It’s been a big couple of months in the reading and watching departments.
Got to love winter for that, right?
The added bonus of 16 days in Thailand, many hours of which were spent lying on a banana lounge also helped. I think my holiday reading tally was 7 books, an all time record for me.
Since we’ve been back, I’ve made up for lost time in the Netflix department too and desperately need a Game of Thrones debrief but more on that below.
So, without further ado, let’s turn to what I’ve been reading lately …
The Natural Way of Things won this year’s Stella Prize. I really, really wanted to love this but I’m disappointed to say I didn’t.
Set in the future, it’s essentially a tale of a group of women drugged, herded up and placed in a disused farm surrounded by a barbed wire fence, to do back breaking work, policed by two men and what happens when things don’t go to plan. There’s a Lord of the Flies vibe about it which I didn’t like too.
I’ve thought a bit about why I didn’t enjoy it.
I don’t think it’s a genre issue – I’m no stranger to futuristic fantasy slash political novels – I loved Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale with which this has been compared. I’ve also read and enjoyed trashier popular novels such as The Hunger Games trilogy.
And it wasn’t the writing – it was excellent in places. I just found it all a bit ridiculous, unbelievable (what about their families?) and I didn’t take a liking to or relate to any of the characters. There were no explanations of what was really going on and no context provided. It just happened out of nowhere and made no sense at all to me.
I had to really keep trucking with this in the (ultimately vain) hope that I finally enjoyed it but it never happened for me.
Others may have enjoyed it though. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. Hope Farm, a Stella Prize finalist which I reviewed here, was to me a far superior and satisfying novel.
This is such a delightful book – a short story really – which I managed to read in one hour one evening.
It’s the story of the luckless Nell whose boyfriend stands her up on their planned weekend to Paris.
Nell ends up going anyway and has a fab time.
This is is an easy read and perfect for the beach, holidays or simply to get back on the reading wagon. At only $2.25 too, it’s a bargain.
I picked this book up and was intrigued by the premise: what does it mean to live happily ever after? People love to ask how couples meet but the question The Course of Love explores is: what happens next?
Written as a novel in so far as it traces the fictitious marriage of Rabih and Kirsten, it’s interspersed with insightful observations which manage to somehow translate the couple’s experience to more universal observations and understanding.
I found this book fascinating, relevant – particularly the passages on the impact of parenthood – and easy to read. It made me stop and think and I can’t wait to discuss it. I’ll be recommending it to both my book clubs.
The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante – Books 2, 3 and 4 of the Neapolitan Series
The Story of a New Name is the fabulous second instalment in the series picks up exactly where the first novel finishes.
It’s an extremely well written book and again, pulls no punches as the lives of the protagonist and her friends are ruthlessly observed and analysed.
What I loved about this book was the feeling that I knew these people.
That I, too, understood their poverty, their history, their motivations, loyalties, passions and betrayals. The characters jump off the page because of the incredible way the author describes and analyses her characters. They are almost three dimensional.
Again, Lina is a force to be reckoned with and the push-pull of her relationship with the narrator, Elena, is at the heart of this book. Their friendship is complicated and their lives entwined, for better and for worse.
I went on to immediately’ read the third book in the series, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.
The third instalment was much heavier and political to begin with, making it a much harder, more cerebral read than the intense love affair which developed in the second. It was all interesting and very relevant to the story but I do admit that I found this a bit hard going.
Eventually, I pushed through to the much more engaging and people focused second half.
Again, like the first two novels, it ended with a major cliff hanger. Elena Ferrante knows how to ensure her readers can’t wait to read the next instalment.
The final instalment, The Story of the Lost Child, really was a masterpiece insofar as it covered plenty of new ground but also tied up all the loose ends, coming full circle to the beginning of the first book.
We find out what happens to everyone in the neighbourhood (and not everyone’s destiny is a happy one of course) and why Lila has disappeared without a trace – this is revealed at the very beginning of the first book.
Although there was a lot of sadness in this final instalment, everything that happened had a ring of truth about it; an inevitability of sorts. Though I had hopes for different endings, the way things played out also made sense.
This really is an astonishing series in so many ways. I never felt like I was reading fiction. I believed these characters and felt I knew them. The dialogue, the characters, the settings – all of it felt very real.
This series won’t appeal to all though, and if you’re looking for something easy and unchallenging, these aren’t the books for you.
But if you’re looking for something meaty and unflinchingly honest that will challenge you emotionally and intellectually, you will not be disappointed.
Essentially a story of finding love with plenty of detours along the way, this is a funny, well written and easy to read novel.
Broken up into chapters, which almost read as short stories in themselves, it seems a bit disjointed and unconnected at times, and I’m still wondering how one of the chapters fit in at all.
But overall, I enjoyed this book very much – it’s entertaining, witty and easy holiday reading.
In true Kate Morton fashion, The Forgotten Garden weaves the stories of three women, separated by time, who are all affected in some way by the mysterious abandonment of a child who sails unaccompanied on a voyage to Australia in the early 1900s.
It flits between time from chapter to chapter, gradually drawing all the threads together.
It’s well written and easy to read, but at 645 pages, a bit too long, all things considered. I enjoyed it but not nearly as much as her later books, The Secret Keeper and her most recent offering, The Lake House.
I read this book on the recommendation of US book blogger, Modern Mrs Darcy.
It’s the tale of four siblings, all waiting for the day they finally receive their share of their inheritance, otherwise known as The Nest.
Set in New York, it explores the lives of all the siblings and all their dysfunctions while following the story of what happens when one of the siblings, the charming but irresponsible Leo, blows a large part of the cash.
While being easy to read and entertaining, I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters so I didn’t feel particularly invested or care too much about what happened.
At times, I also felt like I was reading a movie script – this would make a great family comedy in the same vein as This is Where I Leave You – another story of 4 siblings after the death of their father.
It’s perfect light, entertaining holiday reading.
I’ve also read We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler and am reading The Strays by Emily Bitto but I’ll review them next time as we’ve covered a fair bit in this month’s post already.
We finished watching Season 2 of The Fall – it must go down as one of the best final episodes ever. I’m hanging now for Season 3.
We also watched River, a series set in London which follows the eccentric police investigator River in his search for who murdered his partner, Jacqueline Stevenson, AKA Stevie.
This is a slow burner and at times not much seems to happen, so don’t be put off after the first episode.
Ultimately though, this 6 part series is a neat and ultimately satisfying package. The relationship between the two partners is really touching and the depths of it explored as River tries to work out what happened.
I loved the relationship between River and his new partner, hard working, new Dad Ira too.
We watched the whole series in one weekend – 6 one hour episodes – and I’d definitely recommend it.
We also started watching Game of Thrones last weekend and are already mid way through Season 2.
I know people LOVE GoT but I can’t say I love it. I do keep watching it though.
I confess that while I spend a lot of the time hiding behind my cushion to avoid Grisly Beheadings Central and critiquing the gratuitous nudity, sexism and freaking awful portrayal of women, it is rather compelling.
I’m loving the imp, Peter Dinklage and Daenerys Targaryan. There are a number of characters that I hope meet a grisly end though including the nutbag to end all nutbags, Joffrey. Hashtag Psychopath.
Mr SnS has read the first three books and enjoyed them though, so he is providing some necessary explanations when the number of Kings and story lines become confusing. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it – I definitely need a debrief!
In the flicks department, I managed to watch some movies on the planes. including some old classics. On the way to Thailand I watched Spotlight which was as disturbing as it was excellent.
I finally caught up with Legally Blonde – I loved Elle and her gal pal beautician.
I also finally saw Argo, starring Ben Affleck. Telling the true story of the audacious attempt by the CIA to get six American hostages out of Iran in the early 80s. The acting is terrific – Ben Affleck was incredible – and the tension high. Highly recommended.
Since I’ve been home, I’ve watched the movie Carol, having read the book earlier this year. It was a reasonably faithful adaptation though as usual there was much more detail in the book.
Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara were both well cast and the period details captured well. I enjoyed it but preferred the book which had a lot more back story and depth.
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So over to you …. what have you been reading and watching lately? Can you help me on the GoT front? Have you read any of the Neapolitan Series?