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The advantage of having a degree in Eng. Lit. and a reputation for reading more in a week than the rest of the office does in a year is that you can sit in the staff kitchen at lunchtime and read teen fiction and nobody dares to mock you. Actually I think everybody should read these. They are absolutely wonderful and make me feel a whole lot better about the world; they are funny and touching and have just enough of everybody's family in to be recognisable; they have so many layers and so many voices. I have been inhaling them this week and going on epic missions to find the ones I haven't read yet. Gorgeous.
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Another attempt at the Great American Novel. It was good, but other books have since taken its place in my heart. No, that's a lie: it never really got near my heart. It made me smile and laugh and cringe, and occasionally wince in recognition; technically, I think it was brilliant; it was certainly no hardship to finish it - but. But it never quite got there, for me.

It is the story of a family. It is the story of the varied and interesting ways in which a family can fall apart, on account of being composed of a varied and interesting collection of human beings. It punctures egos left, right and centre. It gets into the heads of most of the main characters, which is something I like in fiction. (Although Franzen didn't bother with Jessica, the daughter, and maybe I'd have been more interested if he had.)

3 out of 5, I think. It is a good book, but I didn't love it.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10198179
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
I've had this sitting on my bookshelf for a while, but never seriously made an effort to read it until it turned up in the Favourite Book of 2011 roundabout. I'm wondering now why it took me so long to get to it! This is a fantastic novel that moves through the decades with a superb sense of time, place and character. While the title couple remark that theirs is an 'amateur' marriage among the many more professional ones around them, I got the impression that they represent a whole generation of hasty marriages and awkward, yet ultimately loving, relationships. Tyler has a very good grasp of how people work. Recommended.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10047102
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Nancy Mitford on top form. I'm not sure that I have actually read much, if any, Nancy Mitford before, but this was just as much fun as I thought it was going to be - impressive, given how depressing it could have been, what with failed marriages all over the place and then the Second World War. A gorgeous froth of fun with a satisfyingly acid edge to it, and a lovely ambiguous ending. And, my goodness, nobody does class like Nancy Mitford.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10262594
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Not the type of thing I'd usually pick up. Having read this... still not the type of thing I'd usually pick up. (Come to think of it, I do have another Josephine Cox lurking somewhere in Mount TBR. I don't think I'll bother.)

This is one of those Heartwarming Northern Family Sagas. Now, I have nothing against either family sagas or the North (even if I am more Yorks than Lancs); it's the Heartwarming part that gets me, particularly when, as here, it's manifested in a clumsy and transparent plot.

Summary, from the blurb: Jinnie is the child from a one-night liaison between Louise Hunter's husband, Ben, and Louise's sister, Susan. When Ben takes his own life, and Susan deserts her newborn child, Louise puts aside her own heartache and adopts little Jinnie as her own. Louise's solace down the years is little Jinnie, and their close relationship. But what will happen when Jinnie finds out the truth? And then, one day, a letter arrives from Susan, saying she intends to get Jinnie back.

It only gets more confusing from there. A convoluted and unconvincing plot, peopled by pantomime villains, the sort who kick puppies rob defenseless old men just to prove how villainous they are. The goodies are not well-characterised, either (notable exception for Hannah, who is slightly more than a cardboard cut-out). I found Jinnie herself uninteresting, the relationship between her and Adam creepy in the extreme (seven years is a huge age gap when one of you is ten, FFS!) and Susan's motivations unconvincing.

I was also disturbed by the misogynistic note - in that the only woman with a sex life was the villain. And the overarching black-and-white morality was generally off-putting. No, I won't be reading the other Cox.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10194175
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
A Montgomery series I'd not previously come across. It's very much along the same lines as Anne and Emily (more the latter, thinking about it, though that may simply be due to its being a short series). I recognised a lot of my younger self in Pat, particularly in the attachment to house and family and things not changing. While I'm old enough now both to recognise that attitude as unhealthy, and to second-guess Montgomery's plot to the extent that I was skimming a lot of the second book, there were bits in both of them that still brought a tear to my eye. A good comfort read.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8617774/

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8617781
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
Judy Astley has been around long enough (or, at least, my father has been reading Judy Astley long enough) for me to remember the white covers with the vague watercolours. Somehow, these seemed more grown-up than the current pastels. Don't judge a book by its cover, though, and I am still very fond of Judy Astley (and not just because she's an Archers Anarchist - I would be an Archers Anarchist, but I stopped listening after they killed off Nigel). This was a fairly standard effort, playing with her usual preoccupations of family, mortality, and the importance of Doing One's Own Thing. (Query: why, when a man writes this sort of thing, does it count as Great Literature, while the same novel written by a woman would be Chick Lit, or at best an Aga Saga?)

I generally enjoyed this, though was a bit bemused by how the children's partners suddenly became much more interesting propositions half-way through the book. U-turn, though I suppose it was all Point of View... I recognised the trials and tribulations of a huge and unkeep-up-able house from my own childhood; found the parents likeable and their children just about tolerable, and winced at the Surrey jokes. (Funny because true, believe me.)

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10065693
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
A rather saccharine Christmas story, lifted from obscurity by a decent sense of place and a mildly diverting supernatural element. Following the death of her workaholic husband in a car crash, Kay takes her eight year old daughter Evie to the Yorkshire Dales for six months, to escape Christmas with the in-laws. Sadly their presence is resented both by their landlady's son (who, in an attempt to anchor the story to reality, has lost all his stock to foot and mouth disease) and by one of the two resident ghosts.

Fleming ambles through three hundred years of family history with some surprisingly accurate details (her Stuarts, for example, dance a Christmas carol) and only mildly infuriating period dialogue. This livens up the novel considerably; without it, Winter's Children would be reduced to the usual tripe about the innocent child who wins over the gruff farmer with a heart of gold.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10070631
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Unless you're in a Susan Howatch novel, in which case each unhappy family will feel irritatingly reminiscent of something you're sure you've read before, and then you get to the end and she tells you which episode of classical/medieval/church history it's based on, and you will feel very stupid. And, in my case, lazy, as I was fully expecting her to pull the same trick, and it's not as if she didn't leave clues liberally scattered around this one. And I've read Katherine... oh well.

Anyhow, this is a real brick of a novel, over eleven hundred pages of small print encompassing four generations of sex, death and foul language. (I assume this one was written before Howatch got religion, but, thinking about the last section, perhaps not, after all - Starbridge and after are equally full of sex and death, but more God and less swearing on the whole.) I must admit that I was beginning to flag around about page nine hundred and fifty, but, having ploughed through to the end, feel vaguely rewarded.

I will leave it a while before I move on to Penmarric, which is one of the few Howatch sagas I haven't yet read; having just looked her up on Wikipedia, I know which episode of English history that one's based on.
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
This was very good. I think I need to read it again, because it felt a bit sidetracked towards the end, and I'm not sure whether it was me or the book. Probably me, leaving a week between the first three quarters and the last quarter. Interesting examination of caste, family life, culture clash, decline and fall. And I very much wanted to know what happened next. And after that.

It struck me very forcibly how good an artist one has to be in order to break the rules, as Arundhati Roy does. How well she evokes the children's perspective.

Very good book.
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
A frustrating book. This was a mildly interesting story in a very interesting setting - Greece's leper colony on the island of Spinalonga, off the coast of Crete - but so poorly written that it was a real struggle to get into. Point of view shifts every paragraph, telling not showing, and cardboard characters combined to make an unconvincing narrative. The portrayal of Anna, the older sister, was particularly irritating - bad-tempered, selfish, and sexually voracious, with little understanding from either the author or the other characters. That said, she was at least memorable, unlike the rest of the cast.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/359-8138592

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