Reading Challenge – A Book With More Than 500 Pages

Book Number Fifteen – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

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I remember this book being spoken about a lot during the time of its release and it’s often been one of those books that I’ve picked up and flicked through every time I’ve seen it in a book store, but it’s always lost out to something else. Recently the book was selected by the Book Club I run as part of the Manchester Women’s Institute. One of the reasons it was nominated was because we wanted to cover a book written by a female author with a female protagonist.

The story starts off with the birth of a baby girl who dies when the umbilical cord is wrapped around her neck, the next chapter is the same baby girl being born but this time surviving. Early on it’s clear to see that this is going to be the pattern of the book. In a repetitive manner most chapters of the book start with Ursula living her life and then dying and restarting that segment of her life all over again. In essence you’d think that this could make for something of an interesting read but I couldn’t get over a few things. First of all in some segments of the book Ursula has a clear feeling that something bad is going to happen and acts out to make circumstances different in order to change the outcome. For example she pushes Bridget down the stairs to prevent her and her brother dying from the flu. But at other times it’s like she has a ‘shadow’ of something not being right, almost like a faint sense of déjà vu.

Because the storyline is so disjointed it’s hard to build any kind of connection with the character of Ursula, she’s a little one dimensional, as her personality doesn’t seem to change when she starts each new life. Some of the storylines lack any closure and often the other characters in the novel are stereotypical or so dull that they tend to mould into one. That being said there were some great chapters that were both powerful and at some points distressing to read. These included subjects that were dealt with in a very emotive way such as when Ursula falls pregnant due to a violent sexual attack, and later on in life when she finds herself in an abusive relationship. But perhaps the saving grace of this book is the honest and raw way in which the author describes the Blitz. There was something so visceral and frightening about this section of the book that it really made me so much more respectful of the time period.

There’s no arguing that Kate Atkinson is a talented writer, some of the writing is at times both beautiful and personal, however the novel is quite convoluted. Nothing really happens, there’s no character development and some things that have the potential to make great storylines are mentioned once and forgotten about. I didn’t get any real sense of following a story and found the whole thing rather disappointing.

Star Rating out of 5: 2.5

‘I like to think of him – of all of them – playing a never ending game in heaven. A perfect afternoon in June, always just before they break for tea.’

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If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear what you thought so why not comment below. I always like to hear different perspectives.

Happy reading fellow bookworms.

Georgina

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Reading Challenge – A Mystery or Thriller

Book Number Fourteen – The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

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The book first came to my attention on one of those Buzzfeed lists that informs you of the ‘Books you should not miss this year’ or something similar. I’d picked up and read the blurb many times during my trips to Waterstones and the fact that you don’t get much from it only piqued my interest more, it was upon seeing the glowing praise from Joss Whedon that convinced me to finally take the plunge and hand over my £8.99. I’m a self-professed Whedonite so I hold his word in high esteem.

The book starts off open enough that you’re not really sure what’s going on, again I’ll relate to something Joss Whedon related and openly admit that at first I thought this was some type of government programme similar to the Initiative but doing experiments on people instead of monsters and demons. But as the book progressed I realised that it was a post-apocalyptic world where humanity seems to have been wiped out by a virus. Yes, this is a zombie book, but quite fresh in the sense that it’s not like other books in the genre. For starters you have Melanie a young girl of 10 years of age whom the book very much centres around. Perhaps it’s the voice of innocence, of a girl who has been closed off from the world that makes this such a compelling read, either way it’s hard not to feel some empathy for her, even when you (and Melanie) realises that she’s a ‘hungry’ The book has a few other central characters too, Sergeant Parks who has been tasked with the job of securing the children in the compound and ensuring the safety of all those who dwell in it from the hungries roaming outside the walls, Miss Justineau a teacher who is meant to assess the children and report back to the cold yet driven Doctor Caldwell.

When the compound is overthrown by a group of Junkers (humans who have decided to live wild outside of the Beacon – the place of safety) Melanie, Justineau, Parks, Caldwell and reluctant young soldier Gallagher take to the road on foot. There’s plenty of drama and tension along the way and the author does a great job of really developing the characters and changing the dynamics of the relationships.

There are moments that I found difficult to read, the sections where Caldwell discusses the science and biology of the virus, whilst clearly well researched, just prevented the narrative of the book to flow as smoothly as it could. There are two particularly eerie moments in the book, which I’m sure you will know what they are if and when you read it. The great thing about this book is that it’s easy to imagine in your mind, it’s written in a visual and cinematic way. So I conveyed no surprise when I was told recently that the author was writing the book alongside the script for the movie adaptation (She Who Brings Gifts due to be released in 2016) it really is easy to imagine this as a film. Also props to the author for setting it in the UK, it could easily have been another American based tale, but I appreciated the avoidance of the cliché.

Although incredibly well written and unexpected the ending just felt a little flat, and whilst thought provoking and kind of despairing (which I feel it was meant to be) there were just a few things I don’t feel were fully resolved and a couple of moments that seemed to lack progression.

Star Rating out of 5: 3.5

‘Of course she’d save the kids if she could, if there was any way, but you can’t save people from the world. There’s nowhere else to take them.’

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Happy reading folks.

Georgina

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Reading Challenge – A Book Based on a True Story

Book Number Thirteen – Ghost Boy by Martin Pistorius with Megan Lloyd Davies.

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The first I ever heard of Martin Pistorius was on the NPR podcast. The story fascinated me and I instantly set about seeking the book. It took me a while to but I came across a copy in my local branch of Waterstones.

Ghost Boy follows Martin who was a healthy, normal little boy, then one day he suddenly becomes tired and starts sleeping all the time. Pretty soon he can’t talk or move, his feet and hands curl up and no matter where his parent’s take him the Dr’s don’t seem have an answer as to what his caused his condition. Now reading this you can empathise that this would definitely be upsetting for his parents, watching their child become so changed overnight but imagine for a second if everyone around you thought that you couldn’t understand what was happening to you? This was the case with the Martin.

People looked past him, beyond him and through him. They believed he was incapable of communication or understanding but he was incredibly aware. The novel tells Martin’s story of the frustration and battle he faced on a daily basis as he urged his brain to make his body work to his will. As well as for making an inspiring read this book also makes for an often painful one, as Martin recalls the times when he was mistreated, spoken down to and even sexually abused by those who were meant to support, protect and care for him. He also discusses how his condition impacted his mother and father and his siblings, this in itself can make tears prick the corner of your eyes.

Honest, inspiring and heart-breaking, this is a great book and one that will make you appreciate the simple things we take for granted in life like speech. Although an uplifting story, I feel that the latter chapters seemed to focus more on Joanna than Martin, and whilst I appreciate she gave him belief and strength, it also overshadowed all the hard work he put into getting his life back.

‘I wasn’t just a ghost boy. But no one looked’

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Star Rating out of 5: 4

Happy reading my fellow bookworms.

Georgina

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Reading Challenge 2015 – A Popular Author’s First Book

Book Number Eleven – This Side of Paradise by F.Scott Fitzgerald.

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I know that The Great Gatsby is one of those books that you either love or hate, but for me I adored it. From the moment I read it, I became obsessed with all things Fitzgerald and greedily researched his other work. When it came up in my reading challenge that I had to read the first novel of a popular author, I thought this would be ideal.

I’d never read This Side of Paradise before now and instantly I found that familiar charm and romantic word use that is well known in Francis’ other work. Like his other work we have a charming protagonist by the name of Amory Blaine. A young man who after being raised, predominantly by his mother, in a rather unusual way heads for Princeton in the hope that it will provide him with the answer to his calling in life.

Along the way there are many friends. Philosophies on life, politics and religion are shared and of course there are different girls who touch Amory’s life at various points in his life. The novel is split into three books, and this really allowed me to get a greater understanding of Amory and how he changed and grew as person. But perhaps one of the main themes I took away from the book is desire to find something in life, whether it is the ability to write, or have faith in religion or the shared love of a woman, as human beings we are always searching for that extra thing that we feel will make us whole.

There are some dark elements to the book, when Amory turns to alcohol to numb himself from the painful break up from Isabelle, I found this particularly well written and it comes as no surprise that F.Scott Fitzgerald based it on his own experiences. If you’re hoping to read this novel and feel inspired with romance I’m afraid you will be disheartened. However what you will get is another beautiful novel that perfectly captures the confusion, anger and heartbreak of life when you’re young, trying to find your place in the world and be understood.

‘The early moon had drenched the arches with pale blue, and, weaving over the night, in and out of the gossamer rifts of moon, swept a song, a song with more than a hint of sadness, infinitely transient, infinitely regretful.’

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Star Rating out of 5: 4

Happy reading fellow bookworms.

Georgina

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Reading Challenge 2015 – A Book Written By A Female Author

Book Number Six – Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

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Like most people I’ve come to know Amy Poehler as the passionate, lovely Leslie Knope in the hit TV Series Parks and Recreation. I’m also familiar with her work in films like Mean Girls, Blades of Glory and her stint on SNL. So to say I was excited to learn more about her is an understatement.

After reading Bossypants and laughing so much, I guess I was expecting much of the same from Yes Please, but I was wrong to make any assumptions. You know that old saying, it is wrong to assume anything because it makes an ass out of you and me?!…Well…that!

Yes Please is an honest and unflinching account of Amy’s life, the highs, the lows and everything in between. Although not as humorous as Tina Fey’s book, I found this an inspiring read. Amy Poehler is a lady who I would love to meet and talk to, she’s had a fascinating journey to get where she is today and she’s certainly not afraid to be incredibly frank about how hard work is the key to success.

‘Good or bad, the reality is most people become “famous” or get “great jobs” after a very, very long tenure shovelling shit and not because they handed their script to someone on the street.’

The book isn’t braggy or self-pitying and Amy isn’t afraid to even highlight and discuss her flaws or mistakes she has made in the past. She’s insightful and driven and the more I read, the greedier I became to get through the book quicker.

‘Your ability to navigate and tolerate change and its painful uncomfortableness directly correlates to your happiness and general well-being.’

Amy’s book is well written, honest and uplifting. She is a, if not, the, true lady of comedy.

‘Things happened in real time and you watched them together. There was no rewind.’

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Star Rating out of 5: 5

Happy reading fellow bookworms.

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