Friday, June 3, 2011

May Books

Not so many books read this month - I think a combination of reading a couple of doorstops, lots of knitting and a dollop of 'yep we're really going to move again' stress. Still 45/52 I am well on track to complete my 52 in 52 goal.

At the moment I am reading Black Out and All Clear by Connie Willis. It's actually one looooooooong book but got so big they cut it into two (still long) books. Willis's name keeps coming up in lists and recommendations for sci-fi books and I have her Doomsday Book to read as well so I was interested to read these. She was also nominated for the Nebula Awards for these books. The premise is really interesting - Oxford has discovered how to time-travel and sends their historians back in time to observe historical events. In these books three historians travel to World War 2 London and observe the Blitz, Dunkirk and life in the countryside with evacuated children. This is where the books shine - I have learnt so much about the Blitz - how absolutely terrifying it must have been to have bombs dropping all over the city every night, how difficult the struggle must have been to carry on amidst the grief and hardships of war time rationing. As a "historical" book I am really enjoying it. As a "sci-fi" - not so much. On the back blurb for Black Out it basically implies that something goes wrong and the historians get stuck back in time. This doesnt happen until page about 3/4 of the way through the first book and was a bit anti-climatic when it did happen since it had already been foreshadowed on the back of the book. Then there is a lot of annoying dithering, an awful amount of "but this is time travel...even i" and pages of internal monologue where various characters "wonder" about everything under the sun. A really tight edit could have made these two massive slow paced volumes into one exciting good-sized read. I have about 200 pages to go on All Clear. Despite my grumbles I am going to read to the end. I do need to know if they get home! But yeah, not as amazing as I had hoped from a big name author and prize nominated books.

Another one I felt a bit under-awed about was Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry. I read this in April and only gave it 2/5 stars. The Time Traveller's Wife by the same author is one of my most favourite books ever so perhaps part of the issue is that instead of expecting something good, or readable, I was hoping this too would be amazing. It wasn't. I didn't connect with, or like, any of the characters and kept reading waiting for something to happen - but it didn't. The twin sisters who are the main protagonists could have been quirky and interesting with their strange appearance and eclectic tastes but they were a bit lifeless, and most of the plot points felt forced. If you don't mind a spoilery review I wrote a rather long one on goodreads which you can read here.

And one more where I can't really decide if I like or not is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. This was a Pulitizer winner that I heard about years ago. It was one of those books where you "remember" wrong. I somehow (don't even ask me how) had the idea this was a futuristic sci-fi where there is no longer male/female gender but a genderless "middlesex". It isn't anything like that. At all. The story begins with an incestuous relationship in Greece - Desdemona and Lefty escape war in their home country and make a new life for themselves in America. The history of the 1930's in Detroit was interesting and I found myself enjoying it and there were some moments of beautiful, award-worthy writing that I did get swept away on. However, the book is really about Cal, Lefty and Desdemona's grandchild who is raised as a girl but later discovers she is a hermaphradite and decides to live her life as a man. Gender issues have always interested me and I wish I had been able to do more gender studies papers at University , so I was alittle disappointed that most of the book centred on Desdemona's life and background (that inevitably lead to the unlocking of a recessive gene causing Cal's condition) rather than Cal's life learning how to "become a male". The exploration of Cal's teenage years were well done though and again, some moments of brilliant writing. This book is epic. It spans almost a whole century, from Greece to the US, through the depression, wars, the cultural and sexual revolutions of the 60s and 70s, it explores the idea of sexuality, the history of Detroit, the struggles of immigrant families and black activism. I also enjoyed the rather risky narrative - the book is told through Cal's eyes even though he is narrating events he wasn't alive to see. It's been a few weeks since I finished this and I stand by my thoughts (and longest review ever) over on goodreads. This is a book which will stay with me for a long time, but not neccessarily one I wish to own. Also if anyone does know of a book about a futuristic society where there is no longer male/female gender let me know!

And finishing on a good one since today's book post seems to be a whole bunch of grumbling - proof that not everything I read is stellar. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a gem. A very quick and captivating read told via a series of letters. The Guernsey islands are located off the coast of southern England and were the only British soil to be occupied by Germany during WW2. An author - Juliet - begins correspondence with island inhabitants and eventually goes to live there to research her new book. At times this book bought me to tears - there are some heartbreaking moments as people retell their war-time memories to Juliet and as she falls in love with the island and the interesting bunch of people who live there. Again, I enjoyed the historical aspects of the post-War setting (perhaps I should read more WW2 books ...know any good ones?) and the letter format wasn't as distracting as I thought it might be. All in all a 5 star read.

So that's it from me for May. If you've read any awesome books lately let me know, I'm always adding to my "to-read" list.

1 comment:

  1. ah the potato peel book! I read about that ages ago and promptly forgot to look it. Thanks for the reminder!