Shelly find some information about where she came from. Now here's the problem I had with this - by the end of the 20th chapter, Rory had still done bugger all apart from ponce around the beach after a woman he'd just met. The mysterious Grace arrives and starts asking questions about Shelly - does she have something to hide? Course she does. Is Rory too busy thinking with his willy to see that Grace isn't there for him, but she has a weird obsession with Shelly? Indeed he is. Does anyone else in the small community have something to hide? You betcha. Is the ending rushed, predictable, and silly? Yep! Look - it's not terrible. Bring it on holiday with you, it's the absolute perfect beach read. No brain power required!

The Girl Who Chased The Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
I have a soft spot for Sarah Addison Allen's books - the first one I read was Garden Spells, and it reminded me so much of the film Practical Magic (based on an Alice Hoffman book) which was one of my favourite films for years until I overdosed on it - I practically know the script at this stage. Dubbed "magical realism", Sarah's books have a smattering of magic in them - just enough so that it's almost believable. She knocked it out of the park again with this one, a charming tale of teenage orphan Emily, sent to live with her gentle Giant Grandfather Vance in the magical town of Mullaby. Few are happy to see Emily in the town - her mother apparently did a very bad thing years ago that resulted in a death and a ruined family secret. Mysterious Win Coffey takes a shine to Emily, but it was his family that bore the brunt of Emily's mother's mistake. Emily finds an ally in neighbour Julia, who has returned to Mullaby despite having some horrible experiences there as a teen (some at the hands of Emily's mother) in order to turn her Dad's business around so she can sell it off. Add in some magical lights that appear at night, wallpaper that changes depending on your mood, a handsome ex-love, and a baker that can lead people to her with her creations - It's just a gorgeous little book, I really loved it.

Phew!! I've several more on the go at the moment, but I'll leave them for a few weeks (if anyone's still reading, thank you!!) or this post will be double the length.

Any recommendations for me?