Friday, 28 March 2014

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

The best intentions expose the darkest secrets...

I have only read one other Diane Chamberlain book, Confessions of a Midwife, which I whole-heartedly recommend. For any fans of Kate Morton. She is a great alternative if you need a change of pace.Necessary Lies popped up on my Kindle recommendations at a sub £3 price so I snapped it up. I have a rule which is that I cannot buy books on Kindle that are over £3. It saves me money as when I first got it I went a bit click crazy. So this was a real find!

I knew I would enjoy this book from the first chapter. Told from the points of view of Ivy (a fifteen year old, impoverished girl) and Jane (a 22 year old, newly wed, eager social worker). Both characters are unbelievable engaging so I did not mind the back and forth between each characters perspective.  The story was built up slowly and the theme is clear throughout. There are many lies being told in this story, so we know immediately and some we do not figure out until the end. The story follows the two characters as they become more involved in one another’s lives.

Ivy Hart is a young girl whose bares far too much responsibility on her very young shoulders. She has to ensure her ailing grandmother, Nonnie, takes her medicines and monitors her sugars. She must be mindful of her absent-minded beautiful sister Mary-Ella who has already slipped up and has a young son. Finally she must look after Baby William when Mary-Ella goes off on one of her wanders. All the while she works long hard days on the tobacco farm, maintains a forbidden love with her bosses son and suffers fits. She has a tough and hard life and makes the best of the situation she is. However, things are about to get much more complicated fast. Jane is a newly wed who has decided to work, even though her husband could not be more unhappy with her choice. She sees the difference she can make as a social worker and is plunged into an entirely different world. The case that tugs her heart strings is that of the Hart family. The lies that have been told to the family by their former social worker eat away at Jane and she must reveal the truth to Mary-Ella. Unbeknownst to her she was sterilised after the birth of her son and can no longer bare children. This Eugenics program sickens Jane and she feels she must do everything in her power, even if it is illegal, to save Ivy from the same fate. 

The two main female characters are written amazingly well. Their personalities and plight leap of the page commanding your undivided attention. I personally felt a real emotional connection to the two women and read at a mile a minute just to find out their fate. Sadly the Eugenics Program was real and although this is a fictional account of the affects of the program these situations could have occurred. Chamberlain added some historical information about the program at the end of the book and they are devastatingly sad. Many women were robbed of the chance to have children due to prejudice and abuse. This story however fictional needed to be told to raise more understanding of the atrocities caused by this program. 

I really do not want to give much away in this review but I will say I cried through the entire last chapter, it was written so heart-wrenchingly well that I just bawled from the moment I realised what was about to happen. A perfectly in tune ending to a very bitter-sweet story.

Beautifully written for fans of Picoult, Morton and the like. 

*This is not a young adult or teenage fiction book. 

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a graveyard. being raised and educated by ghosts. 

This book had all the components for a fantastic story. A gripping idea, unique characters and a wonderful illustrator. I should have loved it but I didn't.

I had not read anything by Neil Gaiman before and so was not aware of his unusual and quirky style of writing which I just can not decide about. I think his flighty style caused me to have real problems grasping the story fully as opposed to the actual plot. I had heard many people rave about this story so I think it may just be an acquired taste.

Nobody Owens was orphaned as a very young boy due to the brutal murder of his family by the man Jack. He survives purely by the lucky fact he toddled out of the doorway and made his way towards a graveyard. In this graveyard Nobody is adopted by ghosts and given the freedom of the Graveyard allowing him to see easier in the dark, fade to not being noticed and other ghost worthy tricks. However, Bod is still in danger. The man Jack is still after him intent on finishing what he started many years before.

This thrilling premise did not deliver as I expected. The story had far to many in-consequential chapters that had little impact on the actual storyline and for me were a waste of words. As a result the book does not pick up pace until the final chapter or two where events that actual have relevance begin to happen. Gaiman explained in far too much detail some unnecessary aspects of the story ( The Ghouls chapter was tedious) and yet does not go into more detail about the more intriguing aspects of the story ( I would like to have known more about the Jacks). For me I honestly spent half the time trying to figure out where on earth the story was heading which just led to it being a bit confusing for me. I know many others that have loved the story and they obviously did well with Gaiman's unusual style.

Definitely a fantasy story but a bit too obscure for me. I personally was disappointed with it as I expected  a much more riveting story for such a clever idea.

I just don't think I got this

I have linked this up with Catch a Single Thought's book love linky for March.


Monday, 24 March 2014

My Second Half

Yesterday I finally completed the second half marathon of my life. I wanted to do some last year but a combination of recurrent tonsillitis and laziness prevented me. So sat in McDonalds (of all places) me and some friends decided to spur of the moment sign up for the Loughborough half. We began training on the 31st December building back up from 0 miles. The day came around sooner than I expected but was another incredible experience.

 Saturday 22nd March

I woke up far calmer then I was for the last half. In fact although I felt nervous it was nothing compared to last year’s half marathon sock drama. I had my kit all ready and I packed by bag very slowly whilst watching an episode of Location, Location, Location (I am addicted to Kirsty and Phil).  As it got nearer to the time I would be leaving I took myself for a short walk to a cafĂ© and sat and read for a while as I was feeling jittery by not doing very much.  Alina, who was also running the half marathon with me and lived near to where we were running picked me up at 6 to stay at her parents’ house.  By this point it was really sinking in that we were running the next day. We knew we had trained well but the whole time I had been saying I didn't care if I beat my time but at this point a strong competitive feeling with my old time began to creep up on me.  We had a pretty early night so we didn't feel exhausted and I went to bed blissfully unaware of the route I was about to run.

 Sunday 23rd March

It is official the day has arrived and I wake up with the flip-floppy stomach churning feeling that is purely nerves. I am getting more and more worried about my time (deep down I knew I would be slower having taken a whole year off running before I started). We ate a nutritious if somewhat large breakfast of porridge and drove to a hotel near the Market Square were Alina used to work and they had generously offered to let us park there. We walked towards the square arriving when we thought the warm up started. It didn’t start so instead beat the queues to nip to the loos. For those thinking of running the Loughborough half the loos are fab proper toilets no porta-loos in sight.  We did a few walking laps of the square and attempted to join in the warm up. Sadly it was just too squashed to have room to move at all. For me personally I felt the start was a bit haphazard, it literally all of sudden happened. If there was an announcement I didn't hear it.
We were off; we knew we wouldn't be running together as Alina is much faster than me. It started well and I was running pretty fast and then the first of the many hills hit. I literally had no idea how hilly this route actually was. I am not a good hill runner, I dislike them truth be told and find them very difficult. After the second of the many hills I faced facts accepting that there was no way I would beat my time but as long as a ran the whole way that was good enough for me.  I had practiced running with energy gels this time and they definitely made a difference. I was expecting one from the Loughborough half team at 6 miles but they were nowhere to be seen so at 7 miles I gave in and ate one of the ones I had stashed away. I did stumble upon them at around 7.5 miles but just ran past at this point as I was already chowing down on the one I had.  I would recommend gels as they really do help. I didn't use them in the last one but with how hilly it was the glucose boosts were a life saver. I was not really aware of what my pace was as my watch was not picking up the miles the same as the distance makers so I ignored it and just tried to keep myself running a steady pace.
Around the 8.5 mile marker things became seriously tough. I have never turned a corner and actually wanted to cry. I think I actually said out loud ‘you are joking’ to no one in particular as I began to run up a steep, muddy hill that nearly finished me off.  I kept running though and the whole way up repeated the mantra that I wanted to run it all regardless of the time.  When I made it to the top a wonderful spectator congratulated me on running up the hill and that the hard part was over. At the time I felt blissful relief but of course she may not have known the rest of the route. There were more hills and it was not downhill the rest of the way but I managed it. This time I did not have the same loss of energy I had around mile 10 but I took on another energy gel at this point and they do really make the world of difference.  Mile 12-13.1 was by far the world’s longest mile. That final mile just dragged and I felt I was lugging my body towards the end.  The end was finally in sight and I dug deep and attempted to pelt towards the finish line to be met by Alina with the most delicious bottle of water I have ever seen in my life.  My official time hasn't come out yet but I think it was around the 2:29 mark.

Pretty amazing that we are in a photo on the Loughborough Echo website.  I am clearly smiling so I assume this was at the start. One of my reasons for running the half was to get back to running. Now with this distance under my belt again I do not want to stop running so I am already planning to sign up for the Leicester Half. I think that this beautifully flat course with only slight inclines here and there (and that last mile) will be the proper opportunity to beat my earlier time.
My legs ache and I have struggled to walk at work today but it has been so worth it. I am still raising money along with Alina for Mylo’s fund so please considering donating to this very worthy cause.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus Sedgwick wrote a book I read last year that I loved called Midwinterblood. I found his writing style effortless and the story uniquely brilliant.  So in my so called reading rut I chose to read another of his stories in the hope that it would be as captivating as the first.

Blood Red, Snow White is a very different story to Midwinterblood that clearly demonstrates Sedgwick’s remarkable versatility as a writer. This story is most certainly not fantasy fiction but more a historical story focusing on the era surrounding the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The central character is the very real Arthur Ransome (the author of Swallows & Amazons). The story tells the tale of the almost spy like role that Ransome played in Russia during the uprising and subsequent takeover by the Bolsheviks.

The story is told in three separate parts, the first of which I found the most difficult to get into. It was just far too abstract for my very logical brain. I can cope with all sorts of mind up, imaginary creatures and worlds in fantasy fiction but when you try to use the analogy of a bear representing Russia you just lose me. I think this first part was the reason it took me a rather long time to get into the story. It is both a biographical and historical story which just didn't meet my expectations of Sedgwick. In truth I rather naively assumed he stuck to type and wrote mainly fantasy and supernatural fiction.

As always I find historical fiction a challenge to my history background (I have a degree in History). This story amplified this even more as I studied a few modules in Russian history as part of my degree. I always find myself distracted by what is historical fact and what is more artistic licence. I really wanted to pick up my copy of A History of Modern Russia by Robert Service just to check what Sedgwick had embellished.  Thankfully this proved unnecessary as Sedgwick uses the appendices of the book to highlight the areas that are not 100% factually correct and he stuck loyally to the dates that occurred in history.

The story itself I found dis-jointed. As a reader I felt hurled about through the plot at a bizarre and uneven pace that made it very difficult to understand where I was in the story. Ransome, an English writer, leaves his (possibly disturbed) wife in 1913 and young daughter to go to Russia.  He finds himself able to move safely in Bolshevik circles and this leads to a suspicion that he is a spy. Whilst in Russia, he also meets Evgenia (Trotsky’s secretary) who captivates his attentions and from there on out he basis many of his choices around being with her.  Now it is difficult as Ransome is a real man to separate him from the character that Sedgwick has created. From a fictional point of view Ransome seems a bit ignorant of the circumstances he puts himself in. I personally think it is pretty obvious why he is shrouded in suspicion as he very often does not seem to act like an innocent man. Furthermore, he seems to take no true thought in abandoning his daughter for the love of Russia and eventually for the love of Evgenia. As a character he did not garner my emotional support as I could not fathom the basis of his choices, they seemed very obscure. I do not know if this is how Ransome was in real life but the character version in this particular interpretation was not the most likeable. 

Not really what I was hoping for to bring back some excitement to my current reading list. However, it hasn't put me off Sedgwick completely and I might give another one of his books a try soon. 

Just not my style!

I have linked this up with Catch a Single Thought's book love for March :)


Saturday, 8 March 2014

Reading roulette

At the moment I am in a phase of playing reading roulette. I have so many books I can choose to read and I seem to be picking out my equivalent of the coffee flavoured revel most of the time. Take a look at this video for a visual of that analogy Revel Roulette . I just keep picking books that are not my cup if tea.

Therefore I have not been blogging as unfortunately not all of them are going to be positive. It's not that the books I have been reading are bad. They just are not my kind of books. My challenge to read different authors means I am out of my comfort zone in terms of exploring new styles of writing and new genres. This has been both good and bad.

It is not just the books by new authors I am struggling with. Thinking I needed to read something I would devour I read a book by a known author I had enjoyed in the past. Needless to say I was not hooked. I waded through what was a relatively short book in over a week. It didn't grip me the way I am so desperately wanting. This weekend I am attempting to read a book I have been thinking about reading for a while as it appeared on the Carnegie long list, Breathe by Sarah Crossan.  Hopefully it entertains me in a way I am so in need of in my reading time at the moment. I hate the idea of filling this blog with 1 star and 2 star reviews so I am holding off posting these consecutively.

I guess what I am trying to say is I am in a reading rut. Yes I am reading but I have not picked up many books this year that I am super enthusiastic about. Hopefully with Carnegie just around the corner I will find some brilliant young adult fiction to enthuse about. If any readers know of books they think I should try please post in a comment.