A Year in Books 2018 – January to March

the-year-in-books

A new year means a new selection of books.

Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for creating the challenge.

I started the new year finishing off a book from 2017.

A Parliament of Rooks – Karen Perkins

I did a short review of this book in my Sunday Sevens #40. Though the narrative brings clear visions of a modern day Howarth, the actual characters and tale fell rather flat. The modern day characters were rather annoying and two dimensional but if you like anything relating to the Brontë’s then you will enjoy this book.

The Raven – Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve read this poem a couple of times now. The first time I read it I was on a bus on a dark, cold January morning. I thought, ‘what on earth was all that about!’

Then on the second reading, I think I have understood a little more. The narrator is a man who mourns his lost love, Lenore. A raven visits him and in answer to the man’s questions the raven only says ‘nevermore.’ This perplexes the narrator who gets more and more exasperated. Others’ interpretations of the poem is that of the man slipping into madness.

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

What do you think? Have you read this poem? What was your interpretation?

The Witchfinder’s Sister – Beth Underdown

Debut novel and one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club for spring 2018. The Witchfinder’s Sister is about Alice Hopkins who returns from London, widowed, to be reconciled with her brother Matthew (the self-proclaimed Witchfinder General) in the midst of the witch hunts of 1645-47. The English Civil War is waging, a time of religious, political upheaval, which the printing presses are at cost to publish. Reading what few facts on Matthew Hopkins there is online. I read that he and his accomplices were responsible for the deaths of up to 300 women in just three years. Legitimised serial killers is what I thought of them. Though men were not immune to being called ‘witch’ it was mainly females that were blamed for unnatural deaths of babies, droughts, famines and disease. When science and understanding was hundreds of years away, those without a voice (midwives, bewitching young women) were victimised. The author dips into that paranoia. Alice is at first an innocent bystander but is soon forced to be complicit in the torture and deaths of a number of women as she and Matthew travel through Anglia. Though a piece of fiction, it made me angry that this reign of terror was allowed to happened (an encouraged) in not just Britain but in Europe and the USA too.

The Crucible – Arthur Miller

After reading Beth Underdown’s novel, I just had to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. I found my old copy and re-read the play written at the height of the Korean War (1950-53). The play, written when Communism was seen as a threat to the western world, can also be read as criticism of the ‘witch-hunt’ McCarthy Trials. Miller cleverly links this contemporary fear to the paranoia of the witch trials in Salem (1692-3).

Unlike Beth Underdown’s novel, who writes from the viewpoint of a witness, The Crucible quickly draws you into the drama where accusations and blame are voiced by Abigail Williams and friends. A sense of heightened fear is present straight from the start where Betty Parris, one of Abigail’s friends is lying prone, mute, for no apparent reason. The girls have been accused themselves of dancing with the devil but Abigail turns the tables on the adults and begins to accuse members of the cast. They believe her, due to her ‘purity.’ One of the main characters John Proctor who has had a fling with Abigail and afterwards rejected her, tries to show Abigail as a telltale but the cast, some of high office, seem bewitched by the girls’ accusations that devilry is rife in Puritan Salem.

The play in some ways is a tragedy. The final act is seen as redemption for John Proctor who finally denounces Abigail, however this does not stop the executions. In little over a year, due to the hysteria created by girls who tapped into the bleaker side of human nature, of fear and jealousy, 20 people were tried and executed in Salem.

The Ice Queen – Alice Hoffman

This book wasn’t what I had expected. ‘A fairy tale for grownups’, it was advertised. The story however is so sad. I was choked with emotion reading the final chapters. Perhaps it was the butterfly migration that set me off? The whole story is well written, you meet many strange characters along the way. The tale is of loss, love and acceptance. The best message I got from this book was that to conquer death you have to live. Something I have been trying to achieve these past few years. Is this a book you would enjoy? Let me know!

Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks

I have to admit, I found it hard to get into Hanks’ writing. The choice of first short story to open this collection wasn’t the strongest. I found the unending list of commercial brands exhausting to read. Does it really matter what name of footwear a character wears or what brand of fridge freezer a man gets his chilled beer from? There are better ways of creating a time in history than listing company names. I found Hanks’ writing very like Dan Brown’s, perhaps it’s a style American’s default to? I did persevere and his style grew on me. There were a few stories I enjoyed, These are the Meditations of my Heart, Stay with Us (screenplay) and The Past is Important to Us. Have you read this collection? What were your thoughts?

The Waste Land – T.S. Eliot

Regarded as one of the most influential poems of the 20th Century. The Waste Land was written a few years after the devastation of WW1. The poem loosely follows the legend of the Grail, and is set in five parts which lack any cohesion. The fragmentation of structure and voice is a reflection of a post war world. I enjoyed the lyricism of the poem and the images it created. I wouldn’t say the poem was easily understandable. The many vignettes of peoples’ daily lives is intersected with lines taken from world mythologies, literature and languages. I think the poem needs further in-depth study. Have you read this poem? What was your interpretation?

Autumn – Ali Smith

I downloaded this book onto my Kindle before I decided to read 1 star ratings on Amazon. What I read worried me a little but once I started reading the stream of conscious type narrative, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though the story doesn’t really go anywhere, it is a study of time, and poking fun at British life and society. I liked Smith’s style of writing. I look forward to seeing what her next novel Winter is about.

1st quarter books

A Gathering Light, The Secret Life of Bees, The Pier Falls and Pax

A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly

I don’t remember who recommended this novel to me but I didn’t really enjoy it. I found the narrative very tedious. The secondary tale about a real life crime rarely featured. The writer could have done so much more with this idea but the result was a novel I would not recommend to anyone! How about you? If you have read this book and felt differently, then do let me know!

The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

Set among the backdrop of racial tensions in 1960’s South Carolina, this coming of age tale is both entertaining and emotive. The protagonist, Lily goes on a journey that takes her away from her abusive father, to the protection of three bee keeping sisters, where she learns about her mother and herself. The novel has a strong cast of female characters. From the tormented May to the resilience of Rosaleen and the wisdom of August. It is a feel good book, one that I would recommend. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Pier Falls – Mark Haddon

Sadly Haddon’s collection of short stories left me feeling sad and morbid. Most of the tales centre around death which was rather difficult to read one after another. There were a few standout stories. I enjoyed the tale of the Wodwo or ‘wild man,’ it made me think of Ted Hughes’s book of the same title. Another was the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Woodpecker and the Wolf. The title does not bring to mind astronauts stranded on an desolate, unforgiving planet. However I enjoyed the characters and there is a happier ending!

Pax – Sara Pennypacker

I decided to get this book as other bloggers have read it and been enchanted with it. The illustrations by Jon Klassen are beautiful but I have to admit I struggled to get into the narrative. As the story progressed, however I soon warmed to the characters. I enjoyed the Pax chapters more so than the human story. The underlying sadness to the writing is that animals suffer during war, and there is a lot of animal suffering in the novel which was painful to read. I had expected the ending to be emotive but I just felt numb, it wasn’t very satisfying. It made the whole novel seem a bit of a waste of time to me. Have you read this novel? Did you enjoy it?

A Cold Case in Amsterdam Central – Anja de Jager

This copy was kindly gifted to me by a lady who I chat to whilst waiting for the bus to work. Anja de Jager draws inspiration from cases her father worked on as a policeman in the Netherlands. To date she has written three crime novels in the Lotte Meerman series. This was the second book. It was easy to read and could be read as a stand alone novel. I enjoyed the read and will probably look up the other novels in the series in future.

The Famished Road – Ben Okri

I’ll probably still be reading this book come April. It is such a word dense book, separated into eight books. I’ve read book one and the language and imagery is beautiful, almost psychedelic. The tale is of spirit-child Azaro, who turns his back on the land of spirits to experience the life and death of the living. Okri blends human hardships with fantastical beasts from the spirit realm and beyond. I am enjoying the telling so far. I will let you know how it goes.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

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