A Blogging Good Read - August

Tuesday, 7 August 2012


Hello and welcome to the August edition of A Blogging Good Read!  Joining me this month are Sarah from We Shop Therefore We Are and Hazel from Tales of a little Hazzelnut

First up is Hazel's pick, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  She said:


 Normally seen as a children's book (due to Disney's adaptation) the book is actually rather dark and sarcastic, and contains various references to drug taking (something Disney seemed to skim over). Originally read as afternoon stories by the author to his muse young Alice (there's a whole Victorian creepiness behind that), this story is still timeless is my eyes. It is one of my favourite books to read on a dull afternoon.

I'm sure I read this book when I was a child but I don't really have any distinct memories of it.  Alice is so much a part of our cultural vocabulary that I think most of us know that famous outfit/the Cheshire Cat/the "Drink Me" bottle/the Mad Hatter, regardless of whether we've actually read the book or watched one of the various film versions or not.  We can all probably quote the main lines from it too.

Despite all that previous knowledge, it still managed to charm me when I read it again.  There are a lot of classic books that I've read and wondered what on earth the ongoing appeal of them could possibly be.  This isn't one of them.  I can see exactly why so many people class it as a favourite and why it's still so well read.  The language is beautiful - hectic and enticing - and it immediately pitches us into this unmistakeable and curious world that Alice has fallen into.  Alice is a great main character, the supporting cast are fun and above all else, it's an inventive and wonderful story.

So, what did Sarah think of it?

Alice in Wonderful was one of my favourite books when I was a little girl, but I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as an adult. Although I loved seeing the characters brought to life visually in Tim Burton’s film version, I prefer my reading material to be grounded in reality and don’t tend to enjoy fantasy stories.

I think also that because I’m so familiar with the story and the characters I struggled to find anything new in this re-reading and just couldn’t get excited about it. I found the nonsense verses unappealing and didn’t enjoy the dialogue between characters. I did find the ending of the story very sweet and charming though and the illustrations that accompany the text are lovely.

Sarah's choice of book was The Fourth Hand by John Irving:


I picked this up at San Francisco airport for the flight home a few years back. It's such an original concept for a novel that it had me intrigued/hooked after reading the blurb on the back - journalist gets hand bitten off by a lion while covering a story, gets a hand transplant, then the transplant donor's widow asks for visiting rights! The book is written with Irving's trademark humour, empathy and insight into human behaviour. Farce, satire, love story and, above all, a joy to read.

Did Hazel enjoy it?

John Irving has been on my booklist for a few months now so when Sarah selected ‘The Fourth Hand’ I was very excited. The plot itself is very bizarre and not at all what I expected when I picked it up, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Littered with twists and turns, I found the book to be laugh out loud funny while at the same time quite moving and bittersweet to read. Although this was my first John Irving book I can definitely say I will be reading plenty more in the future.

I liked it too. Having a main character who's had his hand chomped off by a lion and then had a transplant is such an unusual starting point for a book that it's bound to grab your attention but there's a lot more to the book than that. Having read that initial description, you may find it odd that I'd describe it as a book that's not particularly plot driven but that's exactly what it is. Characters are introduced and beautifully described over pages and pages and there's certainly no rush to get to the action. It's not about science or gore or dramatic action; it's a story of love and lust and the weird way that humans behave.

There were a few places where I felt the author was getting a bit too carried away with his own love of description but that may just be a cultural thing - that feeling hit me most during the pages talking about American Football (a sport that continues to baffle me) whereas someone who understand the frame of reference probably wouldn't have any issue with it. Overall, a very good read!

And finally, my choice, which was Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein:


I chose this book because I came across it by accident earlier this year and it totally blew me away. It's set during WW2 and tells the story of an unlikely pair of friends - Maddie, a working class girl who is a pilot in the ATA and "Verity", an aristocratic undercover agent with the SOE. It's split into two parts with each character narrating a section and, well, I won't say too more for fear of spoilers but their tales unfold in a fascinating and utterly gripping way. You can't take a word of it for granted - truth and reality are key to the plot and your notions of them are constantly challenged.

It's not always a comfortable read but this just adds to the air of authenticity for me - war wasn't comfortable, or easy, and given the terrifying situations that the characters are in, it would be a real cop-out to skate over some of the harsher aspects. It's vivid, engaging and real. Yes, it's painful in parts and yes, I cried when I read it but it's a wonderful book.

What were Hazel's thoughts?

I am a big fan of historical fiction, but (surprisingly) had never heard of this book. The story focuses on two strong female heroines fighting with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during the war, this immediately drew me in as when I was little there was nothing I loved more than hearing my Nana’s wartime experiences and as a result am fascinated with the era, and I will admit I found the book hard to put down. To me the only drawback was the narrative, it switches between first and third person (what can I say I like continuity), but after a few chapters I got used to it and barely took note of it. This novel is a definite read, even if you are not a fan of historical fiction, filled with intriguing characters and great twists; if I was you I would order it right now.

Well, she definitely liked it! What did Sarah think?

If it hadn’t been on my reading list for this month’s Blogging Good Read I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked this book up. I’m not a big fan of historical fiction at the best of times, I don’t like wartime stories and I have zero interest in planes. Fair to say that I approached Code Name Verity with a bit of reluctance. A few pages in, though, and I was hooked.

The book is set during WWII and tells the tale of two friends; one a pilot and the other a spy. One of the women has been captured by the Gestapo and her story (and that of her best friend Maddie) is told in the form of a written confession. I loved the narrator’s voice – full of warmth, humour and courage - from the word go and it was this that drew me in.

The events of the book are gripping and it held my interest all the way through (I practically read it in one sitting). Above all, it’s a story about ordinary women doing extraordinary things and an enduring friendship, which really moved me. I loved the characters and felt bereft when I got to the end of the book. Go read it for yourself – it’s fab!


Have you read any of these three books? I'd love to hear your thoughts too!

A great big thank you to Sarah and Hazel for taking part this month. I'll be back at the start of September with two other bloggers and three different books.

7 comments:

  1. This is such a good idea rather than the standard "book club".. Code Name Verity sounds like my kind of book, I love historical fiction! x

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  2. I LOVE Alice in Wonderland. I find it so witty, strange, compelling and the underlying themes that go with it are interesting too. It has so many classic scenes, my fave is the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon talking about their school :)

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  3. Code name verity sounds right up my street - certainly adding that to my to read list!

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  4. I love that you do these kind of blog posts - I love reading but don't necessarily like to "follow the trends" (hence, I am only just reading the Harry Potter series), and find lesser known books which are just as good if not better.

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  5. I love the sound of Code Name Verity. Not sure about the Fourth Hand but I guess I'd have to read it to know for sure. I've ordered a load of the books from this series from Green Metropolis - currently reading The Silver Pigs and loving it!

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  6. Hmm, like you I don't think I actually have read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - I've just sort of osmosed the details over the years. Must add that to the ever expanding to-read pile. Fourth Hand certainly sounds bizarre, how do the authors think up these plots?

    Have you still got me down for December? When do you need to know my book choice? xx

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  7. I love nonsense verse, so I might dig out my copy of Alice for a re-read.

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