Atonement

 

Atonement

Published: 2001

Author: Ian McEwan

This book has been on my radar since the film release in 2007, but I never felt an overwhelming urge to read it so although I had it on my kindle it wasn’t until I bought the hard copy a few weeks ago that I decided now would be as good a time as any.

For those of you living under a rock, the story goes that a young girl commits a crime that allegedly has disastrous consequences for her sister and their long term family friend; it sees lovers torn apart and a family in turmoil. The film trailer and even the book synopsis created this illusion that I was about to read something terrible, awful. This young girl unwittingly commits a crime and the whole world turns upside down because of it. The problem I had with this book is that the crime wasn’t drastic enough for me; the lives after the said crime were not substantially decimated.

Setting the scene for this lie was the most interesting part of the book; it was most of the book in fact! Everything after just seemed to fall out of the authors mouth like word vomit. I didn’t think enough emphasis went on any character so how a reader can feel that lives have been turned upside down is beyond me. Example, the elder sister stops speaking to her family (apologies for a reveal), but how did this impact her or the family? It doesn’t say.

It might seem that I am being harsh and I suppose I have my own high expectations to contend with, I did enjoy the book. Maybe it is because I like period literature, or maybe it is because I have a black heart and wanted to read about the ruining of lives!

On that note, there was one poignant scene in the book, set on the beaches of Dunkirk in WWII after the retreat had been ordered; it saw a fight ensue between army soldiers and a weak member of the RAF. This spat tore at my heart strings, and I thought McEwan successfully captured the absolute carnage of human mentality and body on those beaches over 70 years ago.

 Although my review has the pretence of snubbing the literary efforts of McEwan, I would recommend the book.  I would always recommend the book over a film.  The setting of the scene was beautifully done, and the descriptiveness of the war efforts were also very good.

 

4 star

Philomena

Philomena

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Philomena by Martin Sixsmith

I like to read a book before I see it, I should hope most people feel the same. This is the story of the lost child of Philomena Lee and it turned my water works on. I cried on the tube and it was embarrassing. I cried in bed and it gave me sore eyes. I thought about the story and it welled me up at my desk. It was a sob story, but a fantastic one. It was so thorough, from Philomena’s life to her son’s. Every person that interacted with them, every life turning event, every moment spent reading closed the gap between just words on a page and really knowing someone.

However, as great as Dame Judi is, the film was a little flaccid. It did not provide the same mental stimulation and emotional roller coaster as the book. W
which is a shame.

4 star

Elephant Moon

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Elephant Moon by John Sweeney

I usually ask those around me for any book recommendations, or do some research online as to which one I should pursue next.  However I finished Daughter late a couple of evenings ago and needed a read for the daily commute in the morning.  So, I saw the cover of Elephant moon, and judged that I would enjoy this animal inspired story.  From the get go, the very first sentence, I was captivated, I fell down the history rabbit hole into the middle of the Burmese town of Rangoon in 1941.

Based loosely on a true account of an Elephant regiment of 53 beasts, rescuing a school mistress and her band of merry orphans from the terrors of the Japanese invasion during the second world war. Altogether, men, elephants, children and one woman trekked through the Jungle up to the safety of India, witnessing unimaginable horrors as well as beautiful animal relationships and experiencing love and loss. A truly remarkable tale that had my mind racing back to the great war as well as having me in tears on the tube,

Since finishing it earlier today I have done a little background reading on the book and have come across some great reviews, but I have also read some which are very negative. I understand and recognise the flaws frequently mentioned, such as weak characters and a loose writing style, and I certainly didn’t miss the pathetic love references.  This book is certainly not written with the same kind of depth you experience from the likes of the more seasoned author, but in my opinion the story outshines anything Sweeney could have written.

I don’t think that you should rush out and read Elephant Moon, but I do feel that if you don’t read it at some point you will be missing out on something special.

4 star

Starting Over

Starting over

 

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Starting Over by Evan Grace

The book opens with a cutesy just turned 18 year old girl named Bellamy, dressing herself in preparation for losing her virginity with the guy she has been in love with like forever *yawn*. On reading the first couple of pages I did not have high expectations, especially after being introduced to other characters such as  ‘Lola’.  Just another trashy book that has somehow managed to claw itself onto the kindle most downloaded list.

In every sense I was correct, always follow your instincts. It was rubbish, a terrible story line which produced so many more questions than it could answer, but I was addicted and couldn’t put the book down! Yeah it was a trashy love story which could be predicted from the outset and yeah the names were terrible and the discourse appalling……but my god it’s addictive.

I would also like to mention that the book digresses on several occasions into a more intimate scenario. Perhaps not a book for the pure?

Four stars simply for being addictive

4 star

Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant

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Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

When you run, you aim to run negative times, always trying to beat your previous lap. So why can this concept not be applied to literature…we should all endeavour to be better the next time, shouldn’t we?  There are so many book series that seem to get worse as you read; Twilight, Hunger Games, Divergent….

I enjoyed Divergent, the concept wasn’t unfamiliar with a very Hunger Games vibe; society sectioned off and conforming to set standards and expectations. It was also definitely a young adult read with the standard strong female lead, action, betrayal and secret love, so nothing new basically.  Having said that, a great read which I finished quickly.

Insurgent was a little odd for me but I kept reading simply to know more, although I wasn’t addicted to it like I was the first. It was pretty much the same as Divergent but with an added twist of some killed off characters returning.

Allegiant, well, it is a means to an end I guess. It reminded me of the Hunger Games trilogy in that the first two books were strong, exciting and addictive and then along came the third which saw the protagonist as a quivering mess doing odd things to save everyone but themselves. Starting strong then gradually getting worse.

I sound like I am being too harsh, I did mention that it is aimed at young adults so maybe I am being too critical. I read all 3 after all.  Actually, the books made me feel like I was watching some dystopian Barbie world come to life, dolls being controlled by humans……ooo that is a spoiler by the way!

4 star

 

 

There is a film, the reason for my reading the books in the first place. It doesn’t look that bad actually…

Divergent

Divergent

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Another young adult fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is Suzanne Collins meets George Orwell with a hint of dystopia (a la Margaret Atwood).

Part of a trilogy, of which I am on the 2nd now (Insurgent). I began reading it as the film has recently been released and I always prefer reading before watching a book.

I think I will provide a fuller review upon finishing the whole series :-), so for now it is a 4 star.

4 star

Unchartered by Tracey Garvis Graves

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Uncharted by Tracey Garvis Graves

Read here about how I absolutely LOVED On the Island. I found this book about 2 days ago and as with her first I could not put it down. Tracey is a wizard when it comes to making her characters addictive, desirable, relate-able.  I was gripped to her every word and needed to keep reading.

The story behind the skeleton ‘Owen Sparks’ found in a cave whilst T.J and Anna were On the Island. Simply yet amazingly entwined within the first book’s events, a happy ending overall.

I only award 4 stars as there clearly was not enough!!

4 star

 

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

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 Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I began reading this book a few months ago, but a stream of good literature came along so I ditched it without hesitation. When it comes to books, I can be fickle like that.

When I think back to my first thoughts, there was no chemistry, hence why I found it so easy to just cast aside. But I was recently left high and dry after finishing A Respectable Trade  as I didn’t have any new downloads to choose from and being on the tube I couldn’t even use my 3G! My heart started to pound, a little sweat formed above my brow and my face was I imagine quite panic stricken. Frantically tapping through my library to find anything I hadn’t read yet, Gone Girl saved the day.  A little rusty at first but after a few days I got into a nice rhythm, it is a hefty book don’t you know?!

If you are a regular visitor to my blog you will know two things, the first my love of historical fiction and the second being my hatred for modern literature (juxtaposed I know!). So I didn’t have high expectations, I expected even less some form of actual writing skill. The story plods along and just when you feel like dropping off Gillian drops a bombshell. She uses this method frequently and after a few I realised just how much of a clever ploy this is.  I won’t divulge said bombshells as you may not have read it yet, and there is a film coming out this October. But take it from me, they are big news!

The book is in 2 parts, the second half got really interesting! I almost couldn’t put it down. She turned the whole story on it’s head and aside from a few snore-y parts, which I admittedly skimmed, I was genuinely hooked.

This book could be a five star, for many it probably is considering the amount of people I saw reading this on my daily commute…and the awards;

  • New York Times Janet Maslin’s 10 Favorite Books of 2012
  • Entertainment Weekly’s Entertainer of the Year
  • People Magazine Best books of the year
  • Edgar Award nominee for Best Novel
  • Amazon and Barnes & Noble Best of the Year
  • Macavity Award nominee for Best Mystery Novel
  • Anthony Award nominee for Best Novel
  • The Women’s Prize nominee for Fiction
  • Strand Critics Award nominee

But for now, it is a 4.

4 star

4 stars

A Respectable Trade

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A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory

I think this must be one of Gregory’s heftier books, perhaps even a novel. I mention this as most of her books are fairly short and easy to digest.  In a way this is one of her best, mostly down to her encapsulating method of description. I could really picture myself standing along side the protagonists, watching their story unfold thanks to all the details Gregory inserted. But, this was long! Such a long read, at first I struggled to really want to continue to read, then it got sort of interesting, but then it returned to borderline dull and dramatic.  Perhaps I could better describe this book with an oxymoron, interestingly dull or dramatically plain  (is that one?!)?

I really enjoyed the slave perspective, it was clear that Gregory had worked really hard to get traditions and history correct.  The western characters were much more vulgar, exaggerated and on reflection I believe this was done deliberately. A way for me to empathize with the African natives…….thinking about it more I love that she did this.  Historical fiction can be so biased, that is what they say isn’t it, history is only written by the winner!

I award this 4 stars, for her efforts and details.

4 star

Moonraker

Moonraker Book Cover LARGE

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

James Bond series #3

Third book done and dusted. I only enjoyed the last quarter of this book, the book begins almost immediately with a card game. It was interesting and very thorough, Fleming clearly knows his card games, and his champagne, even the popular delicacies of a rich bachelor in the 1950’s. However, none of the fancy talk could distract from the fact that most of this book is a dragged out card game.

When he finally moved onto the mission at hand, I spent a wee while almost in a daze whilst reading about a rocket being built, because it was not very interesting. Something about metal and the extraordinary melting point, being built by Germans blah blah…really couldn’t tell you much more.

Just when I thought I would have to drag myself through the rest of the book, it got thrilling and kept me on the edge of my tube seat on a few journeys.  This seems to be the norm for the Bond series, they begin rather technical and then get really good at the last minute.

What I enjoyed most about this book, is that the reality question I mentioned in my previous Bond review, is actually more realistic than in his first two books. The book is set post WW2 and is focused around a big nuclear weapon being built by a German in collaboration with some Russians, a story that was published mid Soviet Union nuclear capabilities scare. Obviously Bond succeeds in stopping the attack and is the unsung hero of the day, a very clever way Fleming alleviates some nuclear stress from the Great British public, Kudos to you good sir!

4 star

Live and Let Die

Reviewed

Live and Let Die by Ian Flemming

I have accidentally set myself the challenge of reading all the books in the James Bond series. Not quite sure how it happened, I read the first and then realised James Bond didn’t have to end there, he can continue for 14 more daring adventures. Dam, I hate the addictive side of my personality….at least I haven’t been caught up in drugs and cigarettes!!

I enjoyed Live and Let Die, more so than Casino Royale. I felt there was a bit more substance to James, a character as opposed to a machine, an indestructible animal that the recluse Ian enjoyed living his life through.  Maybe that is why the Bond books are so intoxicating, living on the edge of fantastical ideas and the possibility that it could be realistic, because Ian didn’t like people, or women and so kept himself to himself? Both books so far have been written on a cusp of “this is ridiculous… isn’t it?”

Examples;

Ridiculous: the torture methods. Reality: torture.

Ridiculous:  Rescuing a stunning girl who can foresee the future. Reality: Hot girls fall for bad boys

Ridiculous: Surviving a swarm of sharks just by swimming away. Reality: Sharks.

What I didn’t like about the book, was the amount of times the term negro was used. Jesus, there were many times I was mortified to be standing on a crowded London tube reading this book.  Just a heads up there folks! Thank goodness times have changed!

Awarding this one a 4 star, I hope I can deliver a 5 star before the end of the series….

 

4 star

 

 

Currently reading: Moonraker #3

 

Brick Lane

Brick Lane

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

The story of an arranged marriage which sees a young woman, Nazneen,  living in a remote village of Goriphur in Bangladesh taking from her home town and sent to marry a 40 year old Bangladeshi man, Chanu, living in London.  It alternates between the present, the flashbacks of Nazneen’s childhood and letters between her and her sister, Hasina.

Brick lane has won countless awards and nominated for even more and I can 100% see that these were very much deserved.  Ali has a beautiful, intricate writing style that makes you feel like you are in the story absorbing the array of mixed herbs and spices, fondling the silk fabrics and slouching in the faux leather sofa observing the family’s financial and social difficulties.  The book allows the reader into a world I would never ordinarily have been privy too, that of a Muslim immigrant.  Ali draws so many social stereotypes and walks a thin line between racism and reality. So much of it I doubted was true, like Chanu believing that white people were “ignorant types” and how he is here just to take our money and leave….and yet there it is, written in a book that is not deliberately trying to be controversial.

The book spans decades and covers a lot politically, it includes world events and far eastern troubles and it is undeniably accomplished with style, knowledge and pride. But I cannot help but award Brick Lane with only 4 stars.  This is because Ali’s strength is also her downfall, too much content. I felt as though I had watched a whole years worth of soap operas and had all sorts of dramas thrown at me.  Then again, perhaps that is the point, that life is not easy and that this amount of hardship and trauma is real for so many people.

My favourite part of the book was the end “this is England, we can do what we want”.  Which is true, we are lucky to have freedom and rights and that is no more prevalent than after having read this book.

4 star

The Great Gatsby film

2012, THE GREAT GATSBY

 

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Where does one begin to review The Great Gatsby? Some of you ardent readers will remember my dislike of the book (re-read here if you please), and the same qualities that unsettled my about the book have been transferred to the film. But if I can just take off my ‘the book annoyed me’ hat, I enjoyed the film. It was dazzling with the most imaginative and beautiful filmography I have seen in a long time. The costumes were exquisite, haut couture and on point to the era. The make-up was an achievable perfection, that highlighted the features of the characters, and the soundtrack is thoroughly addictive. I have been listening to the soundtrack on repeat since last night, my fave being 100$ bill by Jay-Z…oh and there is a fantastic rendition of Beyonce‘s crazy in love by Emilie Sande.

Ok, now the hat is back on. The story is pants. Unless I am missing the irony, or I don’t find the irony particularly clever, in the Gatsby isn’t great. Nothing remarkable about him.

On the subject of Gatsby, when I found out that the gorgeous Leo would be playing the character I thought YES!!!! This is a perfect casting, he will be amazing! Because Leo (well in his previous films) has a romantic, charming-ness about him yet he played Gatsby really stern…..I guess it is just out for interpretation. The other characters were spot on with how I imagined them to be…. particularly Jordan Baker, excellent character.

Yeah, go see the film. Or wait for the DVD? Must see anyways, for the film rather than story.

4 star

 

Madame Bovary

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Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

One of the few books with many faces…and TV/film adaptations too! It will be an internally popular book and I am sure I will continue to see new, televised Emma Bovarys.

I loved this book when I first read it at uni, within my French literature module.  We studied it in the context of the Bourgeoisie, however upon reading it again the symbols and themes are simply endless. I suppose the most obvious is the helplessness, fragility and powerlessness of women, I think there is also an element of irony to this as Emma Bovary’s unhappiness is in many instances self inflicted. Then again, she is taken advantage of and preyed upon to which she fails to fight……oh we can go round in circles!

A lovely book, one that I hope we all read one day. I recommend it, but have given it 4 stars as I think it lacks passion. I didn’t find myself thinking about this book all day, or run to pick it up and continue reading….this could be a translation issue as I first read it in the book’s native French.

4 star

 

 

 

 

The Memoirs of Cleopatra

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The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George

I read this months ago, my 1,000 page conquest. So long ago in fact that I am not sure I can provide an accurate review.  It took me a fair few weeks to finish the book and often I would drift in and out of actually absorbing the story, I found it to drone a fair bit.

I remember planning this almighty review that would relate Cleopatra to modern day women, this is because this huge book could be an alternativer ‘Girls’ bible involving tips on how to be powerful, strong, successful and how to user emotions and skills to advantage.

The below link is a good review of the book, I apologise for my laziness but unless I read it all again in order to write a review, nothing note worthy is going to be expressed.

Queen of De Nile (realmsqueen.wordpress.com)

I give the book 4 stars for research, attention to detail and to myself for persisting.

4 star

The Confession

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The Confession by John Grisham

This is an unlikely choice for me as I am not a massive fan of crime novels, but it was recommended as being a good book and I am sure you can gather by now that if someone suggests a book….I read it!

I did some homework before taking the kindle storefront plunge and found that it had hugely mixed reviews on Goodreads, many people saying they thought it was really poor, how they could foresee events etc. However, I trusted my informant and decided to make my own decision.

The book started off quite slow, took me a little while to get into the story and his style of writing. But it picked up, both story line and pace.  What makes this book so different is that the climax of the story is actually half way through, meaning a big run up and run down. I liked it, events occurred that as a reader I believed they wouldn’t and I feel John was successful in being unpredictable.

It is obvious that John had conducted extensive research when writing The Confession as the book was accurate in terms of Texas laws and protocol. I felt as though it could have been a true story, I kind of wish it was! I liked this book, I don’t think it is amazing, but I still think I would recommend it….and I think that is the most important thing about reviewing a book, right?

4 star

Failures of Leadership: History’s Worst Rulers and How Their People Suffered For It

Leadership

Failures of Leadership: History’s Worst Rulers and How Their People Suffered For It by Frederick Parker

“This exciting new book from historian and entrepreneur Frederick Parker looks at the 20 worst failures of leadership in history and the consequences it meant for those under their rule. Through these entertaining historical snapshots, you will learn about their failures so that you can avoid similar pitfalls on your path to success. This book is useful for business executives, managers, and any other type of organizational leader.”

(blurb from Amazon above)

Not sure this book really needs much of a review, it is a simple book that details exactly what it says on the cover. Not particularly exciting but very informative and at some points quite eye opening. For instance, one ruler killed so many people that it affected the carbon dioxide levels during those years….but you have to read the book to find out who and when.

Give it a go, it is only 116 pages.

4 star

Casino Royale

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Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

One of those books that I felt I was compelled to read as I have seen so many Bond films and not once ready a Bond book. Normally, for me it is the other way around; many books and few films.

I started off with an air of begrudging disdain for the Bond book, and several times I said ‘I told you so’ to myself as it is clearly written with a huge amount of testosterone and in truth not very appealing. But then it got good, it got really good. By the end of this short novel I had the beginnings of a Harry Potter feeling; that feeling of loss when you finish a book and the absolute need to read the next in the series.

Yes, it is written by a man, a massive pervert at that and he clearly had no respect or time for women, but he has a huge amount of intelligence and creative flair and has ultimately produced arguably one of the most famous characters in the world so he must have done something correct.

I did enjoy this book, it has everything; action, romance, chase and cliffhangers.

Yep, pass me the next Bond!

 

“Like all harsh, cold men, he was easily tipped over into sentiment.”
Ian Fleming, Casino Royale

4 star

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

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by Jonas Jonasson

 

I have never read a book like this before. It was not gripping nor was it exciting and it did not include any cliff hangers. But it was beautiful and heart warming and it felt as though I was lovingly listening to my Grandad recount the tales of his very long life. After each chapter  it was “Then what happened Grandad?”.

It is the story of a 100 year old man who decided that it was time to move on from his pensioner home, with the chapters alternating between the present day (2005) and the Mr Allan Karlsson’s life adventures, ranging from dinners with Presidents of America to inventing the Atomic bomb and being a prisoner in Russia under Stalin’s rule.

A fantastic story, it would make the most incredible bed time story for young and old alike with laugh out loud moments and a happy ending.

4 star

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

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Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

An odd book, to say the least. But odd on whos terms? This book was casually recommended to me by a friend and in a drought of good literature I decided to take the plunge.

This book is hard hitting from the outset. In fact it is really quite difficult to relax into due to Atwood’s writing style and even the storyline itself.  But, once the mind adjusts itself to this bizarre state of future events that flips back and forth and involves specially engineered humans…..it actually gets pretty dam addictive.

I thought it was an unatural but workable mix of Harry Potter, the Hunger Games and 1984; the imagination of first, the social aspects of the second and then the controlling and frightening nature of the last.  The book is set in the near future and as a general rule of my own personal thumb, I don’t tend to watch or read anything fictional that could actually happen, examples being the Scream film series, Dantes Peak and then the number of films about the catestrophic aftermath of global warming/war/disease….the list is endless. The reason for turning a blind eye: I worry and end up being frightened over nothing. So, Oryx and Crake had that aspect of realness, and was not too far fetched to be unbelievable. Was I scared…….I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t disturbed by the post apocolyptic setting.

Would I ever read another dystopian? Unlikely. Would I read Margaret Atwood again, I think so.

To be honest I downloaded this book without fully reading the blurb. Nethertheless, an EXCELLENT read! I implore you to read it.

4 star