Image Map

A Blogging Good Read - February

Thursday, 12 February 2015

It's book time! Joining me for BGR this month are two return reviewers, Emma and Lee. You can find them on Twitter as @OandtheFoxes and @iodo_rice respectively.

Without further ado, onto the books:

Emma chose Solar by Ian McEwan:

I adore Ian McEwan for all his biting real characterisation. He's a master at emotion, brutally honest with it at all times. He's not afraid to create horrid protagonists. Michael Beard, the star of Solar, is the picture of an unlikeable man. I know a lot of people struggled with this book, and struggled with McEwan's drifts into scientific detail and overly descriptive passages but I've always liked this of him as an author.

There's something Pinter-esque for me in almost all of his work. It's the drama of everyday life that pleases my brain. I enjoyed Solar, not as much of his other work (it's too comic at times). It's not the perfect introduction to McEwan if you've never read him before, but if you have then it should certainly be on your reading list.

What did Lee think?

This book is split into three sections (2000, 2005, 2009) and I found I especially struggled with the first third of the book. I found it hard to engage with, so much so I had a few failed attempts to really get started with it, I was determined to persevere. I have to admit that I did manage to engage with it more as it progressed, and the characters became more defined, outside of the work that they do. One of the reasons the work they do put me off is that I found the language really dense and technical.

The central character in this book Michael Beard, is a largely dislikeable, lazy figure, who acts on selfish and greedy impulses. He is more concerned with how he is treated by the people around him, as opposed to concern over how he treats them. Therefore, my biggest shock in reading this book was at its conclusion, while never growing to like Beard, I actually found I did not want his world to implode around him. Like so much that is uncertain in my response to this book, I cannot fully say why this was the case.

Even now as I jot down these thoughts, I am not fully sure how I feel about this book, maybe it will come to me randomly in a few months’ time and I will think of the perfect description and find myself saying ‘that is exactly what I wanted to say in this post!’. As it is I will have to stick with ‘unsure’ as my defining impression. As a final note, there is an unnecessarily graphic description of a snow related injury that I could happily never have read, and believe there should be a disclaimer a certain section can be skipped *shudders*!!

Oh lordy, this was quite the slog to get through. Made much worse in a way because I really wasn't prepared for that reaction to it. I've read a couple of McEwan's other books (namely Atonement and On Chesil Beach) and I really enjoyed both of them! I even chose the former for a previous edition of BGR. Then, the main criticism of the writing  from the reviewers was that they found it overly wordy and slow and whereas I didn't agree with it then, I really do think it applies to this book. A slow paced novel is fine by me as long as I'm enjoying the world or the characters or the plot line. In this case, none of those things applied and it felt like a long, vaguely depressing trudge instead.

The prevailing tone of the book is mopey. Doom, gloom and an unpleasant, miserable, cuckolded protagonist are what you get clobbered with for the first few chapters and although things do improve slightly when the plot eventually kicks in, it wasn't enough to change my overall impression.  All of the praise of this book mentions the biting satire and black humour but being entirely honest here, I really didn't find it a funny book. I like McEwan's writing style a lot but in this instance it didn't work for me. I can admire the prose and the ideas but I can't pretend it had the desired emotional impact on me and I did not enjoy it.

My pick was Cotillion by Georgette Heyer:

Continuing with my one-woman mission to convert the world to the joys of Georgette Heyer, I went for Cotillion as my choice for this edition of BGR. Fake engagements and Regency makeovers ahoy!  This is far from being mere historical chick-lit though. If you haven't encountered Heyer's unique blend of light comedy, beautifully drawn characters and serious historical research, you are in for a treat. Cotillion is a truly enjoyable read and one of my very favourite Heyer books.

It starts off in a country house where several male cousins have gathered together at the behest of their great uncle, to rapidly discover that he's made his ward, Kitty, his heiress, on the sole proviso that she marries one of them. The obvious candidate is Jack, the tall, dark and handsome one. But then Freddy arrives. Ahhhh, Freddy. There's a distinct touch of the Bertie Wooster about him. Amiable, rich, not over-burdened in the brains department but genuinely charming and a thoroughly good egg.

Kitty is desperate to escape her rural isolation so she persuades Freddy to fake an engagement so they can escape to London for a month or two of socialising and shopping. Bless the man, he goes along with it. What happens then is a rather glorious romp through Regency life with a cracking cast of minor characters. Freddy's father, Lord Legerwood, is an absolute joy and it's a real toss-up as to whether I enjoy their interactions the most or the frankly laugh out-loud sections where Dolph (one of the many cousins) strikes a conversational blow.

This book could very easily be described as frothy and I don't see that as a bad thing - reading is meant to be fun and enjoyable! However there are real depths to all of Heyer's work and this is no exception. Take a quick look beyond the comedic dialogue and romantic historical settings and there are themes and topics that lesser authors wouldn't touch. Dolph breaks my heart. "I don't want a fortune. I want horses." Me too, Dolph, me too...

I'm always wary of putting my very favourite books up for review on here because oof, it can really hurt a bit when people don't like them. Here's hoping Emma enjoyed it!

One of the many things I love about taking part in this book review blog is that it nudges me towards reading more. And often it's towards books I've had my eye on, such was the case with Cotillion.

I've read a ton of Georgette Heyer crime novels though never any of her hugely successful regency romances. I foresee I'll read a ton of these now too, because they are brilliant. Packed full of funny, bright characters, they're a total escapist joy and utterly transport you to the era. Expect love hexagons, lots of laughs and strong characters abound.

What did Lee think?

Well, I know that Alex is a massive fan of this author, but I must admit had never read any of Heyer's work, so was intrigued to see what this book had in store. Upon reading this novel I totally understand why she is liked so much.

Firstly I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found the style of writing very inviting, soon finding myself wrapped up in the world of the central characters and intrigued to know how the story would play out. I must admit, I did feel the middle section of the book dipped a little, and I did not find it as compelling as the beginning or end, but by the time the last few chapters came around I was truly engaged again. I found myself wishing for the best outcome for a number of my favoured characters & cheering internally as things came together for them. Speaking of the characters, I found those created by the author to be extremely well rounded, and this was one of my absolute favourite things about this book: characters always setting the tone for whether I truly engage with a work of fiction emotionally. While they were not all likeable, Camille, Dolph, Hannah, Hugh, Jack, Olivia and Mr Penicuik et al fully came to life on the pages of this book.

One of my favourite aspects of this book was the evolution of the relationship between Kitty Charing and Freddy Standen, who form an alliance based on friendship, which grows into attraction as they are increasingly exposed to the qualities possessed by the other. Freddy may well be one of my favourite recently read characters, he is by no means your stereotypical hero, but I found him compelling, likeable, if a little vain. I was totally in his corner for the majority of the book and wishing for him the best resolution (who didn’t cheer at an enjoyable resolution to a conversation with Jack near the end of the novel?) Some of the highest praise I can give this book is it had moments where I actually laughed out loud through some of the descriptions of the more absurd actions of its characters. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to people & I am tempted to buy the parental a copy for Mother’s Day.

On a final note, I have this book to thank for bringing the expression ‘dick in the nob’ into my life, oh what a joyous phrase (it means silly btw). I refuse to let people to corrupt it into something sordid. Thus, I am now on a one man mission to bring it back, so if you are in Edinburgh and you overhear someone saying it, I would like full credit (via Heyer of course!).

Lee went for The Blood of the Fifth Knight by E.M Powell:

When taking part in BGR previously, I focused on books that have held great significance for me over a number of years. This time I wanted to try something different and include an example of a recent book that I found myself totally caught up with and found I was recommending to others. I first read this book straight after reading its predecessor ‘The Fifth Knight’ and felt both books were equally as good. Thus, I was intrigued to know, could people pick it up as the second book in a series and enjoy it as a standalone novel? As I thought this book did an excellent job of summarising keys events of the previous novel to remind a reader of the backstory, I also thought it did a good job of summarising them to a new reader, so prior reading was not essential.

The book focuses on the key characters of Sir Benedict Palmer and his wife Theodosia (illegitimate daughter of Henry II) living their life away from court and trying to keep their identities secret to the neighbours. The book starts from a period where King Henry is doing penance for the assignation of Thomas Beckett and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is imprisoned. An assassination attempt on Henry's mistress results in Henry calling Benedict (his fifth knight) to protect Rosamond from danger. As Benedict is embroiled in these events, Theodosia is left at home to care for the children, hiding the truth of her past life, her mystery allowing her to become chief suspect in the suspected witchcraft on the landowner’s estate, and dealing with the sudden reappearance of Benedict’s sister Joan.

One of the reasons I particularly enjoyed this book is that it offered a very balanced weight to all its characters, I do not feel any story element was sacrificed for another. Both Benedict and Theodosia were heroic and likeable protagonists but the characters around them felt fully written and explained so you had a full sense of the characters and their motivations that were at play. I very much liked the pace of this novel. Too often I find books with multiple plots suddenly cram too much resolution into the final few chapters and here the author wrapped one plot strand up before the final few chapters, therefore allowing the story to focus on a particular thread as it reached its conclusion.

I also enjoyed the focus on a slightly different time period for historical fiction. While I am a huge fan of Alison Weir (seriously who is not?) the Tudor period does seem over represented in this genre. The lives of Henry, Eleanor and those around them is perfect for further exploration. I will definitely return to this world that E W Powell has created, and while I do not think I would term this book as a new ‘favourite’, I think my willingness to continue with the world and the characters created within is high praise indeed.

I liked the fact that this was the second book. This issue pops up quite often when I'm considering my own BGR choices: I can adore a series but it's fairly common that the first book isn't the best one. Do you pick the weaker book for the sake of scene setting, or pick a later one and hope it works as a standalone? Lee obviously went for the latter option here and I really think it worked well. I enjoyed this book a lot and thought it made perfect sense - the backstory was nicely woven in without being too clunky but you never felt like it was assumed that you already knew it all.

Right from the visceral opening scenes I was swept back in time. Powell does a great job of making the period really lively and realistic and as it's not a historical era that I'm hugely familiar with (I've read a couple of books about Eleanor of Aquitaine but that's all), I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent there. The mystery element of the plot is great too and it all sweeps along very nicely indeed. I'll definitely go back and read the first one but not because I need to do it in order to make sense of this, just because I'd like to spend a bit more time in this world with these characters.

Did Emma like it?

I have to say I'm still at conflict with my thoughts on this one. It took me a while to bond to Palmer and always felt I was missing out having not read the prequel first. Despite that it's a pacy read and again like Cotillion you feel that you're getting a well researched piece of historical fiction brought to vibrant life. 

You get to play detective as the narrative unfolds though I was a little disappointed that I'd sussed a couple of things out early on. Still I'm not here to give the game away, but I recommend you read The Fifth Knight first.

Thanks to Emma and Lee for taking part this month! I'll be back next month and the books for that edition of Blogging Good Read are Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Shantaram clocks in at almost 1000 pages and I haven't started it yet...I'd best get a move on!


  1. FREDDY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh I love Cotillion! I remember you writing when I reviewed it on my blog about how you thought he was the best hero of the Heyer stories!!x

  2. I read Solar and really liked it but man alive is it difference from McEwan's other novels - really odd how someone is able to write 2 completely different book. I'd also completely forgotten about the snow incident until it was mentioned here - so horrific!

    I'm such a massive dickhead though. I got to the bottom and went "Oooh The Night Circus is next. How interesting, I'm reading that at the moment." Yes, you knobhead, you're reading it for that edition of Blogging Good Read.

    I shouldn't be allowed out on my own you know.

  3. I loved The Night Circus, can't wait to see what the others make of it.

    I hated Solar, I read half of it and just had to stop. Not a writing style I admire at all.

  4. I really need to read some Georgette Heyer!

  5. You have totally sold me on Georgette Heyer - Kezzie also mentioned her books to me recently, and judging by these glowing reviews Cotillion sounds brilliant. Excuse me, off to order it from the library...

  6. Bet Freddy loves a crumpet.

  7. I really need to try Georgette Heyer, I'm pretty sure my mum has a load of her books!

    Maria xxx

  8. I completely agree with the second book conundrum - I tend to recommend the first. I'd love to take part in this (I'm an English Teacher so I LOVE books!) so if you'd like a new reading buddy - can you drop me an e-mail on

    Lizzie Dripping


I'm easily pleased - a simple comment will cheer me up no end. So do drop me a line below...

Sorry to readers who prefer to comment anonymously but I am getting clobbered with spam at the moment so have had to disable anon comments. Feel free to get in touch with me in another way!