Bringing Book the Good Times

I’m finally back from a wonderful Christmas and New Year in England, and after fighting through the obligatory jet lag, as well as other demands, I finally find time to catch you up on things.

The most important being the books I managed to haul back over with me, which is a veritable, eclectic feast of words, split nicely between books to reread and new tomes to explore…

Continue reading “Bringing Book the Good Times”

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South of the South Wind – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

Thorgil is an adventurer, a young boy whose heart is out at sea. When his father tells him of his plan to set sail to return to Norway, Thorgil is determined to follow his dreams. This is a story about adventure and never returning home.Schoolboy Thomas loves his geography teacher – with tales of the Bounty Ship and inspiring paintings by Gauguin, his imagination is set free and he gets curious. However, one day in class, the teacher is taken away from school and Thomas is curious to find out where he is.Jorgen is a bright boy but due to financial difficulties, can’t get the education he wants. The fisherman life it is for him and later settles down with a family. One day the winds cause havoc in the sky and change things for him; this is a tale of loss and greed. The finale in the short stories brings to you the tale of Toby, the cheeky dog, guaranteed to bring a smile to your face…

I really tried to make this book last, honest!  Having adored the other three Wind books, and greedily devoured them, this one should have been one to savour. One sitting later and I was once again closing a book utterly enchanted with the stories, and also a little sad that I couldn’t experience them again for the first time.

The initial story, Grapes of Love was, I futilely promised myself, the one story I would limit myself to that day. It tells of the many types of passing; of ideas, and of time, passing into maturity, and of the people whom we meet through life. The mysteries of the heart and the world are explored and all of this is wrapped up in a good dollop of Norse history, which always conjures up dramatic imagery.

Continue to read and think

After that story the ‘just one more, and then I will leave the others’ excuse came into play.  Windward was my absolute favourite tale of the book. It’s another delve into history but is this time much more international.  The reader gets to explore not only the globe but also the themes of escape, freedom and consequences, and how choice – or lack of it – can have major repercussions on life. Continue reading “South of the South Wind – Nils-Johan Jørgensen”

11.22.63 – Stephen King

In 2011, Jake Epping, an English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, sets out on an insane – and insanely possible – mission to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

Leaving behind a world of computers and mobile phones, he goes back in time to a time of big American cars and diners, of Lindy Hopping, the sound of Elvis and the taste of root beer,

In this haunting world Jake falls in love with Sadie, a beautiful high school librarian.  And, as the ominous date of 11.22.63 approaches, he encounters a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald.

This sizeable novel from the wordy wordsmith himself, Mr King has so much of everything in it.  The inexactness of that statement is accurate as the number of little details is vast, and as such I read this book with a huge amount of appreciation.

I avoided this book for a long time because, for me a time travel story and King just didn’t seem to gel together in my mind but once I started reading, I thought it worked really well.  The element of ‘how would I exploit the past if I could time travel’ is explored = and takes the focus off of the main plot, which itself flows logically and languidly (a good thing) according to the rules set out.

When all else fails, give up and go to the library

Jake is often just as focussed on the smaller picture as much as his larger mission, and it is fascinating to get caught up in, as does he. There is the usual whole heap of nostalgia which the author always excels at, allowing the reader to feel like they miss that time and place, despite many not having lived through it.  There is a brief cameo from some of the characters of IT, as well as a couple of Dark Tower references, which is pleasing to those knowledgeable but won’t make any difference to those not familiar with the particular works. Continue reading “11.22.63 – Stephen King”

Man, Myth, Messiah – Rice Broocks

Did Jesus really exist? Is there real historical evidence that demonstrates that he lived and actually said and did the things the Gospels record? Is there any validity to the speculative claims that the Jesus story was a myth borrowed from a variety of pagan cultures of the ancient world?

In this follow-up to the book God’s Not Dead (which inspired the movie), Man, Myth, Messiah looks at the evidence for the historical Jesus and exposes the notions of skeptics that Jesus was a contrived figure of ancient mythology. It also looks at the reliability of the Gospel records as well as the evidence for the resurrection that validates his identity as the promised Messiah.

Recently I watched God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness, the third film in the franchise and surprisingly watchable compared to the cartoonish nature of the first two films, but they are a subject for another post, should anybody want it (comment below!).

I have a lot to say on this book.  I chose to read this as a neutral in order to be fair to the material and ideas shown.  Whatever debates the reader chooses to engage with in his or her short life, there should always be challenging questions asked and the sources for any position should be scrutinised for veracity.

For that reason I had a lot of problems with this book, which was also adapted for a film God’s Not Dead 2, and like its predecessor (which I watched twice) and accompanying book (God’s Not Dead), the art of misdirection in the text is as amusing as it is offensive.

In the introduction about a Newsweek article he read which said we knew little about Jesus historically, Broocks states:

It was predictably written from a skeptical perspective with little pretense to hide the bias. 

I hoped that this book would be an open look at both sides of the debate, weighing evidence against challenging argument, however the opposite was true and clear after not too many pages.  Page ten to be precise.  My problems with this work were numerous. Continue reading “Man, Myth, Messiah – Rice Broocks”

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

Mexico, 1935.  Harrison Shepherd is working in the household of famed muralist Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.  Sometimes cook, sometimes secretary, Shepherd is always an observer, recording his experiences in diaries and notebooks.  When exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky arrives, Shepherd inadvertently casts in his lot with art and revolution and his aim for an invisible life is thwarted forever.

This has been on my to read pile ever since I read Cuban writer, Leonardo Padura’s excellent novel, The Man Who Loved Dogs. The title, The Lacuna alludes to much in the text, the gaps in the reader’s knowledge of Shepherd’s life, his feelings of not fitting in, and of the other characters stories and in part their motivations.

Like a game of football, this is a book of two halves. The latter part I found to be a lot more engaging, partly because it allows the narrator more room to speak, and also as it helps fill in another gap in history that I hadn’t really much knowledge about.  Perhaps that is excusable as most of European literature and history is focusing on the rebuilding of the continent after WWII and our own part in the Cold War.

The past is all we know of the future

To begin with I wasn’t overly blown away by the writing, more annoying was that certain themes were alluded to and then outright brought to my attention through the narrator. It would have been much more subtle, if left hanging in the background, for the reader to discover, even if on a second or third read through.

I didn’t get much of a sense of Diego Rivera as a character either, he is fairly peripheral, his wife Frida is more interesting and remains pleasingly enigmatic, although she is seen as faultless, precisely because of her faults. Trotsky is mainly seen as a hero/saint type of figure, lacking some of the complexity that could have made him more interesting, as in Padura’s book.  Shepherd himself is detached in this first part, as he struggles to discover his place, and true self. Continue reading “The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver”

The Lunar Men – Jenny Uglow

Led by the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society of Birmingham were a group of eighteenth-century amateur experimenters who met monthly on the Monday night nearest to the full moon.  Echoing to the thud of pistons and the wheeze of snorting engines,Jenny Uglow’s vivid and swarming group portrait brings to life the inventors, artisans and tycoons who shaped and fired the modern world.

If ever there was a book to celebrate the exhilaration of investigation, that infectious enthusiasm for knowledge, then this is surely a strong contender. In an age where amateurs could be at the forefront of breakthroughs in the sciences, the Lunar Society were keen to share knowledge which brought on new trains of thought and enquiry, as they dared to dream the fantastical.

These pioneers were to explore many different facets of our world;  through botany, geology, physics, medicine, art, literature and so on, as well as profit (for themselves and country), politics, and market forces.  The group also felt the full force of the beginnings of the burgeoning, awkward relationship between science and religion.

The scope of the book is impressive, each of these men could have had a book devoted to themselves so combining them into one overlapping narrative is a monumental feat.  To keep things fresh, we move between the main players frequently, it helps with both pace and the narrative structure, and allows the huge amount of innovations to be explored in their (more or less) chronological order.

It feels genuinely exciting to follow these lives and the societal changes that stem from their drive.  The book doesn’t just focus on the professional but humanises them with plenty of details about their personal lives, which are as eccentric as their work lives.  It reveals heart and a resonance that is lacking in some other – drier – books on this era. Continue reading “The Lunar Men – Jenny Uglow”

Fire in the Blood – Irène Némirovsky

Set in the rural French town in Burgundy that would also form the backdrop to the bestselling Suite Française, Fire in the Blood is the story of Silvio, his cousin’s wife Hélène, her second husband Françoise, and of the truths, deaths, marriages, children, houses and mills that bind them with love and hatred, deception and betrayal.

This novel is an absolute rural treat from one of my favourite 20th century authors, tragically lost to us at Auschwitz.  The story is a wonderful showing of her talent for unflinchingly portraying the passions and flaws of her characters. Her brutally honest observances of the human nature (in all of her books) make for some wonderfully memorable protagonists, and although this book was unfinished at the time of her death, it still retains its power to captivate the reader.

The story opens with an intimate family setting, a real country way of life, very family orientated and in this instance in touch with nature, its beauty and the integral part it plays in their community. The opening’s vibrant scene setting is both rich in detail and in building characterisation and is a great foundation for the forthcoming drama.  None of which I will comment on as at 152 pages, I run the risk of spoiling too much of the plot.

The layering of intricacies in this small close-knit town and the beautifully drawn characters is slowly teased out over the course of the story, allowing us to change allegiance to people as we understand them in greater depth. It’s a claustrophobic, rule laden arena, made all the more obvious by Silvio, who has travelled the globe, lived a varied life, and cares little for the social nuances he has returned to.

In nature, there is a moment of perfection when every hope is realised, when the luscious fruits finally fall, a crowning moment towards the end of summer.  But it quickly passes and the autumn rains begin.  It’s the same for people.

Continue reading “Fire in the Blood – Irène Némirovsky”