It's the start of a new year and that means it's time for a new edition of Blogging Good Read. Have any of you made any reading resolutions? If so, I'd love to hear them! It's not exactly a resolution but I really must aim to read my BGR books further in advance. I was still reading one of these books last night and really, there's no excuse! I organise the spreadsheet: I know ages in advance what needs reading!
Joining me this month are two far more organised types, thank goodness. Say hello to Rachel from Cold Knees and AJ from Writer's Block and Broken Lenses, both back for another crack at BGR.
We started off with my choice, Howl's Moving Castleby Diana Wynne Jones:
I love DWJ and all her books, even the really weird ones. They're so inventive and manage to weave in some very familiar fairytale tropes and settings with very unusual characters and plot directions. If you're only familiar with Howl's Moving Castle from the film version then please give the book a read as they've very different.
Sophie Hatter, a milliner with rather a talent for weaving magic into the hats she makes, comes up against the Wicked Witch of the Waste and gets turned into an old crone. She leaves the market town she grew up in, finds a moving castle and promptly moves in to set about cleaning it up. Who lives there? Wizard Howl, of course! (Oh and his fire demon, Calcifer, who is a truly brilliant character). Don't let the witchy/wizardy thing put you off - yes, this is fantasy but with a very normal air about it. Sophie revels in being allowed to be crotchety and annoying for once whereas Howl is a vain brat and no-one pretends otherwise. The way they deal with each other and break the various curses that everyone is under is just a delight to read about.
What did Rachel think of it?
I'd heard of the anime film of this but have to admit, I didn't realise it was a book too. The story opens as a sort of fairytale set in a magical kingdom and focuses on the adventures of Sophie, the eldest of 3 daughters and by definition of being the eldest, apparently doomed to failure- which we were constantly reminded of throughout the book (I found this slightly annoying, it was repeated so much but I didn't really know what it was based on). Her and her sisters all seek their fortunes in different ways after their father dies and Sophie eventually ends up in the eponymous castle with Howl, his assistant Michael and by far my favourite character, the fire demon Calcifer.. I thought he was the funniest character by far, and though I grew to like Sophie more throughout the book, I did find her a bit tiresome at first. A lot of the other characters weren't really developed enough for my liking (Sophie's sisters, the King, the Witch of the Waste..) and I didn't particularly like Howl! Enough negativity- I did enjoy the weird juxtaposition with Howl's Wales and his Welsh family, just because it was so odd!
Overall I found the book an entertaining and quick read, though it didn't feel particularly well-written, and the ending wrapped up a little too quickly.. but I suppose it is a fairytale after all.
How about AJ?
With this one I was lucky because I have seen the movie far too many times, however I was kicking myself over not knowing it was a book first. This is another example of how the book is always better from the movie, mainly because there was so much more depth to the characters I already know and love.
I loved seeing how the character I love to hate was even more irritating in the book (why I love him) and the contradiction between Sophie and Howl was even more clear, she's so humble in a way and he's just a spoiled brat! Along with Farenheit 451, this is one of my top books of 2014.
AJ's pick was Fahrenheit 451by Ray Bradbury:
There was something very surreal about reading a book set in a future where books are banned. I felt like I was doing something wong while reading it. All in all I loved it, there were characters I loved and some I absolutely despised, it was upsetting to find that what I thought would be my favourite character disappear so soon! Plus there were plenty of twists and turns to keep you wanting to read more especially when certain events made me so angry I had to put the book down and others I ended up missing my stop on the way to work for just because I needed to finish THAT bit.
I'm currently undecided over whether the ending was perfect or whether there could have been more to the story. I'll make my mind up eventually.
I think the first thing to say about this book is that it's written in a very particular style: chock-full of metaphors and deep, descriptive language. You have to sort of throw yourself into that dystopian, frantic world where technology has taken over and civilisation is on its last legs and simply let the roar of burning books and interactive tv walls wash over you. When it works, it's great. Terrifyingly great, in fact. It's a simple enough premise - books are illegal, people exist in a technology-filled bubble, only caring about what's being force-fed to them, and firemen are there to burn books and houses, not to save them. But what happens when one of the firemen starts to question things and finds himself reading a book? As I mentioned during a BGR review of Vivian Versus the Apocalypse, it's a bit eerie reading something that really could become possible in the future. Even more so with this book which was first written so long ago. It's a really impressive feat and a very well written book.
On the flipside of all that good stuff, it really is a book that demands your attention. If you have to stop, make sure you do it at the right place. I had a major "urghhhhh" moment about halfway through and really struggled to get back into it - I'm pretty sure it's because it was in the middle of the Fire Chief's loooooong speech about the insidious rise of technology, evil and war throughout the world and trust me, that's not something you want to start halfway through!
Did Rachel like it?
I've read a few dystopian novels which have left me feeling pretty spooked.. and this was no exception. Set in a not too distant future where books are banned and fireman exist to burn them and quash all thirst for knowledge or curiosity, the book focuses on the slow realisation of one of these firemen, Guy Montag, that there may be more to life, after his chance encounter with a new neighbour, Clarisse. The latter is a little too free spirited for these times and causes him to start thinking for himself. She soon goes missing and Guy starts to question his way of life more and more, which can only have negative consequences as those around him react with horror to his newfound curiosity and questioning of the world order.
I really enjoyed this book, though perhaps enjoyed isn't the right word given the story... it feels like certain elements of it could come true or are already (dwindling attention spans, books being abridged more and more, huge tv screens..) Grim reading, but a good read.
Rachel's choice was A Sensible Lifeby Mary Wesley:
I originally picked this up after heaving read The Camomile Lawn and there are similarities between the 2 novels- a large group of young characters with a focus on a younger member of the group, following their story from childhood/adolescence into old age.. but I think I enjoyed A Sensible Life more.
Poor Flora has awful parents who neglect her whilst holidaying in France in the Summer 1926 (I don't think I've read of more horrid parents in a novel), so she befriends everyone else at the hotel, and falls for a couple of boys who are several years older than her. We meet the same characters again over the years and see how their lives intertwine.
I think what I like most about the book is the way Mary Wesley isn't afraid to depict such flawed characters, but in a way that feels real. The way the characters develop over time as they age and experience life is also well portrayed. Overall, an enjoyable read.
What did AJ think?
I'm going to be completely honest, I didn't like this one. I probably didn't like it from the moment I read the blurb, my boyfriend says I can be quite elitist... However, even though it's not normally a book I'd pick up, I gave it a go.
I really didn't enjoy it, it's not a book that I can read from beginning to end in a sitting and I even ended up only reading up to the 3rd chapter and leaving it for a while because I wasn't connected. I found the characters unrelatable and not engaging at all and unfortunately I had to put it down unfinished. After my lesson learned from Gone Girl I can't read another book to the end if I don't like it any more. Maybe I'll pick it up and give it another go and I may change my mind but this time it just wasn't for me.
My heart sank slightly when I saw that a Mary Wesley book had been chosen. It makes no logical sense why I don't like her books but I don't. Historical setting, sweeping timespans, big houses: they're all things I usually can't get enough of. I fully expected to love The Camomile Lawn and it was one of the biggest reading disappointments I've ever had: dull and completely unengaging. So, not a promising start when it came to tackling this book.
I enjoyed A Sensible Life more than The Camomile Lawn but as you may have judged from the above paragraph, that isn't necessarily glowing praise. It was just ok. It didn't take me long to read and the plot fizzed along well enough but I never felt the sense of properly enjoying it. I can't seem to put my finger on what it is about her books that I don't like because by all rights I really should love them but they just never seem to click with me. It's a shame.
Thanks to Rachel and AJ for joining in again and for being far more organised with your reviews than I was with mine! It's been fab to have you both back.
I'll be back next month and we'll be reading The Blood of the Fifth Knightby E.M. Powell, Solarby Ian McEwan and Cotillionby Georgette Heyer. As always, if you want to read along with us and contribute in the comments section, you're very welcome!