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Breadcrumb Reads

This is the companion blog to my main book blog, Breadcrumb Reads. My reading tastes veer towards the classics, literary fiction, creative non-fiction and historical fiction.

Dance the Moon Down by R L Bartram

Dance the Moon Down - R.L. Bartram

I like it when a book is more than just a story. I like it when I'm taken into a world or era or both that I am not much familiar with, and by the end of the book come out feeling like I've lived it. I like it when the writing transports me on so many levels because the words and the phrases flow with ease, they lend vivid details to the imagination, and touch a chord whether in describing beauty or horror.

 

Dance the Moon Down is all of these things and more. R L Bartram seems to me a sensitive writer. It is not always that a male writer understands what makes his women characters tick, or so I have thought from my reading experience. But Bartram knows them inside out, and every woman character in this book can be sympathised or empathised with on some level or the other.

 

Victoria is one of very few privileged women of her time to receive a college eduction. During her time in college she meets Gerald Avery, a young poet, and they fall passionately in love. They marry. But only a few months after their wedding the rumours of war that have been circulating through the country for years, manifests itself. Gerald voluntarily responds to the call for soldiers and he is assigned on the frontline in France. Almost everyday Victoria receives letters from him and responds. She lives for those letters until six months into the war they completely stop.

 

From here on out the story really begins. We read about her determination to try anything and everything to learn what has become of her husband. She has received no telegram that he is dead and believes strongly that he is very much alive. Her search for the truth of his whereabouts leads her into some trouble that she barely comes out of. Then, as the war rages on and shows no signs of stopping she realises that she has another battle on her hands -- one for her own survival. We are taken through a male dominated England that has no place even for a woman of higher education. To be fair this attitude seems to prevail mostly in the English countryside. But Victoria is bound to Staunton Gifford - the village where she and Gerald had only just begun to live together when he was called to war - for having promised her husband she would wait for him there.

 

She finally finds a job as a farm labourer in Orchardlea, not many miles away from her home, and Victoria begins to learn an entirely new way of living. She meets some wonderful young women there - all of them children of the soil. They stand by her, supporting her through all her trials as she tries to become acclimated to her new circumstances and to a physical labour she was never born to. During her time here all Victoria's notions of class and women in general undergo a change. She grows to love and respect her labourer friends and their bond is great. Through the remaining three years of the war, these young women stand by each other, each of them with their own problems and nightmares to deal with while their men are away and they struggle, along with many other women like them, to help England live through the war.

 

As you can tell, this book shows the other side of war. It is a story about the ones who were left behind. The women become the backbone of their country, drafted into men's jobs to help make England survive. These women were fighting emotional, mental and physical battles constantly. They feared for their men; they feared for their own survival; and they needed each other to keep themselves sane.

 

Dance the Moon Down also gives us a look into the government propaganda of the day. The people at home were completely ignorant of what was taking place in the frontlines. The newspapers were completely under the control of the government and so the censorship was severe. It was easy for the government to suspect someone of being a spy should they take even a marginal interest in what was really going on.

 

There are many themes dealt with in this book that I would love to discuss here but in doing so I would give much away. I think this would make for a very meaty book discussion. Speaking of which, I enjoyed the format of this story, and the underlying crux of it. It was a page turner and I thought there was something rather Victorian in the manner with which Bartram uses the voice of an overseeing narrator. His writing style is also much along those lines. There is absolutely nothing contrived about his language. It flows smoothly.

 

Here is a brief excerpt to whet your appetite:

 

It was as if he felt that by going to France and facing the enemy there that he might somehow prevent them from ever reaching England and her. Victoria had read enough of his poems to know how he felt about his country. Now that war had been declared, he didn’t go to fight in defence of some distant foreign land. It was for England, her pastures, her fields of golden corn, her woods and lanes, everything that was England. Often, they were so intense that it seemed as if he were characterising a woman, beautiful and pure, whom he loved beyond life itself. Sometimes, when she could persuade him to recite them to her, it was with such passionate sentiment that she wondered, from the way he looked at her, if it was actually herself he was describing; if, in fact, she and the country were one in his mind.

It was then that she knew that she shouldn’t keep him from going; worse, that she was able to stop him but that she should not. His desire to defend his country was a supreme act of love, not only for the land, but for her. It epitomised everything he believed in - love, honour, duty. It was the nature of his character. That was what she’d seen in him when they’d first met. That was why she’d married him.

By the same token, she couldn’t deny him now. If she insisted that he remained with her, he would stay and she could keep him safe, as half a man with half a soul and half a heart. Her choice was horribly simple; keep him and crush his spirit, or let him go and risk losing him forever.

For many, it was impossible to resist the tremendous surge of nationalism that had gripped the country. The propaganda, the reports of German atrocities already being committed in Belgium, and the lies of conniving politicians were a potent concoction inclined to arouse the passions of any red blooded Englishman. Others simply followed suit with little or no idea of what they were agreeing to, and even less regard for the consequences. They went in their thousands, laughing and waving, with full hearts and the absolute assurance that it would be a short war, over by Christmas; that Britain would win, and that it would be glorious.

Victoria wondered if, in the future, the people of tomorrow would understand why the people of today had acted as they did. Would they realise that it was the spirit of the age that moved them? That it was their absolute conviction that what they did was right?

 

 

I would highly recommend this book to those who love reading the classics, those who like to read books on the World Wars and those who like to read anything on women and their struggles.

Source: http://breadcrumbreads.wordpress.com
Dance the Moon Down - R.L. Bartram Dance the Moon Down by R L Bartram I like it when a book is more than just a story. I like it when I'm taken into a world or era or both that I am not much familiar with, and by the end of the book come out feeling like I've lived it. I like it when the writing transports me on so many levels because the words and the phrases flow with ease, they lend vivid details to the imagination, and touch a chord whether in describing beauty or horror.
 
Dance the Moon Down is all of these things and more. R L Bartram seems to me a sensitive writer. It is not always that a male writer understands what makes his women characters tick, or so I have thought from my reading experience. But Bartram knows them inside out, and every woman character in this book can be sympathised or empathised with on some level or the other.
 
Victoria is one of very few privileged women of her time to receive a college eduction. During her time in college she meets Gerald Avery, a young poet, and they fall passionately in love. They marry. But only a few months after their wedding the rumours of war that have been circulating through the country for years, manifests itself. Gerald voluntarily responds to the call for soldiers and he is assigned on the frontline in France. Almost everyday Victoria receives letters from him and responds. She lives for those letters until six months into the war they completely stop.
 
From here on out the story really begins. We read about her determination to try anything and everything to learn what has become of her husband. She has received no telegram that he is dead and believes strongly that he is very much alive. Her search for the truth of his whereabouts leads her into some trouble that she barely comes out of. Then, as the war rages on and shows no signs of stopping she realises that she has another battle on her hands -- one for her own survival. We are taken through a male dominated England that has no place even for a woman of higher education. To be fair this attitude seems to prevail mostly in the English countryside. But Victoria is bound to Staunton Gifford - the village where she and Gerald had only just begun to live together when he was called to war - for having promised her husband she would wait for him there.
 
She finally finds a job as a farm labourer in Orchardlea, not many miles away from her home, and Victoria begins to learn an entirely new way of living. She meets some wonderful young women there - all of them children of the soil. They stand by her, supporting her through all her trials as she tries to become acclimated to her new circumstances and to a physical labour she was never born to. During her time here all Victoria's notions of class and women in general undergo a change. She grows to love and respect her labourer friends and their bond is great. Through the remaining three years of the war, these young women stand by each other, each of them with their own problems and nightmares to deal with while their men are away and they struggle, along with many other women like them, to help England live through the war.
 
As you can tell, this book shows the other side of war. It is a story about the ones who were left behind. The women become the backbone of their country, drafted into men's jobs to help make England survive. These women were fighting emotional, mental and physical battles constantly. They feared for their men; they feared for their own survival; and they needed each other to keep themselves sane.
 
Dance the Moon Down also gives us a look into the government propaganda of the day. The people at home were completely ignorant of what was taking place in the frontlines. The newspapers were completely under the control of the government and so the censorship was severe. It was easy for the government to suspect someone of being a spy should they take even a marginal interest in what was really going on.
 
There are many themes dealt with in this book that I would love to discuss here but in doing so I would give much away. I think this would make for a very meaty book discussion. Speaking of which, I enjoyed the format of this story, and the underlying crux of it. It was a page turner and I thought there was something rather Victorian in the manner with which Bartram uses the voice of an overseeing narrator. His writing style is also much along those lines. There is absolutely nothing contrived about his language. It flows smoothly.
 
Here is a brief excerpt to whet your appetite:
 

It was as if he felt that by going to France and facing the enemy there that he might somehow prevent them from ever reaching England and her. Victoria had read enough of his poems to know how he felt about his country. Now that war had been declared, he didn’t go to fight in defence of some distant foreign land. It was for England, her pastures, her fields of golden corn, her woods and lanes, everything that was England. Often, they were so intense that it seemed as if he were characterising a woman, beautiful and pure, whom he loved beyond life itself. Sometimes, when she could persuade him to recite them to her, it was with such passionate sentiment that she wondered, from the way he looked at her, if it was actually herself he was describing; if, in fact, she and the country were one in his mind.
It was then that she knew that she shouldn’t keep him from going; worse, that she was able to stop him but that she should not. His desire to defend his country was a supreme act of love, not only for the land, but for her. It epitomised everything he believed in - love, honour, duty. It was the nature of his character. That was what she’d seen in him when they’d first met. That was why she’d married him.
By the same token, she couldn’t deny him now. If she insisted that he remained with her, he would stay and she could keep him safe, as half a man with half a soul and half a heart. Her choice was horribly simple; keep him and crush his spirit, or let him go and risk losing him forever.
For many, it was impossible to resist the tremendous surge of nationalism that had gripped the country. The propaganda, the reports of German atrocities already being committed in Belgium, and the lies of conniving politicians were a potent concoction inclined to arouse the passions of any red blooded Englishman. Others simply followed suit with little or no idea of what they were agreeing to, and even less regard for the consequences. They went in their thousands, laughing and waving, with full hearts and the absolute assurance that it would be a short war, over by Christmas; that Britain would win, and that it would be glorious.
Victoria wondered if, in the future, the people of tomorrow would understand why the people of today had acted as they did. Would they realise that it was the spirit of the age that moved them? That it was their absolute conviction that what they did was right?

 
 
I would highly recommend this book to those who love reading the classics, those who like to read books on the World Wars and those who like to read anything on women and their struggles.
Chalice - Robin McKinley 3.5/5 to be exact.

After a really long time I started and finished a book all in one day. That's how much this novel drew me in. This is my first Robin McKinley, and I quite enjoyed her writing. I have to admit, though, that at times the story seemed to move a bit slow, but the story telling was pretty good and quite made up for that bit of a drag.

The story itself is told to us from the point of view of the Chalice. The Chalice, in this novel, is a woman connected so much to the earth that she understands every nuance and sound it emits. She serves the Master, who, like her, is strongly connected to the land they belong to. Together, the Master and the Chalice bring prosperity and harmony to the land if all goes well and they take their duty seriously.

The Chalice, when this story begins, is a woodright and beekeeper called Mirasol. Unlike any Chalice in history she has been dragged into her new role due to the unexpected dual deaths of the previous Master and Chalice. Having never been apprenticed to the previous Chalice, Mirasol is in the dark as to what her duties are, and she has to fumble around and find her way through her Chalice-hood on her own. The new Master is also pretty much in the same boat as she is. But mainly because he was a Fire-priest who was called back to the demesne to take up the role of Master after the death of his older brother. They have only eachother to support the other for the common folk and the other officers of the Circle, alike, are very skeptical about the abilities of these two. There is a wee bit of intrigue thrown in and we watch as Master and Chalice struggle to save their heaving land and to win the trust and support of their people.

I was rather disappointed towards the end of the novel - not because I did not like the way it ended, but I did not like that something very crucial at the end had happened for which there was absolutely no explanation given, none whatsoever. It was puzzling, and makes me wonder if even the writer herself knew how it ended the way it did. It is for this reason this novel missed a 4 star rating from me. Did I miss something?

Overall, though, it was a really good read. I enjoy reading this particular genre of high fantasy, and I come across books like these very rarely. The last one like this II read was [b:The Seer and the Sword|420415|The Seer and the Sword (Healer and Seer, #1)|Victoria Hanley|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1322080876s/420415.jpg|1434221] by Victoria Hanley. I would really like to know if there are others like these worth the read.
Those Pricey Thakur Girls - Anuja Chauhan A 3.5 actually.

This is the first book I've read by Anuja Chauhan. It was the title that really attracted (the book cover was not without its influence however)me, and I began reading the book with a lot of excitment. By the time I'd finished about 70 pages I was beginning to feel a twinge of regret. While there was a great deal of humour, I thought the romance part of it read much like a Harlequinn romance. If you're wonder "is that a bad thing?" Well...no...it isn't a question of it being bad or not. More a matter of taste. And I left my Harlequinn and M&B years far, far behind me!

However, I told myself I was going to read this one right through ('cause it was my first Indian romance novel), and I'm glad I did!

The story revolves around the Thakur family that has five daughters. While the main romance has to do with the fourth daughter,Debjani, we are made privy to more than the romance as the drama unfolds. We get to know so much about the Thakurs and their extended family, and we laugh with them almost all the time. Eashwari, the youngest sister has to be my favourite of the lot. She is impulsive, quick and very very likable.

My feelings about Debjani were rather mixed. Innitially, I felt nothing for this character, but inbetween I found myself feeling quite annoyed with her...she was too self-centred. I can't say the hero took my breath away either...but half way through the book I was rather willingly invested in their romance. Debjani is a newsreader for DD (this whole story takes place in 1988) and Dylan Singh Shekhawat is an investigative reporter for Indian Post. There are a few clashes in terms of how seriously they each take what they're doing...but it's fairly predictable.

The entire novel is written in the present tense, and I though it was really well done. However, I am wondering at how authentic the author's portrayal of the Thakurs, their lifestyle, freedom for women at the time really is. I am no expert on the '80 up North of India, so I dare not say anything more save that at times it felt that the characters spoke and behaved more like they were in 21st century rather than late 1900s.

It finally turned out that the romance was not as cheesey as I thought it was getting to be, and my oh my was there a surprise more than half way through the book! Until that point I was sure this book was going to be marked 2.5 when I was done with it. But then the unexpected happened....it took me completely by surprise...I hadn't any suspicion of it...and, I must admit, I was quite impressed.

Not bad Ms Chauhan. I wouldn't mind reading another book penned by you.
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee Lee Allow me to start out with the misconceptions I had about this book.
1. I thought this was a story about an eight year old girl who is raped by some white guys, but the accused is an innocent black guy.
2. It was incredibly sad and depressing.
I cannot tell you how I got these impressions. But it was these two things that made me avoid the book like crazy.

Recently, though, I figured it would be a good idea to read those books I've been ignoring. To Kill a Mockingbird was one of them. Only last week the copy I ordered was delivered at my doorstep. I just finished it. You can see I have given it five stars.

I enjoyed it so much! It is a story written from the perspective of a little girl called Scout. We see a little out-of-the-way town, the foibles and idocycracies of its people through the eyes of a child. As a result there are many things that are so humourous but extremely profound.

The blurb at the back of my book says: A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

I must admit that that phrase puzzled me throughout the reading of this book. As it was, while the blurb seems to indicate that the book is about the trial of a falsely accused black man, it is actually a story of the Finches - father and children. Atticus is a lawyer and a widower, and so he brings up his son and daughter the best he can with the help of his black helper, Calpurnia. He is an upright man, determined that he is the same man both at home and in public. His children are all he has got, as he says, and it is his goal to always do the right by them, for them before them and at all times so that he never has to feel ashamed for the man he is.

In other words, Atticus Finch is a rare breed. And I believe that the "mockingbird" of this novel is Atticus Finch for he was a man who harmed no one but tried his best to make as many people as he could worth the living.

Atticus said to Jem one day, 'I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after the birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
'Your father's right,' she said. 'Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'


I really enjoyed the element of mystery that surrounded the Radley House, and the end was a real surprise. As for the characters, I don't know that 'endearing' is the right word for me to use...I really liked them; respected them and enjoyed the variety of them. It was nice to go back into a child's mind, see the world in it's actual simplicity, and be reminded that it is only adults that make things so complicated. There were times when any character told the children they would understand something when they were grown up, I'd feel a twinge of sadness....they would become just another bunch of adults. But Atticus is a compassionate, sincere, sensible man, and it was interesting to see the manner in which he had chosen to bring up his children.

I was inclined to dislike, a bit, Atticus' sister, Alexandra. But she's fine when one realises the times she comes from, her breeding and the fact that she does have kind and affectionate heart. Maudie is a delightful character, and it was always a relief to know that the children could count on her once they got to know her.

As for the whole trial. I was more than half through the book when the trial was even mentioned. It lasted a handful of chapters, and while I can't say I wan on tenterhooks, as usual I found it fascinating when there's some lawyering in a story.

I would recommend this book to anybody and everybody. But then, it's a classic. It doesn't need me to recommend it, does it? :)

I have a question to those who have read this book - Whom do you think the 'mockingbird' in the title refers to? I'd really like to know.
The Tragedy of Dido Queene of Carthage - Christopher Marlowe Let me begin by saying I like Marlowe.

Until Dido, Queen of Carthage, I had read The Tragic History of Doctor Faustus (some 3 or 4 times -- a favourite) and The Jew of Malta. Both plays moved me with their raw passion.

This particular play (Dido) is supposed to be Marlowe's debut play. I enjoyed it.

For one, I can see how he is the predecessor (I do not say contemporary of Shakespeare since Shakespeare began publishing his works only after Marlowe's 'death') of Shakespeare and the use of the blank verse. I quite liked the rhythm of the play. Also, for me, it read easily and smoothly, and didn't leave me guessing at what was being said.

The story itself is a Greek myth, and it was interesting to explore the tragedy of Troy through the eyes of an escaped Trojan. (I am currently reading The Odyssey and one sees only the Greek perspective). Aeneas, after many trials at sea, ends up in Carthage, Queen Dido's domain. Dido is a gracious and generous hostess, and provides Aeneas with all that he needs to repair his ships and set sail for Italy which is his destination and ultimate destiny as ordered by the gods. However, during the process of repairs, Dido falls in love with Aeneas and is loath to let him go. They marry, but Aeneas is told that the gods are angry he has forgotten his destiny, and he must set sail for Italy at once. Dido is unhappy, and not being able to stand being without Aeneas, makes an end to her life.

I liked how Dido was portrayed. A queen proud of her heritage, yet gracious. She was sought after by kings...one of them being Iarbas, King of Gaetulia, who is madly in love with her. It looks like Dido favours Iarbas' suit, until struck by cupid's arrow and falling for Aeneas. The gods interfere a great deal as they do in The Illiad and The Odyssey! Dido is passionate about the Trojan prince and when it is time for him to leave cannot stand it. She uses all sorts of wiles, including keeping Aeneas' son from him, to keep him with her. But at the end he out-smarts her and leaves with his fleet. Aeneas himself is not really an interesting character. I found I liked Iarbas more in terms of characterisation though his parts are few and far between.

Somewhere in the beginning, when the Trojans are welcomed into Dido's halls they are asked to give their hosts an account of the events that ended Troy. I found the tale of the Trojans' defeat from the mouth of Aeneas to be very tragic. I was sitting at the edge of my seat...really! There was so much feeling in those passages...it was not a mere narration of the events.

In one of the reviews I saw for this play, someone says that this is no Shakespeare. Of course, this is no Shakespeare! This is Marlowe. Raw and passionate, and he hasn't failed to move me a third time.

[I have nothing against Shakespeare. I just find it hard to form my own opinion about the Bard without being greatly influenced by all the love lavished on this dramatist. I sometimes find it hard to understand why Shakespeare is made such a great deal of. And then one comes across Macbeth and Hamlet and their like, and one can see the greatness of the man. I'll be reading Othello soon to remember why again. But this is completely off topic.]

I would recommend Marlowe. I would always recommend Marlowe. :)
The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro Actual rating: 4.5/5
The Toll-Gate - Georgette Heyer I last read this book about 16 or 17 years ago. I couldn't recall a single thing about it, even as I read it now. It is one of Heyer's romance mysteries. I found it similar to another of her novels of this kind -- The Unknown Ajax -- perhaps because the heroes of both these stories are so alike -- blond, blue-eyed, handsome "giants" who could contrive to look stupid as they pleased, and were kind and full of laughter and good humour.

It made for a quick, light read, as do all Georgette Heyers. But I found myself getting a wee bit impatient as I am wont to with Heyer these days. She sometimes seems to have an unnecessary number of strangers talking a great deal of cant within the pages. Once I found it hilarious. But a stunt like this gets old fast. When one reads it in almost every Heyer book, one gets bored. The romance is sweet, though I quite object to the manner in which Heyer tends to describe tall people -- Captain Staple is "huge", like a "young giant", whilst his lady love is also "huge" (she is about 5'10" or something). There are a couple other books where she describes her heroes and heroines as huge, which seems a bit over-the-top. The mystery keeps one guessing, somewhat, and flows smoothly. Again, I found the end tiresome because there were too many people talking unnecessarily.

A nice, quick read. If you're not always reading Heyers, this would be a nice experience, though, if you want to try a romance mystery of hers I would suggest you read either [b:The Unknown Ajax|311095|The Unknown Ajax|Georgette Heyer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320389044s/311095.jpg|302202] and/or [b:The Talisman Ring|32108|The Talisman Ring|Georgette Heyer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320389050s/32108.jpg|1232335] first.
Cupid's Christmas - Bette Lee Crosby Bette Lee Crosby had let out that her book was being offered for free on Amazon last week, and I decided to check it out. I'm not much of a romance reader (unless it is Heyer) but the cover was adorable and then the title attracted me, especially as I'd signed up for a Christmas reading challenge. A quick peek inside with Amazon's 'Look Inside' feature had me drawn to the chirpy writing and the fact that the narrator was Cupid (for the most part).

I liked the writer's take on the romance, and there are two running romances, neither taking precedence over the other. There are also other relationships being dealt with. I guess if this were a movie one could label it a family movie. Things were a bit too quick for my taste, but then one can't really fault the book, that's the way the genre works. Cupid is the dominant character, and while I found him interesting, I also found him a bit too repetitive. After a while I found myself thinking yeah yeah, you've said that already a million times! It's a lightly humorous narrative though. The doggy on the cover plays a role as well.

Not bad. But really not my present cup of tea at all. I'm sure regular readers of the genre might give this more stars than I do. :)

Merry Christmas!
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gregory Rabassa, Gabriel García Márquez 4.5 stars for the 'wow' moment at the end. (a review to follow a while later)
Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome Allow me to begin this review by saying I've given this book five stars because I found it hilarious, delicious, relaxing and informative at various times. I cannot say that everyone would give it a five, though I can't imagine anybody giving it less than three stars.

So then, what is this book about? The title sums it up perfectly...it's about three men (and a dog) in a boat. Jerome and his pals, George and Harris decide to take a fortnight off and go boating up the River Thames. Their adventures (or misadventures rather) are few but their trip inspires in our writer and his friends a lot of reminiscing that leads to the mini-novel being peppered throughout with interesting, and mostly hilarious little anecdotes. Here and there Jerome K Jerome let's drop little pearls of life's everyday paradoxes and we can't help but laugh and agree with him. I wish I could put down a couple of quotes to show you what I mean, but I was reluctant to pause in the middle of my reading to take care of something as mundane as making notes.

Apart from the humour and the anecdotes there were passages that revealed the poet in the writer's soul. Of the three friends Jerome is definitely the dreamer, and he describes the various places they see along the Thames with such freshness and delicacy that you can almost taste the scenery. Each place also has some interesting tidbits of history that Jerome happily shares with us. Really, in many places, the book reads as a travel guide for the River Thames. I kept wondering if, more than a century later, these places still exist with the same charm Jerome ascribes to them.

This books is really one to savour. And while I wouldn't possibly read it from cover to cover again, I definitely would like to relish it piece-meal every now and then.
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak “Liesel Meminger’s life is changed when…she picks up an object…left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words as Liesel, with the help of her foster father, learns to read. [...] Narrated by Death, The Book Thief is a story about the power of words and the ability of books to feed the soul.” — and so read the blurb at the back of my copy of the book.

I was tempted to pick up this novel because of all the raving reviews it received. I did not come across a single negative review…i.e. until after I’d read the book. Then I wondered if I was the only one who found this best seller nothing but a dead bore. It was tough going for me as I forced myself to turn every single page and move on. If you’re wondering why I kept at it, it was mostly because I was looking for something I might have missed…something that was to say I’d finally come to the best part, the part that makes this book such a rave. But towards the end of the book I was just plodding through to the finish, having made it so far already.

So then, what was it about The Book Thief that made this experience so monotonous for me?

1. The Characters
They were so dry. There was no soul in them, save maybe a little in Papa Hans and Rudy. The women, including Liesel the protagonist, were absolutely colourless. They lacked any kind of personality, a special something that could make me respond to them — be it in a negative or positive way. I wasn’t able to connect with any character emotionally, or at any other level really. They were just pieces on a board being moved around to the finish.

2. Style
Contrived. That’s the word that kept going through my mind as I read the book. The whole language and writing style is so absolutely contrived. It made me think of the days of my creative writing classes when many of us (mostly unskilled writers) were trying to oust the others in coming up with the most bizarre similes and metaphors we could think of. Most often they never worked — they simply showed unhoned skills at best or a lack of true talent at worst.

A few examples from the novel:
a) the colours that Death sees — the so-called colourful descriptions of the sky — “chocolate coloured sky” and “breakfast coloured sun”
b) “hair like feathers”
c) “cardboard face”

I found these images distorted and messed around with my ability to imagine what the writer was trying to show me as a reader. The heavy and most often, bizarre imagery, only served to confuse my imagination. And almost every other sentence was splattered with imagery of this kind that finally formed either a hazy or a grotesque picture in my mind’s eye.

I hated it.

3. Words
The book claims to be a book about words, the soul of words — but all it proved to be was absolute drivel. I think the reason I went so far into the book before I felt just must not stop, was because I was hoping for some magic in the description of words. But urgh! I think, when my son learns to read, I could tell a better tale of his wonder and amazement at finding that the odd squiggly lines have meanings, that they can paint a picture, that they can be sheer poetry, that they can give freedom to and express thoughts…and I am no writer.

Zusak’s description of words are as dry and colourless as his characters and his story. It was nothing but sheer disappointment on so many levels.

I’d bought the The Book Thief with a great deal of excitement and opened it to read with much anticipation. Now, I’m delegating it to my box of rejects which I hope to send for a sale soon. It definitely isn’t worth keeping. Not for me, anyway.
North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell I finally picked up North and South on a whim after noticing that there was a read-along of the same being hosted this month. While I haven’t joined this group event, I’m glad it inspired me to finally get to it. The plot is a love story between two very different individuals from two very different backgrounds. The prejudices of one and the mistaken notions of the other keep the plot going until its conclusion

The Characters (spoiler alert)

Margaret Hale — Hers was a strength to admire though I could not feel attached to her. However, I like how Gaskell has developed a character prone to deep prejudices but has a kind heart without being saccharine. Margaret’s attachment to the Higgins family, a poor industrial working family, is more out of real affection than an intention of just doing good. She gets involved in their lives and comes to love them. She is very sensitive to the needs of this family while showing a surprising lack of any understanding of the Thornton merchant family (whence our hero comes from). No doubt this is because she is completely blinded by prejudices against people she contemptuously calls ‘traders’.

Mr and Mrs Hale — Mr Hale is weak man, yet one I can’t really despise. However, I find it rather odd that he could not talk to his wife about their having to move from their beloved home of Helstone to Milton in the north of England. It would seem to me, that of the two of them, in regard to their son, Frederick’s escapade, Mrs Hale was the one to take it better. Perhaps it simply is that he is a man who cannot face anything unpleasant which makes him much weaker than his wife. His wife, on the other hand, shows us a glimpse of that strength we see in abundance in her daughter. Gaskell’s description of how Mrs Hale faces her illness is very touching.

John Thornton — I think this character is rather sensitively drawn. He’s a man — a man of integrity — and he is proud of it. Yet where Margaret is concerned he is extremely vulnerable…right from their very first meeting. I’m not sure I have much to say about Thornton beyond this.

A classic?

Initially, while reading the novel, I could not understand why Gaskell did not hold her place in the acknowledged classics canon. But further reading and thought into it has brought a few things to light. In comparing Gaskell to Austen, I found, that while the former dwelt a great deal on issues of her time and did a fairly good job of executing this novel whilst addressing certain important social issues, her narrative lacks the finesse and timelessness of Austen. Austen’s novels are detailed sketches of human nature penned with a great deal of humour and insight. And while Gaskell’s was purely a love story with a detailed background, Austen’s novels are more of a commentary on people and relationships. I think this was really brought home to make when I read the last two pages of North and South. To me, this novel ended like a regular Mills & Boon or Georgette Heyer romance, whilst the likes of Austen and the Bronte sisters seem to give us so much more than just love stories.

Themes

However, I thought, that in terms of dealing with the whole issue of the industrial machine taking over the lives of the people of north England, and it’s pros and cons, Gaskell did a fairly objective sketch without sensationalising and sentimentalising anything for the reader unlike Dickens ( a reason I can’t stand Dickens much). There is grace in the manner in which she portrays the masters (in Thornton) and the workmen (in Higgins) — we get to see both the sides of the same coin. Not to mention the fairness with which she describes the best and the worst of both the north and the south of England.

The style

Gaskell’s style itself, while not particularly elevating, was neither a let down. I enjoyed reading the passages where Thornton speaks of his profession with such knowledge and passion. And yet, I noticed, that descriptively Gaskell did not have the power to transport. I refer to her descriptions of Helstone in particular. I do not know that I found her lacking because I was coming to her fresh out of reading L M Montgomery, or if I would have found it so even without having been drenched in Montgomery’s descriptive goodness.

I also noticed she had the tendency to skip over certain details that give the impression she had no idea in what manner to make a certain situation sound as serious as she needed it to be — I speak, in particular, of Mr Hale’s doubts and subsequent quitting of the Church and Mrs Hale’s ‘serious illness’.

On the whole, though, I quite enjoyed reading this novel and am looking forward to reading more Gaskell.
Anne of the Island - L.M. Montgomery Anne finally goes to Redmond College to earn herself a B A degree, and she has a lovely four-year spell. She’s back with her old school chums, Stella and Priscilla and she makes a new friend in the unusual yet charming Phillipa Gordon. They get themselves a little dream house during the final three years of college, enjoy a lovely comradie, fall in love and/or get proposed to, and generally do a lot of growing up.

I enjoyed reading this book as much as I did the previous one and the one before that. Perhaps, I liked the new characters in this book better than the new ones introduced in Anne of Avonlea – at least, they were definitely more down-to-earth! I did get a bit frustrated with Anne’s silly notions of romance that proved a hindrance to so many things. But then, no doubt, it was only natural course of events. I remember when I was as silly as her in that respect!

I love the soothing way in which Montgomery writes. Her plots are mild, but so realistic that it feels familiar — like settling down with a lifelong friend for a nice cozy chat of days gone by. I’ve noticed that in the first three books I’ve read so far Montgomery does not shrink away from portraying death. And the I respect and admire the way in which she treats the deaths of old and young alike as an absolutely natural course (which it is). Even then we see various manners in which Anne’s friends and loved ones pass away. In this particular book one of Avonlea’s belles falls victim to consumption, and I love the way her mask and her fears our related with sensitivity and yet a definite tone of eventuality.

All these experiences and more make Anne who and what she is. She is growing on the pages from a young dreamer to a woman of the world, and I’m really thrilled about moving onto the next book in the series (publication wise) – Anne’s House of Dreams.
The Prince and the Pilgrim - Mary Stewart It was fine. Nothing great or extraordinary or even rightly exciting. A simple enough love story set in the dark ages. A quick read.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes -  Arthur Conan Doyle I find these adventures an absolute bore. (i've read only 3 chapters from this volume) And I was able to guess ahead as well. Also hate the know-it-all tone of Holmes. I suspect I might like 'watching' a Holmes series. But reading it is extremely dull work. I refuse to make any further attempts to do so. Bye bye Sherlock Holmes!