Sunday, 11 July 2010

Book worm reviews: June 2010

In each 'Book worm' post, I review all the books I have read the previous month, no matter how varied! I am looking forward to discovering what takes my attention in a year. Coming up are the books devoured in June (although two are really from May, and one has been an ongoing process since April. Guess which!).

The Birds and Other Stories, by Daphne du Maurier
The E before Christmas, by Matt Beaumont
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel (audio)
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King
The Long Walk, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)
Absent in the Spring, by Mary Westmacott (also known as Agatha Christie)
Inside the Whale, by Jennie Rooney

June 2010

The Birds and Other Stories, by Daphne du Maurier
First published as The Apple Tree by Gollancz 1952
This edition published by Penguin Books 1975

It seems my fate with Daphne du Maurier books is to be forever left leaving the table hungry. There are six short stories within this collection, and each of them makes me pause at the last page, before I flick back and re-read, curious to know more, to wonder how I didn’t guess the build up, to pick through the words for any vital clues.

I actually read this book straight after reading the H.G.Wells classic ‘The War of the Worlds’, and it was quite strange to plunge straight into the story of The Birds, yet another way to purge the human race. The Birds of course inspired film director Alfred Hitchcock, but the film is completely different from the quiet menace of the book. It ends abruptly, but sometimes in life there is no explanation, and this story reflects that beautifully. The other stories are equally memorable – the call of austere nature in Monte Verità, the trap weaved from greed in The Little Photographer, the mysterious usherette in Kiss Me Again, Stranger and finally The Old Man, a brilliantly told tale of family history. This latter story stayed in my mind for a long time – I did not guess the ending, and so had to re-read to see the story with new eyes. I love it when a story manages to do that, pull you in so deeply that you believe everything the author says, and then at the end you laugh as you realise how you were duped – it is the work of a conjurer, and I am a delighted child watching the magic. Perfect.

The E Before Christmas, by Matt Beaumont
Published by HarperCollins Publishers 2000
This edition the same

This book is a quick read, an addendum to Matt’s debut novel ‘e’, and revisits the same characters and setting that made ‘e’ so memorable.

When ‘e’ first came out, it was very revolutionary. Composed entirely of emails, we very quickly get to know the characters through their correspondence with each other. It’s very interesting how the way people use punctuation gives a good idea of their character, and this is what ‘e’ does so brilliantly. There is the secretary who overuses exclamation marks and the hippy art director whose every communication involves a smiley face. There is also the back-stabbing – gushing emails of praise to the boss while behind their back emails of vitriol do the rounds. If you have worked for an advertising agency you will definitely smile and nod knowingly at the characters, but even if you haven’t there is recognition of certain types to be found in every office - put-upon Nigel in accounts, the harassed office manager who worries about air conditioning, the creative team who are always to be found in the bar next door.

The e before Christmas bounces you straight into the days leading up to the office Christmas party. Most enjoyable.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
Published by Fourth Estate, 2009
This version is an unabridged audio book, released in March 2010, purchased via itunes

Wolf Hall won author Hilary Mantel the Man Booker prize in 2009, and I was eager to read it, although decided the audio version would be kinder on my ancient handbag. I am very glad I went for audio, as the narrator, Simon Slater, really brings each character alive with a different voice for each, and since there are so many characters I think this definitely gives the reader (or listener, rather) a helping hand.

The book plunges you into the events of the 1520s with such precision and knowledge that you feel this is the only way things could have unfolded, and the characters – King Henry VIII and his court – are exactly as Hilary maintains. Yet thankfully she does not wield her historic research with too heavy a hand – I am given enough detail to be able to see the clogged Thames, feel the political intrigue, and wonder at life in London so long ago. There is also a nice touch of clever humour here and there – it doesn’t come often, but when it does it will make you smile.

Having said that, this book does require a certain amount of focus to keep up with what is happening. I found the allegorical title of the book to be a bit odd, as I was waiting for a bigger connection with Wolf Hall, as opposed to a few spoken references. It is very heavy in dialogue, with a slight confusion over who is actually speaking (the audio helps here), and I found it hard to reconcile Thomas More of the book with Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons. But I did enjoy listening to it, as well as feeling very much in awe over her command of melding fact with fiction.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, by Stephen King
First published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1999 (UK)
This edition by Hodder & Stoughton, 2000

Whether or not you like the horror genre, Stephen King is a master story-teller, and many of his books play on the psychologically creepy rather than the gore so beloved by certain crime fiction writers, for example. He really knows how to send that shiver down your spine, how to make his words linger long after you have closed the book, and how to paint pictures in your mind.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is such a simple premise – a young girl gets lost out walking in the woods with her family. This doesn’t seem enough to power a 290 page book, but the girl in question has a long journey ahead of her, and the state she is lost in is large and full of dangers. Our heroine in the book is very resourceful, much more than I would be at nine years old, and yet the empty woods loom close, and as a reader you can feel them press and settle at your back. Highly recommended.

Other book reviews will be liberally scattered in the week. Wishing you all a happy Sunday!


The Words Crafter said...

I didn't know that Hitchcock had based his movie on a short story. Cool. I'm going to have to keep that book in mind when I go used book shopping (there's a giant store up the road from me with everything in it). I like your variety...

Jayne said...

Thank you - love a bit of variety! I think although he based the idea on du Maurier's story, he pretty much changed everything else - the setting, the people - in fact I think the only thing that is the same is the actual birds. Although this is just going on reviews, I haven't actually seen his film. My film history is shockingly shoddy!

Old Kitty said...

The Birds - a classic - I love this collection of short stories and could read it again and again! I so agree with what you say - you do leave the table hungry for more! War of the Worlds is another fave of mine! Yes, again I agree - perfect!

I'm in the middle of reading Wolf Hall - but was most interested in your review of the audio version! I too am finding it hard to not think of Thomas More a man for all seasons film as I read the Thomas More version in the book! He really is seen in a less than flattering light isn't he?

Thanks for these eclectic reviews!! I envy your reading prowess - I'm two months into reading Wolf Hall and am nowhere near finished! LOL!

Take care

Clarissa Draper said...

I really like Daphne's books but have never read 'The Birds'. now I really want to. Thanks for the review.


Vatche said...

Awesome reviews, Jayne!

I remember reading "The Birds" in a big textbook back in seventh grade. I remember how enthralled I was with the story and how it captivated me with suspense. I just added a collection of short stories by Daphne DuMaurier to my TBR list; I hope to find that same suspense that I found several years ago.

As for Stephen King, he is the master of storytelling and my idol. I read several of his books every year!

Write on and read on, Jayne!

Mystica said...

I love the variety. I found Wolf Hall very very slow going though I eventually finished it. Du Maurier is always for me good.

Helen Ginger said...

I haven't read any of those. Thanks for the reviews of them. It's been ages since I read a King book, so I may look for his.

Straight From Hel

Rose said...

I listened to Wolf Hall first as a way in- it's just too big to travel with, or it was before paperback. I agree the narrator is wonderful, he brings so much life to the book.

I did a history degree and although I'm hardly a specialist I did do some Tudors which I do think helped me to not find this less overwhelming information wise.

Her writing is quite wonderful, so skilful, so well researched- and I liked that this book challenged our established perceptions of well known characters from history. The victors in any kind of altercation are also normally the victors in the way history is written- and normally make it favour their case- so this is an interesting idea- to me it wasn't just interesting to think of Cromwll and More differently but to remember we don't really know any character from history the way we think we do.

Christina Lee said...

What a variety! Thx for sharing!

Ariel Swan said...

I love when people do book reviews. I am an avid reader and always looking for recommended titles. I will have to checkout The Birds and the Stephen King - I am a big fan too and haven't read any of his new stuff (not since he retired ;)

I am looking forward to a review of the Agatha Christie pen name story - can't remember the title from here. She is one of my favorites as well. I am a big Miss Marple fan actually.

Thanks for checking out my blog. I am curious how you found it - if you have a chance drop a comment and let me know.

p.s. I always wanted to be a cat too - in fact I used to sit with my feline siblings as a child pretending to be one of them for hours.

Ariel Swan said...

I just read your comment and thanks to Piedmont Writer for sending you over. Should have done that first.

Clara said...

I WORSHIP Stephen King, so I'm definetly ordering that book right now.

Also, E seems very interesting, so thanks for the tips Jayne!!

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I'm so thankful you post reviews of books I would never pick up on my own. I'm such a YA hound that when it comes to Adult lit I never really know what I'm going to like and after a few big disasterous ones I stick to my preferences. So I love getting these reviews and I am all over the Stephen King book! Hope you had a great weekend!

Aubrie said...

I think it's great how you have such varied reading tastes. They will all help your own writing.

Talli Roland said...

Happy Sunday!

Great reviews! I haven't read any of these, so I was interested in your thoughts on them and if I should add them to my TBR pile.

I think I shall indeed be adding a few!

WritingNut said...

Great reviews! I'm not much of a horror fan, but I've been seriously thinking about reading that Stephen King book.

Linda said...

I haven't read any of Daphne's stories although I am a big fan. The Birds always put me off because I have a bit of a phobia about them and I don't want to have nightmares - having enough trouble sleeping as it is. Might give this one a go now.

Wolf Hall has been languishing on my tbr pile for a while now. I love Tudor history but thought this might be a bit hard going. Now you have inspired me again!

Thanks Jayne.

Rose said...

I am very confused- comment I made yesterday isn't here! Anyway I listed to Wolf Hall first and agree the actor reading is marvellous. I think listening is a good way in because the book is just so big (the hardback anyway) you can't travel with it and it's very dense.

I was really in awe of her writing and her grasp of the history with fiction (I did history at University). The most important about this book is showing us that history tends to remember events in the eyes of the victors- this story may well be fiction but the different character of Cromwell to the one we knew is very intersting- it should makes us remember history doesn't always remember accurately

Palindrome said...

Great reviews!! I love Daphne du Maurier's short stories. Fabulous they are. If you like that, you'll probably love Louisa May Alcott's collections...if you haven't already picked them up, of course. :)

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Jayne...thanks for the lovely reviews. I have started Wolf Hall, and will try to read 'The Birds.

KarenG said...

Thanks for your reviews! Are you on Goodreads? That's where I post most of mine. I have GOT to go read some Daphne Du Maurier, it's been much too long!

Bossy Betty said...

Thanks so much for these reviews!

Love having you as a follower! Thank you so much!

Jayne said...

Old Kitty – You should listen to the audio voice given to Thomas More – a hissing, sneering old man – definitely a less than flattering light! And Wolf Hall was the book that was an ‘ongoing process since April’ – and that was just listening to it!

Clarissa – The Birds is a great collection. You won’t be disappointed!

Vatche – Wow, you read The Birds for school?! I am so impressed. We did Conrad’s The Secret Agent. The Birds would have been much better! And me too with Stephen King.

Mystica – I love variety. I don’t think I could consistently read just one genre – I love books too much to limit myself!

Helen – Glad you liked!

Rose – I saw both your comments, not sure why the first one seemed to disappear for you, but I am glad you saw this review as I remembered you had mentioned Wolf Hall and I was interested to hear what you thought. That is so true – we don’t know any character from history, even though we think we might. It was clever (and quite brave) to challenge our preconceptions.

Jayne said...

Christina – Always love a bit of variety!

Ariel – Glad you liked them! There is a new Stephen King out as well that I am itching to get my hands on – Under the Dome, I think it is called. I think that will be on the list to buy at some point. And yes, it was the lovely Piedmont Writer!

Clara – ‘E’ is a brilliant read, very funny as well. And amen to Stephen King!

Erica – I know what you mean by disastrous reads putting you off. Reading a book is a big commitment of someone’s time, and when it doesn’t pay off it is such a disappointment. Luckily this hasn’t happened to me for a long time now – must be choosing wisely!

Aubrie – Thanks! And yes, I think it does.

Talli – How big is your TBR pile?!

WritingNut – It’s more psychological than horror... go on, try it!

Jayne said...

Linda –Hm... if you have a phobia about birds perhaps The Birds isn’t the one for you! In a horrible way it is very believable... be warned! Wolf Hall definitely worked for me on audio, and I think you will like it if you like Tudor history already. It wasn’t as hard going as I thought, so do try!

Palindrome – *pounces on recommendation* Ah-ha! Thank you. I haven’t read any Louisa May Alcott (although I have the feeling she was the lady who wrote Little Women – runs to google – returns smug).

Rachna – Be interested to hear what you think of Wolf Hall!

KarenG – I am not on Goodreads, I probably should be! My computer is a very tricky beast – I sort of am wary at trying to do too much in case it explodes. But will remember that tip – thanks!

Bossy Betty – Aw – glad you are here as well!

Millie said...

Jayne thanks for your lovely comment over @ The Laurel Hedge. I do love book reviews & recommendations - its gets me out of my comfort zone & complacency with new reads. I've never read Stephen King, but your thoughts have piqued my interest.
Millie ^_^

Jayne said...

Millie - thank you for popping back over here, and I am glad you like book reviews - have made it my mission this year to record each book I read to see exactly what I get through - it seems to be a varied list so far! Hope to see you back again. :)