Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett **possible spoilers ahead**

I was given this book by my sister with orders to read it before seeing the film (I know, she does seem to chuck a fair amount of books at me)!

This book is set in Jackson, Mississippi (yes, I did the 'Matilda' rhyme trying to remember that spelling) and focuses on two black domestic servants: Aibileen and Minny and, seemingly, the only white woman in the entire town who thinks there may be something wrong with the segregation laws: Miss Eugenia 'Skeeter' Phelan. This book follows the story from all three points of view as they, with the help of other household maids, decide to find their own way to fight against what they know is wrong in this 1960's suburbia - the treatment of the household help (as it seems the underlying problem is kept at a safe, family-friendly distance).

Opening this book I was rather shocked at how Stockett seemed to slip in to the stereotyping of writing the black woman's dialect but didn't even consider giving the white, southern women an ounce of an accent which I'm sure they must have had. I'm sure this may be just her way of making sure we, the readers can differentiate between who's talking when - but it did seem just a bit off to me.

On saying that, this book has a warm tenderness to it that makes you feel gooey inside from the inner sweetness that the main characters exhibit, even when faced with adversity that comes in the form of Miss Hilly Holbrook (think Wicked Witch minus the red slippers... at least they weren't mentioned in the book). The relationships that show up in this book, from Aibileen and little Mae Mobley to the outspoken Minny and Miss Celia Foote, have you thinking that there's going to be a good outcome for all of this hard work and, in some cases, there may be but as we're reading with some relative historical knowledge we know that it's only a small drop in the pond.

I personally found this book to be very family friendly, focusing less on the risks and the events happening in the outside world and instead talking more about their lives. It didn't push any boundaries that haven't already been pushed, steamrollered and tarmaced over but you can instead curl up and read through what these people have to put up with, the secrets that they become privy to and the outcasts that they may become if it all goes awry.

This is definitely a feel-good book. It doesn't want you to have your mind blown but more tries to hold your hand and guide you through the everyday lives of these women as they try to chip away a town's barrier. If you read this book PLEASE read the author's section at the back as it helps to explain where she's coming from. I'm now going to see what book Jess next throws at me :D

Monday, 24 October 2011

The American Dream Reversed by Bianca Philipp

I am not being paid for this review and will be unbiased in my finidings.

This is Bianca's first book and was originally her entry into the NaNoWriMo last year.

The story follows Keith Scott from a man who thinks he has it all into his downward spiral of drugs, alcoholism and ultimately ending up at rock bottom with no visible way of getting out. Losing his friends, family and everything he holds dear the reader is made to follow him down and then watch him try to make his way back up with the help of a friend - and a few bumps along the way.

This book doesn't pull it's punches, you're dragged in to feeling an empathy towards the main character that really doesn't help you feel good during his low moments, and believe me they get low, but you will be happy for him when it does happen (or just feel like slapping some sense into the man)! This is Bianca's first book and a very good promise for things to come. Well written and uncompromising in her style she has a straightforward bluntness that is rather refreshing for it's honest outlook.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the finished version of this book after my attempt at assisting with the beta-reading. Having read her online work, mainly covering fanfiction, this is a well deserved big break for this woman to showcase her talent. I wish her well and hope she gets a chance to publish her next novel, whenever that may be.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman **possible spoilers ahead**

This book follows the story of Harrison Opoku, an 11 year old boy Ghanaian immigrant who now lives in a London City estate with his mother and big sister, Lydia.

The book opens with the murder of a young boy on the estate who Harri vaguely remembers as being good at basketball. Now he and his friend Dean, who watches a lot of CSI, have decided to try and solve the boy's murder themselves with a lot of TV knowledge and a set of carnival won, toy binoculars whilst the police are being met by locals with a wall of silence.

Around this we have Harri's life in the melting pot that is London with his love of Poppy and her yellow hair, to the local gang the Dell Farm Crew and whether or not he'll pass their tests and, on top of all that, trying to act the man of the house until his dad, little sister and grandma make it over to join them - and it all seems so much for a young boy, but he accepts it with his happy, straightforward manner (making sure he has a plan of action ready in case someone comes into the flat).

I found the way that Kelman wrote in this young boy's 'pigeon english' style to be rather endearing and at times added humour to the situation. He had a wide-eyed innocence about him, even when describing the most non-innocent things, that made you want to wrap him in cotton wool and hope he never loses his love of the simple things. It made things like the in-your-face violence, sexual activity and general callousness that much worse because of how it's being seen through the eyes of a boy.

This book really had me hooked from the get go and the characters and situations were definitely believeable. The added, occasional voice of the pigeon that Harri befriends - whilst not much liked by some other readers - does have it's purpose, which begins to become clearer towards the end. This more educated prose from the other watcher had me starting to guess at what was coming next which made me not want to reach the end but at the same time, I needed to know.

Due to it's setting and the narrator's way of speaking, some non-English readers may find some of the dialogue a bit hard to get your head around - have an English friend close at hand, just in case. Even I had the occasional hiccup with trying to understand what wa sbeing said, but Harri does like to explain things to us, just in case.

Although not stated anywhere, except a nod in the acknowledgements, anyone who followed the story of Damilola Taylor will be able to relate the two stories. This is a beautiful book in a terrible setting that will have you laughing, scared and crying (yes, I'll admit it, I cried). A must read and, I believe, well worth the shortlist nomination and my favourite of all six books. I find it hard to believe that the manuscript was languishing in a pile for a long time before it started a bidding war.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan **possible spoilers ahead**

Half Blood Blues opens in Paris, 1940, not long after the beginning of the Nazi occupation. It follows the tale of the Hot-Time Swingers band, who's members consist of a diverse collection of African-American, Jewish and Afro-German Jazz lovers and players, who find themselves being followed by the German invading forces as they try to escape it's reach.

The story itself revolves around Heiro Falks, the trumpet player, who is of Afro-German descent who was raised in the Rhineland. Amazingly gifted, he has the ability to go on and accomplish a lot - if it weren't for the fact that he was forced into hiding in Berlin and then Paris before being captured and sent to Sachsenhausen aged 19. However, it is not Heiro we hear the tale from but Sid Griffiths, the band's bassist and a Baltimore native, who's jealousy and inner betrayal leads to the kid's capture and disappearance.

 The story switches back and forth between their time as a band in the late 30's, early 40s on to 1992 where Sid and Chip, the band's drummer, are to attend the premiere of a documentary about Heiro - now a jazz legend - and what happens after that.

I picked up this book with the thought that it would be filled with constant references to the Aryan ideology, Nazi Rallies, mass imprisonments and the persecution of Jews but this story focuses more on the relationship changes in the band that just so happened to occur at the time of, and only occasionally because of, the Third Reich. This is more a look at what can happen to a strong bond if put under the right pressure and what a person can do in a moment of madness, jealousy or just plain malevolence.

I thought this book would be another one that I would read and not feel too much about either way, I was wrong. I found it rather intriguing to the point where I kept putting it down to do something only to pick it straight back up again. It didn't hold me so that I couldn't put it down, more I didn't realise how into it I was until I stopped reading it.

I found the character of Sid to be selfish and hard to care about, I just couldn't connect to him. The style of writing was in his vernacular slang that can be annoying at times to get through but adds to the overall feel of the book.

More disappointing was the fact that we never got to truly hear about Heiro's story except what a rathe biased, clouded Sid shows us. I wish I could've known more about his background, his views and feelings on being made stateless by his home country and what happened to him after his arrest.

I enjoyed this book, granted there were a few bits that annoyed me but overall Edugyan's style of writing had me gripped without realising it. A different view on a time that's already much written about.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller **possible spoilers ahead**

This book has been praised as a 'psychological drama' and, to be totally honest, I was hoping for some big crime thriller almost in the style of the Nordic crime writers. If you're expecting the same thing, prepare to be disappointed.

That's not to say, however, that isn't a good read - it is. This is written in the style of a confessional, charting a man's downward spiral of his morals and conscience. The crime is more of an afterthought at the end and yet it still managed to make me a bit upset about it. 

Nick Platt is a lawyer in London who has taken it upon himself to write his fiancee a rather long, very detailed confession of what he got up to in Moscow. 

Most of this 'letter' is spent describing how dirty and seedy post communism Russia is and how he felt that he started to join it. This view of Russia is nothing new for any reader who has ever listened to news or read the papers when they've talked about the country and I don't really consider my eyes opened by any shocking revelations to begin with.

The characters that are introduced seem to reflect the different  moods of Russian society: from the cold, rather distant lover Masha who constantly seems on guard and constantly on the lookout for an ulterior motive to 'The Cossack' who seems like he's been plucked straight out of a Bond movie with his thinly veiled threats and the forced jovial manner he uses to brush off any trifling matters. It's not made a secret in this bookt hat we aren't meant to like him, but we are shown glimpses of Masha that make us think this is becoming more of a Russian love story than anything else.
The old lady, Tatiana Vladimirovna, is seen as lonely and desperate for company whilst at the same time unable to shake the feeling of unease around strangers after surviving Stalin's regime. This is the one character I felt most drawn to, more so even than Nick, as she had depth and history to her; sharing with us her hopes and dreams for her retirement.
In all honesty I found that, apart from the final chapter of this book, it was more of a cultural view of Russia, with all it's seediness and corruption exposed, than a crime thriller. It shows a country of people trying to find their new places in the world whilst, at the same time, the older ones are still holding on to the ways that they grew up with such as the apartment swapping, not owning your own place. The younger generation are full of ideas of the West and what they see on TV but at the same time seem to be born tainted with the idea that you can buy anything and anyone for money and death is just around the corner "Life is dangerous... No one survived it yet". 
This is an interesting read, not addictive or gripping but definitely interesting. Even though it lacked the action I first expected I found that it didn't matter so much as the actual plot was intriguing enough to keep me reading. Overall I would say that this is definitely worth picking up but be sure to not skip anything, it all has some importance or another!

(On a side note, if I ever have a fiance write me a confession this long - I'm asking for the abridged notes ;P)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

First Blog Award!

My first blog award and I haven't even been reviewing books that long! Thank you to Lindsay from The LittleReader Library for thinking of me and my little blog space on t'internet!

I love writing this blog and reviewing all the books that I read as it encourages me to focus on the books I'm reading even more and allows me to put my thoughts across too (not that I need any halep on that matter.

The Rules Are:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave the awrad to you.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Send it along to 15 other bloggers & let them know you have awarded them.

7 Things About Me: 

1. I have two gerbils called Chaos and Mayhem.
2. I love singing but not in front of other people.
3. I'm aiming to teach myself to speak German.
4. I live on my own and am very independent.
5. I have now lived in 3 of the 4 countries that make up the United Kingdom.
6. I'm a qualified beauty therapist.
7. For some reason I always fall for the bad guy (with morals/conscience) in films - they shouldn't make them  so sexy!!

Now on to the best part - passing the award on to those who deserve it!

  1. Book Him Danno!
  2. From The Shadows I Review
  3. Chocolate Chunky Munkie
  4. Rea's Reading and Reviews
  5. Basically Books
  6. Book BagLady
  7. Intoxicated By Books
  8. Kimba The Caffeinated Book Reviewer
  9. Mercurial Musings
  10. What's Beyond Forks?
  11. Raspberry Books
  12. Pen To Paper
  13. Pages of Gold
  15. BookSpark
Apologies if you operate an award-free blog - please just accept this, without having to repost, as a token of my love for your blog.

One last thing - THANK YOU to everyone who follows my blog and takes the time to read and comment , I love you all for it because it means so much to me :)