Tuesday, June 14, 2011


This book was part of my A-Level syllabus, and had it not been for that, I would doubt that I would ever have read it. Why? Its just about the longest book on the planet! It wasn't until I read it for the second time that I fell in love with it and I recently revisited it when I was off sick from work, always the perfect opportunity to spend time with a book.
Middlemarch by George Eliot, was originally written as a series, which explains its length. I think it probably works best in this format and is best to read as such, as it really does seem interminable at times.
Based around the townspeople of Middlemarch, the book follows the stories of several people, mainly couples and their trials and struggles though life. The theme is love and the effects money, standing in society and mismatched other halves have on their relationship and those around them.
Central couples include Mrs. Casaubon and Will Ladislaw, Rosamond and Mr. Lydgate, The Garth family and a few other characters that interweave among everyone. 
Each relationship is completely different, each with its own trials and successes. Set in England in the early 1800s, standing in society plays an enormous part in people's lives, where scandal is the talk of the entire village and shady characters and secrets are aplenty.
There is so much detail in the book that I can barely begin to discuss it without revealing too much about the storylines that interweave and entangle themselves throughout. I will say that the length of the book should not be a deterrent and it really is an excellent read. George Eliot skillfully pulls you into each character, giving great depth and insight into their thoughts, so that at times, you don't know who's side you should be on. By half way through, you feel as if you know some of the characters intimately, while others remain a mystery until their role in the plot is finally revealed. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Why: At times, I felt George Eliot rambled on somewhat unnecessarily. Coupled with the old style of writing and speech, it was sometimes difficult (for me at least!) to fully understand what exactly she, or should I say he(!) was trying to say. The length is a little annoying and wearying at these parts, but otherwise not an issue as there is enough to keep your attention rapt and ensure you continue to read. Defintely worthy of its status in Classic Literature.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Book Bug List - book of the moment

The book of the moment definitely has to be, well, any one of the three books in Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy. Having read them all (reviews still to come), I think my favourite was the second installment - Girl Who Played With Fire.
Smart, strong, independent, Lisbeth Salander's story will undoubtedly remain atthe top of booklists for several year's to come; and while I know the Swiss film version of the book has been made, it is only a matter of time before Hollywood jumps on the bandwagon and makes this the explosive blockbuster it deserves to be.
A must read!!

Sunday, June 05, 2011


A history buff I am not. In fact, having spent my 3 long years at school learning all things about Britain/Ireland and how, depending on who you were reading, it was always the other one's fault that chaos ensued, I have, to be quite frank, blocked most of it from my consciousness and my brain instantly falls asleep when the words British or Irish history are mentioned. So it was with a little trepidation that I agreed to read this book when my friend offered to lend me it. Well, it was either that or the 6th Harry Potter book as I'm re-reading them between other offerings. Wedlock won once I read the punchline:
How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match
What's not to love?
Naturally, as a woman, when I hear of men getting their comeuppance, well, I can't help but smile mischieviously! Not that I'm some hardened feminist, but you know how it is...
As the punchline accurately describes what the book is about, I won't go into loads of detail. Needless to say, I am eternally grateful  that I wasn't born in that era and I think I was more shocked to discover that rape within marriage only became illegal in 1991, than the general goings on of the Georgian era.
Mary Eleanor Bowes, a privileged young woman, raised when men married for money and women married to ensure they stayed secure, made an ill matched first marriage at a young and impressionable age. However her problems only began after her husband died, leaving her a young widow. Having learned little from the experience, Mary went on to flirt and enjoy romances with several men at once which ultimately led to her downfall. As the tradition then was, Mary became the subject of a battle of honour. Andrew Robinson Stoney offered his life to fight for Mary and in doing so won her hand having won the fight. However, the fight was a sham and Mary became cleverly entrapped in a loveless, violent marriage. Spending all her money, beating her ruthlessly, fathering numerous children to various and many women, Mary's life became one of sheer misery, her every moment governed by her tyrannical husband. 
In a day when men very much had the upper hand, it seemed there was little Mary could do to change her fate. With her children from her first marriage governed by her late husband's brother, the law seemingly on her current husband's side as to his rights to her, it took all of Mary's courage to break free and win a longsuffering battle.
With the help of a maid, Mary managed to flee and began a long and tedious fight to divorce her husband, claim her money and be reunited with her children. Ever shrewd and clever, Stoney put up a tremendous fight. 
Obviously, Mary won the battle. Without explaining all,  it has to be said that the law has certainly turned somewhat today, with men having more trouble fighting for their children than mothers. Mary's fight was unprecedented and she certainly paved the way for the future.
The author does a great job of interweaving the facts of history with a narrative that keeps the reader's interest and enthusiasm. While there are a lot of history facts to keep the history buffs interested, the narrative is smooth enough for people like me, who simply enjoy a good read.
While the ending wasn't quite as shebang as I'd have liked, it has to be remembered that this is a true story and on the whole, given the circumstances, the best ending that could have been hoped for.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Why: This was much better than I had anticipated for a non-fiction book, definitely making me re-think my fiction only rule. Obviously the subject was one of interest for me which helped tremendously, but the beautifully written narrative, while peppered with historical facts, allows the story to flow seamlessly. However, unfortunately for me, I'm still not convinced I'm ready to become a history buff!
Recommendations: The TV Book Club Best Read, sponsored by Specsavers, Channel 4 and More 4.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Someone Knows My Name

I confess this was not my choice of book. As a child, I had endless hours to spend perusing the bookshelves of my local bookstore, but as a (supposed) grown-up, I rely on either media hype or recommendations from friends. 
As I had been the one to come up with the idea that my transatlantic friend and I should read a book together for discussion in an attempt to reduce the miles between us, I let her choose the book. 
Initially I thought, hmm. Mainly because I hate reading books where there's a possibility I might cry, but this was a prime example of one of those books that could easily have passed me by and I'm so glad it didn't.
While a work of fiction, the story is interwoven with slightly altered facts in order for them to enhance and fit in with the author's narrative, giving it the weight it deserves.
The book is told from the standpoint of Aminata Diallo, who is stolen from her native Africa and sold into the slave trade at the tender age of 11. A horrendous boat trip takes her to America where she resides for many years before finally earning her supposed freedom by moving onto Nova Scotia, then back to her homeland or Sierra Leone as it is by this stage known; and finally to England. Aminata or Meena as she becomes known, has both intelligence and the privilege of parents who taught her to read and write. A rarity among the slaves, this helps Meena on her travels, giving her many opportunities for a slightly easier life than that experienced by the other slaves. This both serves to highlight the gross treatment of the slaves as lesser mortals and the disadvantages they faced in their adversities and shows just what they might have achieved, had they had the opportunities.
Meena's story is heartbreaking involving long separations from her husband and children, with many ties broken along the way. She is blessed to meet a much needed companion along each of her travels, who are able to help her and provide her some comfort in the hard life that she lives.
As I said this is a work of fiction, but the author does a marvellous job of bring Meena to life and I literally kept having to check the back of the book to confirm that she wasn't a real person. Her beauty, intelligence, wonderful spirit and luminosity glows throughout, quickly sucking the reader in and making you feel as if you are listening to an old friend.
At times raw and painful, there are also moments of great beauty and love. The amazing Aminata leads a life she doesn't deserve but I'm glad that in the end, she receives the love, care and devotion she deserves.
I would thoroughly recommend this book and it is certainly proof that you shouldn't just stick to the genre's you prefer, that there are gems out there that you could easily miss.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Why: A beautiful yet horrific story that fully brings to life the tale of a slave. Torn from her home and loved ones, Aminata continually shines and survives the many atrocities and adversaries she faces. Despite her treatment and hardships, she shows just how beautiful the human spirit can be. A fictional character who worthily represents the real victims of slavery, and who ultimately shows the true worth of those forced into slavery, by triumphing over her supposed superior captors.
Awards: Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize