Sunday, December 16, 2012

Never to Forget

A Place Called Freedom
by Ken Follett

Historical Fiction
Publisher; Pan Books/London/1996
ISBN; 0330344838
Pages; 567

Plot; Sentenced to a life of misery in the Scottish coal mines, twenty-one-year-old Mack McAsh hungers for escape. His only ally: beautiful, high-born Lizzie Hallim, who is trapped in her own kind of hell.

In 1766, from the teeming streets of London to the infernal hold of a slave ship headed for the American colonies to a sprawling Virginia plantation, two restless young people, separated by politics and position, are bound by their search for a place called freedom....

My Thoughts; What a wonderful adventure!

Like many of Follett's books, A Place Called Freedom can be a little melodramatic at times, but that is what I love about Follett titles. Reading is a great way to escape, and how better to escape than into a melodramatic adventure?

Most commonly, as you read a novel, there are ups and downs. There are times of action and there are times of backstory and detail. I found as I read this book that there were no lulls. I was on the edge of my seat for most of the story. And what an exciting story it is. Travelling from the underground coal mines of Scotland, to the eerie backstreets of London, to the wide expanses of Virginia.

The characters were really enjoyable. Mack, the male protagonist, is, lets face it, the dream lead. Mentally and physically strong, moral, stands up for his beliefs, muscly and vulnerable. While Lizzy, the female lead is everything a woman wants to be; beautiful, determined, enigmatic and just a little bit wild.

Yes, the story line is predictable, like most works of melodrama, but it is still a fun read.

Follett has also put alot of time into the finer historical details, which does add a level of believability and helps boost your trivia knowledge!

I recommend this title to historical fiction fans, or anyone wanting a fun adventure, without needing too much thought.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What Would You Do To Survive?

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy

Genre; Fiction/Post-apocolyptic
Publisher; Picador/Great Britain/2006
Pages; 307
ISBN; 9780330447546

Plot; A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape, save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves, the clothes they wear, a cart of scavanged food and each other.

My Thoughts; This book is proof to me why book clubs are a beautiful thing.

Years ago I saw this book at my local second hand book store. I had heard it mentioned in various circles, but after reading the blurb on the back, I put it straight back on the shelf. I dismissed it just as easily a few years later when I saw the trailer for the film. I am not a fan of post-apocolyptic literature. Or so I thought.

Thank you ladies of The Blue Mountains Book Club. What a wonderful, although depressingly sad, gift. You forced me to read this book and it paid off.

Who would have thought that such a dismal, grey story could be beautiful.

As I skeptically opened the first page and read the first few sentences I instantly warmed to this doomed father and his hopeful son. "Warm" may not be a word you would easily associate with Cormac McCarthy, but this is just how I felt as I read through each ashy step taken.

I think, as a parent, that what made this book such an emotional read for me was the question posed; could you kill your child? If you knew you were on the brink of painful starvation, but that hope may lay around the next bend (or not), could you mercy kill your child?

The father, referred to as "The Man" stays true and completely honest. He tells his son how it is and what will happen, no matter how bad the news. Yet his son, referred to as "The Boy", is so hopeful and so innocent. I think that is the most beautiful thing about this book; the son's hope. All he has known is devastation and morbid reality and he manages to still be so innocent and wants nothing more than to help others. Is this how all children would be in a similar world, or is this unique for this child.

There is a scene in which the father finds a can of Coke and he passes it to the boy. Naturally, through love and an understanding of how precious food and drink can be, the son passes the can to his father to take a sip and the father says "no", knowing the son has never and will never again have Coke. This scene brought a tear to my eye. You may say I am nuts, it is a can of soda, but just the thought that something as basic and common as a can of Coke can be such a treasure is sad.

Could this be our future? A future where money and diamonds are waded through to find the real treasure; wood panels ripped from walls for fire and cans of prunes, years past their expiry.

What McCarthy has done particularly well is to hide the cause of the devastation. We know it is a post-apocolyptic world. We know the plants have all died. We know that all the animals have died. We know that rivers have run poisonous. But what is the cause? I think this is effective. There are so many theories out there as to why the world will come to an end; global warming, the ozone layer hole, produce running out from over population, the list goes on. This book, this world, could really be the outcome of any of these causes.

Ultimately, I think what makes this book so popular, aside from the brilliant writing, is that people love to think, "what would I do?" What person doesn't watch or read stories of survival and wonder what they would do the same and do different. What would you do if the world was coming to and end and you had a child to protect?

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Funniest, Saddest Book I've Read

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

Genre; Drama/Fiction
Publisher; Penguin Group/USA/2012
Pages; 313
ISBN; 9780143567592

Plot; Hazel is terminal.No point in sugar coating it. The tumour-shrinking medical miracle may have bought her some time, but Hazel remains terminal.

Being a teenager with cancer is no picnic. There are her parents to worry about, how will they be when she is gone, and then there are her friends. The ragtag bunch of cancer kids, all trying to outdo each other with their miracles and miseries.

Let's face it, it is a downhill road. Well, until the gorgeous and charismatic Augustus Waters walks into her world. With his unlit cigarettes and drool-worthy swagger, Hazel's life is about to be shaken up.

My Thoughts; When I was half-way through this book I went into work and started to tell my co-workers about it. This is how the conversation started, "Yeah, I am reading this book about a bunch of teenagers who all have terminal cancer. It is hilarious!"

As you can imagine, I was singled out as the cold hearted weirdo who laughs at cancer kids.

The truth is, this book is hilarious. It is the funniest, saddest thing I have ever read. Green leads you on an (sorry to use this old and over-used term, but it really applies) emotional roller coaster. One minute I was crying uncontrollably, the next I was laughing to the point of stomach pains.

John Green is one half of the popular, and totally enjoyable, "Vlog Brothers" on YouTube. This is a channel run by brothers John and Hank Green on which they post regular videos talking about current events, world history, interest topics, you name it. It is definitely worth a visit because they are so intelligent and so funny.

I had seen quite a few of Green's videos, so when the book was mentioned at my book club, I jumped in anticipation. Never has my book club picked such a fantastic book.

As you read it, it is as thought it really has been written by a teenage girl. I don't know how Green has this insight, but I have not been so impressed by a man's insight into the mind of a female since I read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

As I understand it, John Green used to counsel children with cancer, and I think this is why he has been able to write so believably. As adults, we have all been witness to how amazing children can be in difficult situations, so it is inspiring to read this book and see these children. How they are so strong, and brave, and lighthearted through all these events, making jokes and supporting each other. All in only the way children can.

I recommend this book to everyone. These kids make you realise how precious life is and where your priorities should lie. It is also one hell of an entertaining read!

I warn you, have tissues at the ready.

Happy Reading!

A Timeless Tale of Conflict

The Daughter of the Red Deer
by Joan Wolf

Historical Romance
Publisher; Onxy/USA/1992
Pages; 468
ISBN; 0451403347

Plot; The tribe of the Red Deer is a mountain tribe who worship the goddess Mother. The women rule the tribe, hunt for game and have their own rituals and ceremonies. Women are valued as the source of life.

The tribe of the Horse, by comparison, values male strength. They are a tribe who live on and hunt the plains, leaving the women behind to sew their clothes and raise their young.

One devastating day, as the men of the tribe of the Horse hunt, their women and children are taken ill. They have had water from a poor source and have been poisoned. Sadly, few make it.

As the men of the tribe of the horse move on from this day, they realise that in order for their tribe to survive, they will need more women. What better than to take these women from another tribe.

Little do the men of the Horse realise the changes that will be forced upon them by those they have captured.

My Thoughts; The language of this book and research it must have taken to create this prehistoric world is amazing.

Set back during the last ice age, in prehistoric France, Wolf has given light to an era often forgotten in literature. An era which is more commonly than not used for comedy. Who hasn't seen images of women with cartoon-like bones in their hair, being dragged into a cave by their "unga-bunga" speaking husband.

I loved all the small details. The way their tunics are sewn, the way they vent smoke from their caves, the intricacies of hunting large game. Wolf has really shown her knowledge on these pages.

Yes, this is a romance, so you do get the "quivering loins" often associated with books of this genre, but I think the history makes up for those moments of windblown hair and moist lips.

I also think the storyline is well formed. Often in books from this genre you have a strong start and strong end, but a tedious or frustrating middle. Being a romance there are those moments of frustration, but there is also alot of  plot. There is entertainment and exciting events all through this book.

I recommend this book to those who like a good romance with a strong storyline.

Happy Reading!

The Weaving Threads of Time

The Devlin Diary
by Christi Phillips

Genre; Historical Fiction/Mystery
Publisher; Simon&Schuster/UK/2009
Pages; 433
ISBN; 9781847373199

Plot; London, 1672; Hannah Devlin is an outlawed woman. Not for having stolen money, not for murdering an innocent and not for committing treason. Hannah practices the art of medicine.

Mrs Devlin and her art may be seen as criminal, but who better than Hannah to call on when one of the King's mistresses falls ill and a doctor is needed. A doctor who relies on discretion as much as a crown with a secret.

Cambridge, 2008; Claire Donovan thought that Andrew Kent had invited her to be a teacher at Trinity College because firstly, he thought she was a talented historian and secondly, because of the romantic history they share. Since arriving in Cambridge, however, Andrew has been cold and has left the unsure Claire to her own devices.

It is only once Claire finds the diary of a 17th Century female doctor named Hannah Devlin, hiding on the dusty back shelves of the antiquarian library, that Andrew's interest is captured. Interest which peaks when a fellow college teacher and celebrated historian is found dead after having seen the diary.

My Thoughts; Mystery, romance, action, comedy, what more could you want. This book is thrilling, funny and totally unputdownable (yes, it is definitely a word!)

As many of my regular readers know, I am a bit of a fan of the juxtaposition of modern and historical, so this title is right up my alley.

Firstly I want to talk about the irony of parallels. One would assume that as the centuries have gone on people have become more aware and attuned to each other feelings and thoughts. But, as Phillips so astutely points out in this novel, we haven't. Claire is as clueless about the wants of Andrew Kent in 2008 as Hannah is clueless about the wants of Edward Strathern in 1672. I love this comparison. As Claire reads Hannah's diary you can see the similarities between the two women, and it makes for a great study.

I also really enjoyed the court of Charles II. What a great time in history to set this story. The thought of women practicing medicine was unheard of until just a few short decades ago, so technically this story could have been set at any point in history, but I am so glad Phillips chose Charles II court. With his long black wig, pointy shoes and powdered face, Charles II was either really stupid or really intelligent and this book lightly delves into that debate, which again makes for a great study.

The roles and position of women play an important part in this story. Hannah faced the troubles of being a woman in a man's profession, while Claire faced the troubles of being a female teacher in a strongly male realm.There were times when I wanted to take both women by the shoulders, shake hard and scream the answer at them, because the answer was staring both women in the face, which could be quite infuriating. But, in all honesty, it also makes the story more realistic. How often are the answers to your questions right infront of you?

I liked the bouncing back and forth between the then and now. It was often enough to keep the reader's interest, but not so often as to confuse. This is an important note to make as I recently read a book which bounced between two times from one paragraph to another, and I had to put the book down.

In terms of writing, this is no great piece of literature, but it is well written and easy to read. Not to mention, entertaining.

I recommend this title to historical fiction fans and fans of womens' history in particular.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

An Appointment With Death

Gallows Thief
by Bernard Cornwell

Genre; Historical Fiction
Publisher; HarperCollins/London/2002
Pages; 401
ISBN; 139780007877447

Plot; Disgraced by his father's suicide and impoverished by the debts that drove him to it, Capt. Rider Sandman, late of His Majesty's 52nd Regiment of Foot, has been forced to sell his commission to support his mother and sister.

Desperate to earn a living but with no skills besides soldiering and cricket, he has come to London in search of a job. When the Home Secretary offers him temporary employment investigating a sensational murder, he accepts it as easy money. All he has to do is elicit a confession from the young artist accused of raping and murdering the Countess of Avebury during her portrait sitting. But when Sandman visits him in Newgate, the artist defends his innocence so vehemently that Sandman begins to have his doubts.

Unwillingly, Sandman is drawn into an investigation that not only risks his life but introduces him to the darkest secrets of several aristocratic families.

My Thoughts; I am going through a bit of a Historical Fiction addiction at the moment. I can't seem to get enough English history. This book not only quenched my thirst, but it gave me reason to hunt down even more literature about the old backstreets of London.

Cornwell really is a masterful author. Each page just entices the reader on further and further, with a gripping end you can't see coming.

I loved the blend of mismatched, misfit characters. Sandman is a wonderful male lead. Men can aim to be like him and women can swoon at his feet (as I did at least once a page).

One of the main aspects of this novel, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was the juxtaposition of fictional characters and actual historical figures. Cornwell has really researched his subject, and it makes for a much more enthralling read, knowing some of the characters where real, and really did such terrible things.

The mystery of the story, is a good one. It keeps you guessing, which keeps you interested, and the ending is unexpected. Making not only the characters entertaining, but also the storyline.

I would recommend this book to all fans of Historical Fiction and anyone who likes a good, entertaining mystery.

Happy Reading!