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A Blogging Good Read - April

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Blimey, April already. And it's the seventh of the month so that must make it time for the latest edition of A Blogging Good Read!

 Hazel from Hazel's World of Joy and Lucy from Lucy in the Clouds both came back for more book reviewing fun.

Up first is Hazel's choice, A Cup Of Teaby Amy Ephron:

I enjoyed this short story, it's easy to read and engage with, the characters are brilliantly described. The over privileged and flighty Rosemary, the beguiling and mysterious Eleanor and the sturdy, yet romantic, Philip, combine in a tragic love triangle that had me turning pages quickly. The writing style builds the atmosphere from the very beginning. I would've easily read this in one sitting, had I had the time. I loved that Eleanor's past remained very much a mystery - we knew as much about her as her fellow characters in the book - as the reader you wondered about her as much as they did. I wondered at Rosemary's initial motivation in bring Eleanor home for a cup of tea, an act that would forever change the lives of the two of them and Rosemary's fiance, Philip. Could she really be so silly, so eager to been seen to do a good deed? Her naivety, thanks to an over privileged, sheltered upbringing, was eventually her downfall.

World War 1 tore apart the lives of the two lead women, only to see them left reeling - how they both deal with this, both in very different ways, is a direct result of the lives they led up to that point in time. And the end, you knew it was ending soon as the pages dwindled but I didn't see such a sharp and unexpected twist coming my way. 

What did Lucy think?

I was very intrigued by the premise when I read the blurb on the back of this book, but somehow it didn’t quite deliver for me. I was expecting the focus to be completely on the dynamics of the Rosemary and Philip’s marriage following the chance encounter with Eleanor, rather than a blow-by-blow account of the ensuing affair with nothing left to the imagination. I felt that seeing only one side of the story would have made for a subtler plot somehow, leaving a lot more to the reader’s imagination.

I found myself disliking Rosemary intensely, and almost glad that she got her comeuppance after having the audacity to pluck another human being from the street in order to meddle in their life, almost as a little project borne out of her own privileged boredom. It throws up the old question: can any act of kindness be truly altruistic if one derives any pleasure or benefit from it oneself?

I did warm to Rosemary towards the end of the story though, when it became clear that she had known all along, or at least suspected, about Philip’s affair, but could not bring herself to speak of it or accept it – it was only then that she became human to me and I started to feel sorry for her and could understand her actions at the end of the book.

I hope I don’t give the impression that I didn’t enjoy this book because I did, very much, I just wasn’t blown away by it as I expected to be. I did love the fact that there are a few twists in the plot and, without giving too much away, it doesn’t necessarily turn out the way you think it’s going to.

I think this is one of those books that could easily send me into rant mode. On the plus side, it really didn't take me long to read - two hours, tops. On the negative side...everything else.

I found it very frustrating. The blurb describes the author as a professional writer and screenwriter and that leads you to expect a certain level of skill but this book felt incredibly amateurish to me. One of the main rules of writing is show, don't tell and this was constant telling, not showing. There was no depth to it. No nuance. No subtlety. It felt like there was a lot of potential and that makes it worse! The plot and setting are so interesting but it's completely ruined by both the length of the story (which does it no favours) and the execution. No-one feels real and it's all just so underdeveloped. I wanted it to be good and it was so disappointing.

I chose Guards! Guards!by Terry Pratchett:

I picked this months ago, hoping to spread a little more love for Terry Pratchett and his books. It seems even more timely now that he's so sadly passed away. As to why I selected this particular one, well, the City Watch series is far and away my favourite and this is the first one. The book I reread most in that series is the wonderful Night Watch but unfortunately it really won't make any sense to people who haven't already read the previous ones, so I can't recommend it for BGR. So, starting at the beginning, we have Guards! Guards!

Carrot Ironfoundersson, a 6'6 dwarf, moves from the mountains to join the Ankh-Morpork Night Watch. His by-the-book policing style is somewhat at odds with the distinctly more cynical style adopted by the rest of the force (all three of them) but it works! And it's a good job, because the normal pace of life in Ankh-Morpork is soon interrupted by a secret society who, in their efforts to overthrow the Patrician and install a new King, accidentally summon a dragon (as you do). It's up to the guards to try and capture the dragon and save the day.

Even if you don't read a lot of fantasy, I'd urge you to give this a try. Much wiser people than me have written essays about the genius behind Pratchett's writing so I won't attempt to convince you of that. I'll just ask you to read it because it's clever, funny, thoroughly entertaining and everyone's life is a little better when it's got some Sam Vimes in it.

Did Hazel enjoy it?

This is the first, but definitely not the last, of Terry Pratchett's books I've read. I loved it. I wish I could've found a rainy afternoon to curl up under a blanket and read this in one sitting. I had to snatch moments when I could and I think this interrupted the flow of the story for me, but not the enjoyment.

You forget every once in a while that your reading about Discworld and not some version of our own world, until you're reminded by the existence of an Orangutan librarian for example, and the existence of dragons and magic. This makes for some unexpected plot twists and story lines.
And could the newest member of The Watch - an adopted dwarf named Carrot - really be King?

The story revolves around The Watch - a group of mismatched guards led by a drunken Vimes. But with a plot to take control of the city using magic and dragons The Watch find themselves defenders of the city and, in turn, heroes.

It's funny, engaging and a proper escape. I'll be reading each and every one of Terry Pratchett's books.

What about Lucy?

I’ve wanted to have a go at the Discworld novels for a while now, but the fact that there is no specific order and the sheer dizzying number there is to choose from, meant that I always felt a bit daunted by them and consequently never bothered at all. So I was pleased that I would now be ‘forced’ to read one, and not have to dither over which one to start with.

This book has pretty much everything I was expecting from Pratchett: dragons, magic, made-up words… What it also has is cynicism and humour in spades. It seemed quite a slow read for me because I was relishing every double meaning, oxymoron and satire hidden within, and I found myself chuckling along with every page.

Although it took me a while to get into whilst I got to grips with the enormous cast and unusual character and place names,  after about 100 pages I was hooked, wanting to know what happens next, rooting for the anti-heroes, and delighting in this whole imagined universe. As with JK Rowling, I find it hard to comprehend that someone can invent such detailed worlds, though I feel already that the Discworld has a lot more depth to it than Hogwarts and I hope to make at least a small dent in the series now that I’m no longer uninitiated.

Lucy picked Notes on a Scandalby Zoe Heller:

I chose Notes on a Scandal simply because it’s one of those books that has ‘stayed’ with me and kind of haunted me since I first read it around ten years ago. It ostensibly tells the story of a teacher, Sheba, who embarks on an affair with one of her students, from the point of view (in a kind of diary form) of her spinsterish colleague, Barbara.

It quickly becomes apparent that although the issues of morality and consent are touched upon, the focus is not so much on Sheba and her misdemeanours, but on the contrasting crippling loneliness of Barbara, and how it affects her reactions to Sheba’s situation.

It was not an enjoyable read for me – I was single, lost and lonely when I first read this book and I’ve kind of come full circle and am back in that position now, and ten years older. The writing is exquisite but intense, uncomfortable, and even harrowing at times. I don’t think there are many people who could read this book and not identify acutely (now or in retrospect) with some of the passages depicting Barbara’s desolation.

I always think it’s the measure of good writing when you can love a book despite disliking all of its characters and this is true of this book with bells on. If you like your fiction intriguing and unfluffy then this is highly recommended.

I saw the film of Notes on a Scandal when it was first released but had never got round to picking up the book. I can be lazy like that. So many books, so little time...

Anyway, BGR is always good for the occasional bum kick/reminder that just watching the film isn't good enough! Particularly when it comes to this sort of psychological thriller where knowing what happens really isn't as important or enjoyable as discovering how it happens. Lucy's use of the word intriguing is absolutely spot on - this book is highly unsettling but you can't stop reading it. I really enjoyed it.

Did Hazel feel the same?

I saw the film adaptation of this some years ago, so I knew the plot but had forgotten most of the detail. Of course the book was able to explore these in finer detail.

I was struck by how the fact that a teacher having an affair with a pupil wasn't the most uncomfortable aspect of the book. The friendship between Barbara and Sheba was far more disturbing. Barbara fixated on Sheba from the very beginning, feeling slighted at the smallest of actions, reacting in a hugely disproportionate manner, which eventually led to her betrayal and the affair being exposed.

Barbara is an intelligent and disciplined woman, but silly and childish, wanting to control her friend and refusing to see that anyone - even her husband and children - could or should be as important to Sheba as she was. Of course Sheba is blissfully unaware of this and uses her friendship with Barbara as her outlet, a place to revel in her affair and vent when the paring starts to eventually and inevitably goes sour.

Sheba makes Barbara feel more interesting and important than she has felt in years, normally a loner, this friendship transforms her life and the fact that Sheba chose her as confidant makes Barbara feel special and takes it as proof of the depth of their friendship.

Written in the form of Barbara's journal, it is a one sided view of events, but Barbara's nature compels her to record events as exactly as she can, it's her interpretation of events that is most alarming.

It's an interesting read, uncomfortable at times, not enjoyable exactly but certainly compelling.

Thanks ladies! It was excellent to have you both back again this month.

Next month's books are The Secret Gardenby Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Wrong Boyby Willy Russell and Brideshead Revisitedby Evelyn Waugh. If you want to read along, feel free!


  1. Definitely time I dive into Pratchett's world, been meaning to for ages & this sounds like a perfick place to start!! :)

  2. I love Pratchett and Guards is one of my favourites!

    Lizzie Dripping

  3. I love these posts because they always bring up really interesting new books to look out for and read. I must expand my horizons with Terry Pratchett, as I've read so few and he is brilliant in his world crafting and story telling. - Tasha


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