A Year in Books – April to June


april to juneEven Artie looks shocked at the amount of literature I have devoured this quarter! It has been a very productive period. 13 books I have read between April and June. While sitting on buses during the daily commute I have been able to immerse myself in narratives that have taken me to occupied France, to the inhumanity of Auschwitz and war ravaged Afghanistan.

I have laughed with Maude who was looking for Elizabeth and cried with Conor when his mother faced an incurable illness.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

I think this has to be my favourite read of 2017, so far! I had no expectations when I opened the pages but from the very beginning I was enthralled by the skill of writing and the subject matter. The narrative is slightly fractious due to it being narrated by a woman with dementia, but it is written in such a way that you slip from the present to the 1940’s very easily. Maud is seeking her friend Elizabeth, however underlying her search is a historic case of her missing sister. The first person narrative is funny, poignant and highlights the fear and confusion dementia sufferers have. It’s a very enlightening book, fabulously written. I won’t spoil it for you but the ending is sad yet hopeful too. I’d definitely recommend this book, it is a book I wish I could write!

The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse

I hate to say it, but I am not a lover of Kate Mosse’s writing. I still have to read the last installment of her languedoc trilogy. I don’t know what it is but I just can’t warm to her style of writing. I did think her Mistletoe Bride collection was readable but not memorable. The same could be said about The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Though Mosse can evoke a dreary Gothic atmosphere (i.e. rain and flood waters rising on a Sussex landscape), I just didn’t think her characters were developed enough. Neither character of Connie or Henry were likable enough to care what happened to them. It’s one book I’ll probably forget I’ve read.

Perhaps you have a different interpretation?

To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee

I really didn’t know what I expected from this book, but as I began to read it, it wasn’t what I had imagined it would be. Narrated by six year old Jean Louise it is a fictionalised account of growing up in the American South in the 1930’s. To me it seemed a book of its time as class and race hierarchies were commonplace. Though the main core of the plot is the trial of Tom Robinson accused of raping a white girl, the events leading up to it is seen through the eyes of Jean Louise and so the injustice of the system is even more shocking. I did enjoy the novel and would recommend, but its not one that has stayed with me.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Another of the best reads this year! I reviewed this book in my Sunday Sevens #28.

Folly – Alan Titchmarsh

I read this book on the recommendation of reviews on goodreads. I wish I hadn’t. The narrative was laborious and characters two dimensional. Titchmarsh had researched the area of fine art galleries and auctions indepthly, but just did not create a tale interesting enough to capture the readers imagination.

The book received a higher score on goodreads than The Haunting but I felt the story wasn’t as strong.

Do you have a different opinion?

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

I read this book before seeing the film and I must say the book is by far better than the film! It is a very emotive story. Thirteen year old Conor O’Malley is struggling to accept his mother’s terminal illness. The monster who calls helps Conor come to terms with his emotions. I must admit I was choked when I finished the novel. Though written for the young adult market I think it’s a story that can be read at any age.

The Lonely – Andrew Michael Hurley

This book was a 2015 Costa awards winner for a debut novel. It’s a Gothic tale with most of the action happening on a desolate coastal area in Lancashire. It is narrated by ‘Tonto’ whose brother Hanny is mute. A group of Christians visit the area at Easter hoping for a miracle, what they find is much more darker. The landscape is forbidding, the locals unfriendly and ultimately the miracle is only eluded to. Nothing is spelled out and I think that was the novels downfall. For me I didn’t care about the characters, in fact most annoyed me and at the end I was left feeling I had read a lot of words that didn’t make much sense. If you like vague narratives then this book is for you!

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

This book had been on my Kindle for over a year. While looking for new books to read I remembered the stage play that was in Liverpool and which, I wish I had gone to see as it had rave reviews. Hence why I downloaded the book. So I decided to give it a try. The book lives up to its hype. The tale is of two boys, Amir and his ‘servant’ Hassan. The narrative is from Amir’s point of view, of a young boy growing up in Afghanistan before the Russians arrive and then the Taliban. Always trying to capture the eye of his father, Amir is jealous of Hassan and it is only later that we discover the true relationship between both boys. Amir who comes from a wealthy background managed to flee with his father to the USA, while Hassan stays in Afghanistan.  The story is beautifully written, the language lyrical. The ravages of war is sometimes too hard to read. Hosseini’s book makes you realise what hell it must have been like to live in Afghanistan during those turbulent times. Hosseini has set up a non profit foundation to help refugees returning to their homeland after three decades of war.

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas – John Boyne

The narrative of this book is so painfully naive as it is written from the viewpoint, of a child called Bruno. The Final Solution is viewed by this nine year old who has accompanied his family from Berlin to ‘Out With.’ The book relies heavily on the readers knowledge of ‘Out With’ (Auschwitz) and who the sad people in the stripped pyjamas behind the fences are. I think the book is more agonisingly sad because of this foreknowledge. Bruno who isn’t happy at Out With, finally befriends a boy from the other side of the fence, Shmuel. I won’t spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t read it, but the final chapters will leave you sobbing!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

It’s difficult to find the right words this book made me feel. Written in the 1980’s, though it can be applied to today’s world too, more so when news of atrocities to women in Europe, the Middle East and beyond occur daily. Offred is a Handmaid of the dystopian Republic of Gilead, (you don’t find out her real name!) It is a place after a catastrophe. Nuclear war has decimated the world and the human populace (birth rates have plummeted). In it’s place has risen a religious order which has reduced women to property (once again). I find the implications of the book hard to swallow as the unknown leaders have imposed a strict order on the women. Those who are breeders (the Handmaids), those who are not (the Wives) and those who are servants (the Marthas). There are other classes in the Gilead regime like the Aunts (who train the Handmaids), and Commanders (the highest ranking men). Everyone has their place in society, even the poorest of women like the Econowives.

Offred as narrator, I think is quite unreliable as her tale is rather vague. There are flashbacks of her life before the catastrophe. There is a general feeling of threat and violence but it is so muted in the narrative that by the time you come to the truly atrocious scenes you are left feeling numb. I found it hard to like any of the characters. Perhaps my Western upbringing has caused me to react negatively to this book?

As an aside I am currently enjoying the dramatisation on Channel 4, though again some of the episodes have left me reeling.

Have you read the book? Watched the series? What are your thoughts? Do you disagree with my ideas?

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

Much like the Handmaid’s Tale, Hosseini’s second novel, (also based in Afghanistan,) is about the bonds between two women and of their daily struggles during the restricting Taliban regime. Women were among those who were so poorly affected by this regime and Hosseini writes eloquently about the physical and mental abuse of Mariam and Laila. Though I did not enjoy the novel as much as I did the Kite Runner, the narrative does keep you engaged. Like the Kite Runner it is a story of sacrifice and endurance. There is a resolution but like many human stories, it is tinged with sadness.

Finger’s in the Sparkle Jar – Chris Packham

I don’t know why but this book left me feeling sad. Maybe it was because of the curious mix of narratives that sat uneasy with me? Or perhaps it emphasised that however beautiful nature is, it can be brutal! After getting to grips with Packham’s switching from first person narrative to third, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I preferred it when Packham wrote in the first person, his experiences seemed all the more real. The scenes with the fox and kestrel had me close to tears!

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak.

As the end of June was in sight, I hurriedly finished The Book Thief. It was with a tear in my eye that I read the harrowing final parts of the novel. Another book set during World War II. The narrative is told by Death. There is a balanced mix of humour and sadness as Death goes about his job of collecting souls. Though the novel is about Death, the story is a very human one. You quickly grow to like the characters of Liesel, Rudy and Max, and even though Death prepares you for each of their fate, the sadness is still real.

Have read the book? Seen the film? What was your favourite?

41HJJM1VNYLFor July’s first read, I have chosen The Child in Time by Ian McEwan. I don’t know what to expect but hopefully it will be as well written as his Atonement.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations? Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees. for creating the challenge.

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

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15 thoughts on “A Year in Books – April to June

  1. So agree with you about the Kate Mosse book. I loved the French triology mostly because I love that area of France, but her recent books are far too gruesome for me. I read the Handsmaid’s tale and enjoyed it, but I have totally forgotten it, which is not the sign of a good book. The Boy with the Stripped Pjamas was a very good book, and the tears flowed freely. Now I am going to go back and see your recomendations, I am always after a good read.

  2. Great reviews Christine, I have read many of the same and the rest are on my ever growing to read pile.
    The Book Thief is a favourite of mine but I’m yet to see the film xx

  3. Wow you have read alot of emotional books there. They really effect me and I can feel pretty down after an emotional rollercoaster of a read. That said, I am curious to read The Handmaids tale. I am on episode 4 of the tv series. OMG, its so shocking but I am gripped. I have watched the films Striped pajamas, kite runner and book thief. They all made me sob. X

  4. I’ve read a lot of these and mostly agree with your views: Elizabeth is missing ; A monster calls ; both Hosseinis ; Boy in the striped pyjamas ; To kill a mockingbird. I think the only difference would be I enjoyed Mockingbird more than you did. We’ve chosen the Anthony Doerr for our bookgroup at some future date so I’m looking forward to that. I have a sort of love / hate relationship with Margaret Atwood books and Handmaid’s Tale is one I’ve never been tempted to pick up (or watch the series). The last book I read was My name is Leon by Kit de Waal – it has a child narrator and is very poignant. I might have mentioned him before, but I really like Patrick Gale. I’ve read three – A Place called Winter and Notes from an Exhibition are both great, wasn’t so keen on the third and can’t remember its name! Finally another bookgroup discovery is Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche. We read Americanah and I followed that by reading Half of a yellow sun, both great books and you learn a lot.

  5. I enjoyed Elizabeth is Missing, The Book Thief and All The Light We Cannot See. I have the Taxidermist’s Daughter on my tbr shelves A Thousand Splendid Suns is a book I read a long time ago but it really stayed with me. I read to help me fall asleep so I avoid certain types of books, otherwise they give me bad dreams! For this reason I haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale. I am watching the TV drama though. I am hooked. It’s so disturbing. I do love a good book.

  6. I listen to audiobooks while hiking or doing housework, and I really enjoyed Elizabeth is Missing and The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. You might also like John Boyne’s novel The Absolutist, set during the WW1. Apart from that, I’ve now added a couple more books to my wish list from your recommendations, so thank you!

    • Forgot to add a couple of my recent reads! I’m nearly finished with Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and I think this nonfiction book is superior to the movie — very inspiring story. Prior to this I read To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. It’s sort of historical science fiction and I don’t normally read a lot of sci-fi, this story kept me chuckling all the way through. I also learned a few things about Victorian manners and the old Coventry Cathedral. 😀

  7. I loved Fingers in the Sparkle Jar and completely agree with you about The Loney. I felt exactly the same about that one. I’ve only read The Taxidermist’s Daughter the The Mistletoe Bride by Kate Mosse but neither of them had me rushing to read more of her books. I like the TD but it wasn’t all that memorable so I guess I feel the same as you about her too! Perhaps we have similar tastes!

    I’ve never read The Handmaid’s Tale but I won a copy in a giveaway at the start of the year and will be reading it soon. It’s not a book I’d have chosen myself really but I’m happy to give most books a try! I’ve not watched the TV series as I don’t like to watch things if I haven’t read the book they’re based on!

    I’ve just really enjoyed The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and The Horologicon!

    • Thanks for your comment Louise, I found the Handmaid’s Tale rather vague. I look forward to what you think of it. The TV show is a good adaption and addition to the book. Maybe we do have similar tastes in books 😀 xx

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