Thursday, 18 June 2015

Book challenge - Part 2

I have continued my #26BooksWithBringingUpBurns book blogging challenge and here are the next five tags/books that I have read. You can check out my first part here. I hope you enjoy the books that I came up for each tag. 

6. A book by an author you've never read before - To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I feel like this is one of those books that everyone has read and I have just never got around to it. I didn't study it in school, (I did Catcher in the Rye instead) and until recently it has never actually been on my radar. But considering they are bringing out the sequel later this year, I thought I would give it a go.

I have to admit though, that I didn't really get this book that much. I enjoyed it enough at face value. Scout was suitably irritating for a girl her age although I thought that the language Lee used could have reflected this age a little more. The portrayal of the Finch family unit was beautifully written and I loved the little scraps and arguments that they all got into. I think that was really realistic.

The most interesting character of the book was potentially Boo Radley who is portrayed as a kind of godlike figure. Always there, but never seen; pure and completely white; saves their life: The clues are endless.

I love reading into books, whether that be a children's book or classic fiction. But I just felt I couldn't do that with this one which aggravated me. I mean, kids do this for GCSE. As an English graduate I should be able to handle it. But apparently not. Clearly my readings aren't as deep as I thought they were.

7. A book by an author you love - A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Not everyone loves Ernest Hemingway. His writing is somewhat whimsical and can begin to ramble when he gets excited about something. But I am a huge fan. I really think that his descriptive skills are unrivalled by any other author.

He just has this amazing ability to draw you into another world and fires your imagination with information about everything that is surrounding you. His descriptions are so complete and rich, it's impossible not to be able to see the world that he is trying to create for you.

In the case of A Farewell to Arms, this world is the world of the First World War. Frederic Henry is an American in the Italian Ambulance service where he falls in love with a nurse, Catherine. They are pulled apart by the war, but of course find their way back to each other with very tragic circumstances in the end.

There is some really interesting imagery but not a huge amount. This is why Hemingway is so readable - because you can literally take him at his word. He doesn't try to use hard language and you don't have to read into the language a lot. But there was a little basic imagery...for instance, the use of rain every time something bad is about to happen which is laughably cliché. Plus the title itself - A Farewell to Arms. Is that because he is trying to get the war out of his system by writing about it? Or is it due to the character, abandoning the war? Or is it because the novel ends with him saying goodbye to Catherine forever?

The problem with Hemingway is that his characterisation isn't great. Therefore, he creates very unlikeable characters who are not softened by entertaining dialogue. Catherine is annoying in her efforts to try and please Frederic, while Frederic is a complete drip who doesn't know his own mind and doesn't stick to anything that he says, being so easily swayed by others. Therefore I wasn't very effected by the tragic events at the end of the book, which I won't give away.

That being said, I still managed to enjoy the book which is unusual for me. Normally I can't stand descriptive books and I only read those which are driven by strong characters and plenty of dialogue. But Hemingway really does involve me deeply within his world, so much so that the characters seem to be merely the plot device to allow him to show off the realistic version of war-stricken Europe that he has saved within the pages.

8. A book at the bottom of your to read pile - The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
This is the newest book which I have bought so it's at the bottom of my TBR pile simply because I should be reading my books in the order that I bought them. Of course, I never do and I jumped at the chance of moving this one higher because I have been very excited about reading it for ages.

It is addictively good. But it is extremely complicated so to explain the plot would be quite difficult. Jessie Burton describes this as historical fiction with a supernatural twist which I think sums it up pretty well. The supernatural elements of it are not overpowering but do add an excitement to it.

The characters are all very well written and likeable. And even the 'evil' ones you can kind of forgive them as they all have a reason behind it. The character of the miniaturist herself, remains cleverly elusive and you see no more of her than through a very brief insight when Nella, the main character talks to her father. Therefore you focus on her work and the characters who she's controlling. She is the one who oversees everything but doesn't need to be seen. She is almost godlike in that way and becomes the most interesting character of all, with the most interesting secrets.

The action and dialogue is at times, a little bit disjointed. However, the overall plot is an interesting one and you can't help but want to find out what happens in the end. Plus, I love the way it comes full circle with the opening chapter actually coming chronologically at the end of the book, so you really have to go back to the beginning to finish the book off properly. An interesting technique. I really did love this book.

9. A book with a colour in the title - The Color Purple by Alice Walker
This was the first one that popped into my head when I saw this prompt and I have wanted to read it for a while. But it wasn't what I was expecting at all.

To be fair I wasn't expecting that much. I didn't really know what it was about. I just knew that lots of people had enjoyed it and that was enough for me to want to read it too. This is a story namely about love. But not necessarily the mushy kind - there is a little bit of that, and then there is also the love between family, between friends, between two women, between children (who are separated from their mother) and between two sisters.

These sisters are so close but are split up when they are very young and then don't see each other for years and years. Decades. Until they are reunited as old women. The book is written in letter form, and shows each one growing up and finding themselves, until they then find each other at the end. It has interesting connotations in how family can sometimes hold you back, and you need to find yourself without them interfering. But at the same time, they will remain true and constant even when you don't see them.

The book is beautifully written as well, worded with a believable dialect that is natural to the main character. The letter format is one that I don't normally like as I tend to not feel as involved with the characters. But again this was skilfully done. I love that the last word of the novel was Amen, like the whole book had been her praying to God for the return of her sister. And when this happened, she could finish the prayer, and therefore complete the book.

The title is an interesting one as well. Purple represents royalty and richness, of which they are neither but she feels it towards the end, when she is so completely happy and content. Purple is her favourite colour and therefore it represents happiness and on a greater level, represents her sister, who is the source of this happiness.
10. A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit - The South by Colm Toibin
This was actually really difficult for me, considering that I want to visit half the world. But eventually I settled on my place being Barcelona. So I had a cheeky Google and The South, set partially in Barcelona, partially in the Pyrenees and partially in Ireland, is the one which attracted me the most.

I have only read one other novel by Colm Toibin and that was The Testament of Mary, a book which I loved for turning a well known story completely on its head and looking at it from another perspective. I was really interested therefore to read this, his debut novel.

I just love Toibin's writing. It is so understated, and relaxed. He makes it look effortless as he spans 30 years and two countries, without interrupting the flow at all. The pace is at times sluggish, but he always does it for a reason and when the plot is slow, it is only because the life the characters are leading, is currently slow. He is always one step ahead of you, and it takes you a minute or two, to catch up. Which as a reader who likes to be challenged in different ways, I find that really exciting.

This is not the most exciting book in the world but he brings you on a journey of a character's self-discovery which is truly entertaining. And it is definitely a depiction of a life that I would not have even considered to exist, describing people and places that are a lot more interesting than they initially seem.

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  1. I love the idea of this challenge. Where do you get the details for it please?

  2. I loved reading your reviews of all of these books. I've been tempted by the Miniaturist for a while - it looks so intriguing - and now you've really made me want to read it!