Archive for April, 2009

Carthew Yorston is a Texan businessman, who takes his two young sons to breakfast in Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre, on September 11th 2001.  What unfolds is all too familiar to the reader, and we see tragedy and horror unfold through Cathew’s eyes (and occasionally the eyes of one of his sons).

In a dual narrative, Frederic Beigbeder examines the effect that September 11th 2001 has had on him, the world and in particular (understandably) New York.

Each chapter in this book represents one minute.  In Cathew’s narrative, which runs in chronological order, he describes that particular minute, stuck at the top of what was the most dangerous place in the world to be on that day.

Beigbeder’s narrative describes a particular minute at varying times of his life since that date, and takes him from Paris to New York, as he considers what moved him to write the book, and describe different aspects of his life.

It’s hard to say that this book was enjoyable, and perhaps, given the subject matter, it was never going to be an enjoyable story.  As the reader knows all too well what happened on that day, it can be read with a sense of apprehension, knowing that Carthew’s hopes of rescue and assurances to his sons are in vain.  The ending is inevitable (it is revealed very early on that Carthew, Jerry and David do not survive, and as nobody who was this high up in North Tower did survive the attacks, it could not be written any other way.  

Carthew also talks about his life, his marriage and divorce, and his job and girlfriend.  This part of the book made for uncomfortable yet compelling reading. However, I did feel somewhat voyeuristic while reading it – I’m not sure that such a tragic event should be served up as entertainment.

When Beigbeder writes as himself, the book is less interesting.  It started well – Beigbeder talks about the idea behind the tower, and gives plenty of facts about how it was built, dimensions etc.  But his narrative soon seems to turn into an exercise in navel gazing…at times he seems simply to be indulging himself in thoughts about his own life.  I ended up feeling that if he wanted to write an autobiography, he should have just written one, instead of trying to smuggle it into a book about the worst terrorist attack in history.

Overall though, I am not sorry I read this book.

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At the time of King William’s death, when Queen Victoria is about to become Queen of England, a young lady named Liberty Lane has her life torn apart, when she hears news of her father’s death.

Liberty was told that her father had died in a duel, while in France.  But although her father was unconventional, romantic man, she knows that there was no way he would have taken part in a duel.  She decides to find out the truth about his death, and her endeavours take her across the channel to France, and back again.  What Liberty discovers reveals corruption and deception at the highest levels of society…

I loved this book, as a terrific piece of escapism.  Liberty is a spirited and heroine, who is extremely likeable, perhaps due to her obvious vulnerability. The story itself moves along quickly, with plenty of tension and atmosphere, and I really felt drawn into Liberty’s world.  Liberty is a great heroine – well portrayed and fleshed out, very modern in her thinking, but still realistic and believable for the period in which the book is set.

There are heroes and villains, and even a young Benjamin Disraeli pops up!  I knew I would enjoy the book after reading just the first page, and with plenty of twists and turns, I was kept guessing until the end, which was just as satisfying as the rest of the book.

A terrific read, which I would definitely recommend. 

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is a chilling story of a very different America, sometime in the 21st century.  It is narrated by Offred, a ‘Handmaid’ – a woman who exists only for the purposes of procreation, and whose life beyond that purpose is worthless.

In the world in which the novel takes place, women are placed into categories, with no choice or education.  Offred’s tale is that of many other Handmaid’s – a woman who belongs to a wealthy childless couple, and who is expected to provide them with a child.  The details of exactly how America came to be like this are hazy, although the reader can surmise that it is probably through nuclear attack.

Offred recalls her life before this new society – the Gileadean Society – came into being. A life that many readers would recognise – happily married with a daughter and a good job (when she did not realise how happy she actually was); and how, shortly after the inception of the Gileadeans, she was herded to a centre with other prospective Handmaid’s to be ‘trained’ for her new role in life.  She also describes her life with the family with whom she lives – the Commander (what he is a Commander of is never clarified) and his wife Serena Joy.

This was a fantastic book – extremely well written, and despite the initial absurdity of the premise, I soon found myself seeing how such events could unfold (indeed, many of the shocking events in the book have taken place in one form or another throughout history).  Characterisation is excellent.  Offred was entirely believable, and I had the uncomfortable feeling that she could easily have been someone I knew.  Also believable were the couple who she lived with, her friend Moira and various other characters. The fact that each and every character was so well drawn, and so easy to invest in added to the disturbing sense that this was a reality one could imagine all too well.

There is much that is left unsaid in this book, and therefore a certain amount that a reader must assume.  Margaret Atwood’s writing is spare, but she has a wonderful way of placing you in the moment.  There is a sinister undertone to this story; a sense of apprehension about what might be about to come next.

Mainly this book made me feel relieved – relieved that this is not my life, and relieved that I could put the book down and leave the world which the narrator inhabited.  This does not mean that I did not enjoy reading it.  I would recommend this book very highly indeed.  It’s not often that a book comes along totally rocks my world – this is one of those rare occasions when I’m prepared to say that I think this just might be my new all-time favourite read.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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As might be expected from the title, this is a novel which centres largely around motherhood, mothering and the effect that it has on people’s lives.

The Melrose family is in freefall.  The father, Patrick is torn between feelings of betrayal and compassion for his mother – betrayal because he feels that she has always been utterly selfless to everyone except her own family, and it now looks as if he will be disinherited, and compassion because of her deteriorating mental and physical health.  Additionally, he feels neglected by his wife, who has just given birth to their second son, and is totally wrapped up in the demands of motherhood.  In an effort to console himself, he lurches from one vice to another.

His wife Mary feels that she has lost all sense of self, and knows that her husband is frustrated at what he perceives as her obsession with being a good mother.  Mary is determined that she will give her children the love and affection that her own mother failed to give her.

Their five year old son Robert is a child wise beyond his years, and at the start of the book, he is a little put out by the arrival of a new baby brother.

The book is told in the third person but most of the sections (there are four, told over four consecutive summers) focus on events from just one person’s point of view.  I have mixed feelings about it; it started off promisingly, but eventually I was happy to finish it.

There is actually very little plot, although this was not a problem for me.  The book simply paints a portrait of a family which has fallen on hard times, financially and emotionally.  All of the characters were certainly very well drawn and believable, but after a while I stopped caring about what happened to them.  There were however some moments of genuinely bitter humour, and I laughed out loud on a couple of occasions. However, this is not a work of comedy.  It was well written and credible, but ultimately, it left me fairly cold.

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It is 1970s London, and Chris is bored with himself, his life and his dull marriage.  He meets Roza when he accidentally mistakes her for a prostitute, and despite this inauspicious start, the two become firm friends.  Chris finds himself regularly visiting Roza’s home to listen to her tales of her father the Partisan, her life in the former Yugoslavia, and her experiences since coming to England.  As much as Roza seems to have a need to tell her tales, so Chris has a need to listen to them, and slowly the two start to fall into an unusual kind of love.  But are Roza’s tales true – and does it even matter?

This was quite an easy read – aided by the (on the whole) short, choppy chapters. However, despite Chris and Roza being two of only three characters who we actually ‘meet’ throughout the story (rather than just being characters who Roza and Chris talk about), I found it hard to truly care about either of them.

The book is narrated by both characters, but mainly Chris, and the reader largely gets to see things from Chris’s point of view.

There were a few moments of wry humour, but this is more a story of a love which seems destined to be never entirely fulfilled, but you’ll have to read to the end to find out what does become of them.

This is not a long book – just over 200 pages – and I think it was just the right length. Much longer and I would have lost interest.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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When Shelby Sloane is given a rare, bright yellow 1966 Mustang for her birthday, she decides to drive it from her home in New York, across to Mendocino, California, to find the mother who left when Shelby was just a child.  Her sometime friend Gina comes along for the ride, with her own motives.

Along the way, Shelby breaks their ‘no hitchhiking’ rule and picks up a hitchhiker in the shape of wild and carefree, pink haired Candy Cane.  What Shelby and Gina don’t know is that Candy is running away from a life so desperate and dark that the two girls cannot begin to imagine it, until they realise that their own lives are in danger.

Along the way, the girls learn some lessons about life, love and themselves.

I enjoyed this offering from Paullina Simons – an author I have always enjoyed  The character of Candy was fascinating – not always likeable, but always interesting to read about.  Generally the story flew along at an exciting pace, although in the middle, I felt it ‘sagged’ slightly.  However, the first and final thirds of the book were excellent.

The book is told from Shelby’s point of view, and this meant that at times, knowing what we as the reader do of Shelby’s mind set, some of the decisions she made seemed implausible.  Her friend Gina, who was probably the most unsympathetic of the three main characters, was more believeable in that regard.  As I have always found to be the case in Paullina Simons’ novels, the characters are well drawn and fully rounded out, making them easy to believe in, if not always easy to like.

However, none of these slight criticisms detract from the fact that this book, on the whole, is a real page turner, with genuine tension for the reader, as the girls face fresh problems and fewer solutions, the further along their journey they go.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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