Most of the books I read were for Book Challenge by Erin 10.0, which I realise I never actually posted about on here, so I’ll add the categories after the book title/author. I read 11 books, which is a decent number but not as many as in other months. I blame the fact that I read two classics, which both seemed to take me forever to read! Anyway, I should get on with the reviews…
Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (challenge category: read a friend or family member’s favourite book – this is my grandma’s favourite book, apparently). The book starts with farmer Gabriel Oak meeting a woman named Bathsheba Everdene who has come to stay with her aunt. After roughly two conversations with her, he falls in love and asks her to marry him, which he refuses. A short time later, she disappears from the village to take up her position as farmer of a large estate near Weatherbury on the death of her uncle. Farmer Oak then loses all his sheep, meaning he can no longer be a farmer, and through a series of coincidences ends up working as a shepherd on Bathsheba’s farm. Another farmer falls in love with Bathsheba and then a third person comes into the mix, but I don’t want to say too much about what happens with all these suitors in case I spoil things.
First of all, I have to say Hardy doesn’t half go on! At one point there was literally a three-page description of a barn and the positions of the people within it. More than once I found myself thinking “get to the point will you!”. It is an interesting story and towards the end especially it picks up a bit as Hardy finally leaves off describing and starts getting to the action. Bathsheba is a strong and independent woman for her time (insisting on running the farm herself, for instance) but is remarkably silly at times. 3.5 stars.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (challenge category: read a book that has won a Newberry Award). Mrs Frisby, a widowed mouse and mother to four small children, has a problem. She needs to move her family to their summer quarters immediately before the farmer ploughs the land it’s on, but her youngest son Timothy is gravely ill with pneumonia and if he moves he will certainly die. Fortunately, she meets the rats of NIMH, an extremely intelligent group of animals who have the perfect solution to her dilemma and the means to help her.
Where has this book been all my life? I mean, given it was published in 1971 it definitely existed before I did so why did nobody ever tell me about it? It’s adorable! I loved the rats’ story and Jeremy the crow. The start is a bit slow, but I actually don’t mind that… I kind of liked the contrast between everyday mouse life at the beginning and the extraordinary story of the rats later on. I could see some children getting bored before it reaches the “exciting” part, but it’s 5 stars from me.
The Dinner by Hermann Koch (challenge category: read a book that was originally written in a language that isn’t your native language). This is the story of two couples who meet at a fancy restaurant for dinner. Things start off harmlessly enough, with talk of work, films, and holidays, but all is not as it seems. Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son, and together their sons have committed a horrific act that has triggered a police investigation. Just how far is each couple willing to go to protect those they love?
This book is so odd… not so much a roller coaster as a spiral into madness. Which isn’t too say I didn’t enjoy it… although “enjoy” seems like the wrong word given the subject matter. It’s strangely compelling… like a train wreck that you just can’t look away from. I don’t want to say too much – I went into it with little idea of what it was about, and I honestly feel like that’s the best way. I would say if you’re at all intrigued read it (but if you don’t like violence steer clear). Also, it goes off on tangents a lot. 4 stars.
The Never List by Koethi Zan (challenge category: read a book that starts with the letter N). For years, Sarah and Jennifer kept the Never List: a list of things to be avoided at all costs. Never go out alone. Never get in the car. But one night they broke their own rules, with horrifying consequences. Ten years later, Sarah is trying to forget her horrible ordeal and get on with her life, but it seems the killer hasn’t forgotten her! This book is so disturbing, and filled with twists and turns. I was not expecting the final reveal at the end at all! (Some reviewers have said it was obvious, so maybe I’m just not clever enough?). My only issue is that the writing style occasionally seemed slightly juvenile, which briefly threw me out of the story. But generally it sucked me in and had me up way past my bedtime reading just one more chapter. 4 stars.
The Girl in the Broken Mirror by Savita Kalhan (challenge category: read a book with exactly six words in the title). Until I started this book I had forgotten I’ve actually read one by this author before (The Long Weekend is a scary middle-grade thriller, this one is YA). After Jay’s father died, life was hard for her and her mother, but they managed to get by. Now they’re moving in with relatives, including an aunt who has super strict rules on how Indian girls and boys should act. Jay will be expected to have only Indian friends, if she has any at all. How can she see her school friends, Chloe and Matt? But forcing her to conform to Indian customs and traditions is only the beginning of a nightmare for Jay. When her life implodes, how can she hide the shame and how will she find a way to keep going?
I don’t want to spoil anything but I do feel like this needs to be said… this book involves a sexual assault. If that’s not something you can read about then avoid this one. This is a really hard book to review partly because of the subject. It’s raw and seems realistic. Not what I would call an “enjoyable” book but it’s well-written and compelling. I really felt for Jay and was her mother’s response to what happened was perfect. 5 stars.
West of the Moon by Margi Preus (challenge category: read a book with a compass direction in the title). Astri is a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After her aunt sells her to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America with the “goatman” in pursuit. This book reads like a mixture of historical fiction and a fairytale, with the main character drawing constant comparisons between folk tales and her own situation. It’s a really well-told story and I enjoyed it but it’s quite dark with death, violence and subtle references to sex. It’s supposed to be a children’s book but I’m not sure I would recommend it to anyone under about 12 or 13. 4 stars.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. Another one of those supposed classics that I somehow missed as a child. This is the only book I read in January that wasn’t for Erin’s challenge. Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. He’s been practising all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, the new kid – a girl no less – outruns everybody. Not the most promising start for a friendship, but Jess and Lesley quickly become inseparable. Together, she and Jess create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen. Then tragedy strikes. This starts off as a lovely story about a friendship between two people from totally different backgrounds. Then it gets really sad and the bubble of innocence is burst. I’m not really sure why it’s labelled as “fantasy” though – it’s clear all along that Terabithia only exists in Jess and Lesley’s imaginations. Anyway, 4 stars.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (challenge category: read a book published over 100 years ago). For some reason I always thought this was a ghost story. It’s not. However, it is among the first mystery novels and may have been the first novel written with multiple narrators. On a moonlit London road, Walter Hartright encounters a mysterious woman dressed all in white who asks him from directions. He then discovers she’s escaped from an asylum. Not long after he travels to Cumberland where he is hired as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe. Of course, he falls in love with Laura but can’t do anything about it because 1) she’s rich and upper class while he’s the opposite and b) she’s already engaged to be married to Sir Percival Glyde, baronet. Gradually Walter and Marian become convinced that Sir all is not as it seems with Sir Percival and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco. This is a fantastic book. For a classic the language is actually quite readable. Wilkie Collins was a great writer. My only complaints are it was about 200 pages too long and I would have liked Marian to play more of a role in the last third. I imagine this book must have been a true sensation in its time. 4 stars.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (challenge category: read a book set in Europe – it’s set in Ukraine). I’ve owned this book for years, having bought it after enjoying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A young American man arrives in the Ukraine searching for the village of Trochenbrod, where his grandparents came from, and the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis fifty years ago. He is aided in his quest by Alex, a similarly-aged young man who has been hired by his father to act as a translator, Alex’s “blind” grandfather and a “seeing-eye bitch” named Sammy Davis Jr, Jr. This book was a mixed bag. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, then just as I started to get into it there would be a slow/weird part. I liked Alex’s letters and story but couldn’t really get into the Trachimbrod parts until close to the end. Also, the “young American man” is Jonathan Safran Foer… the book is a fictionalised version of his family background and he inserted himself into the story, which was just weird. I gave this 3.5 stars, mainly for the Alex parts and because it’s set in Ukraine.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (challenge category: freebie). My mum lent me this book so I needed to read it before travelling to England so I could return it. I feel like everyone has read this recently so I’m not sure I need to summarise it, but I will anyway. Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, charming and a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew, and is sent to Auschwitz on the first transport. There, he is put to work in the privileged position of Tätowierer– the tattooist – marking his fellow inmates with their prisoner numbers. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance. With a new purpose, Lale is more determined than ever to survive is time in the camp. This story is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It’s hard to know how to rate this book. The actual story is compelling but it feels like something is missing in the execution. The writing is too simplistic for the momentous events and at times it’s feels almost detached. At the same time I could not stop reading. I gave it four stars on Goodreads mostly because I felt bad giving it three.
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick (challenge category: a book that has been made into a film). I just sneaked this one into January – I read it on the way to England on 31 January, finishing about 10 minutes before we landed in Newcastle. Substance D, or Death, is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way on to the black market. It destroys the link between the brain’s two hemispheres, leading to disorientation and ultimately brain damage. Bob Arctor is an undercover narcotics agent trying to find a lead to the source of supply, but to avoid blowing his cover he has to become a user, not realising that he’s becoming just as addicted as the people he surrounds himself with. This is billed as science fiction, but really I think it’s more dystopian. Apart from a special suit Bob wears when reporting to his superiors there’s not much in it that points to science fiction (although it was written in the 70s but set in 1994, so maybe the future setting is what made it science fiction at the time?). Anyway, this was not what I was expecting. The writing style is easy to read and the story is strangely compelling considering it’s basically the ramblings of a drug addicts who is slowly losing his mind. 4 stars.
And that’s it for January. Have you read any of these? If so, do you agree with my review? Check out the link up to see what the rest of the SUYB community has been reading recently. You know you want to add more books to your list 😉