Sunday, 27 April 2008

Three short reviews

The thing with reading several books at once is that you end up finishing them at the same time and are then behind with reviews! So this is a three-in-one post.

First up, The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies.

Esther is the Welsh girl of the title, aged seventeen, she works hard on her father's farm in North Wales and in the evening in the local pub. She's dating a soldier who is constructing a POW camp in the hills behind their farm. The year is 1944. The soldier rapes Esther one night and she soon realises that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Karsten, a German soldier, is surrendering on the beaches of Normandy and enduring the hatred of his fellow captives for doing so. Also involved in the story is Captain Rotheram, a German Jew working for British Intelligence, whose current assignment is to interview Rudolph Hess. The various stories of these people become linked as we find out what happens to them as the war draws to a close.

I expected to love this book, whereas in fact I only 'liked' it. The Welsh setting and details of farming life in the 1940s were fascinating. The strength of Welsh nationalism surprised me, the English really were hated, even during the war. The story of Karsten was equally interesting, his background and feelings about the war were revealing. What I couldn't work out was what all the Rudolph Hess stuff was for. Yes, it was quite interesting but I couldn't see the real point of it where the plot was concerned. No matter, an entertaining read where I learnt a fair bit, but not a keeper, not even for that gorgeous cover.

Next up, Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman.

This one came from the library. I'm slowly reading a few books by an author that I can never really decide whether I'm a fan of or not. I was so-so about Stardust, liked Good Omens, enjoyed the anthology, Smoke and Mirrors, and I quite enjoyed Fragile Things. Gaiman never does the expected and I like that.

I'd already read A Study in Emerald several times but after that the stories I enjoyed most were, October in the Chair where the various months of the year sit around and tell each other stories in a competitive manner; Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire (think I got all of that)... a nice little reverse reality sort of story; Keepsakes and Treasures, quite a hard hitting story about a criminal and the boss who owns him and what has to be done to keep the boss happy; The Problem of Susan, which is a fascinating story about what happened to Susan at the end of the Narnia books, and How to Talk to Girls, about how gate-crashing a party is not *always* a good idea (loved that one). A bit of a patchy anthology but the stories that were good were *very* good. I think probably that Smoke and Mirrors is slightly better though.

And lastly, a purely indulgent read for a day when I wasn't feeling too well, The Sea of Adventure by Enid Blyton.

This is the fourth in Blyton's 'Adventure' series that she wrote for children in the 1940s and 50s. Philip and Dinah and Jack and Lucy-Ann are recovering from a bad bout of the measles. Bill Smugs, their policeman friend, takes them off to the islands off the Scottish mainland for a sailing holiday, having been told by Philip and Dinah's mother not have another adventure. Of course they do - first of all they notice planes flying overhead and depositing large packages into the sea, then Bill is kidnapped leaving the children stranded on an island. They can either stay there and hope to be rescued or they can do something positive about their predicament. You're ahead of me I'm sure. *g*

I'm enjoying these books far too much - they're a guilty pleasure and pure nostalgia for anyone of my generation. But it's not just that, Blyton is not given due credit in my opinion for her powers of description. She conveys the wild beauty of that part of Scotland wonderfully and days after finishing the book I'm still wishing I could visit those lovely islands. A terrific comfort read.


DesLily said...

I am guessing that you forgot to list this for Carl's Challenge?? Gaiman sure is always in this challenge and it sure sounds like Blyton's Adventure series should be too!.. the cover of that one reminds me of the type of artwork I remember as a kid..for kids.

I can't remember kids books around my home at all when I was very young (but that's because my mom was divorced and working to raise 3 kids.. no left over money for non necessities!) and we didn't even have a library in our town until I was in JR. High School (middle school) but the Blyton book sure sounds like one I would have read as a kid.

Cath said...

No, I didn't forget to list it for Carls' challenge, Pat, it's just another one I'm dilly-dallying over because many of the stories are macabre, horror type stories rather than fantasy. On the other hand a few are fantasy so I'll pop over and list it in a moment.

We had very few kids books around too, being in the same situation as your family. We were very lucky in that we had a good library in the town though, plus my schools always had libraries.

Anonymous said...

Now, Cath, can we ever enjoy any book far too much? Ha! I'm glad you are taking such delight in some of your reads lately. And, also delighted that you are sharing your journey with us. Indulge to your heart's content!

monix said...

I'm so glad to hear what you say about Enid Blyton being underrated, Cath. There is an awful snobbery about her books and yet, as you say, her descriptive powers are good and I think that ANYONE who can entice children to read is a good writer. As a young teacher, I got into terrible trouble with a Government Inspector who walked into my class when I was reading something from 'The Faraway Tree' to my class of 7 year olds on a wet, Friday afternoon. Apparently, her 'black and white morality' was taboo!

I've got 'The Welsh Girl' on my TBR pile, so I look forward to comparing views when I get around to reading it - baby Amelia is taking up my reading time right now!

Ana S. said...

I think I prefer Smoke & Mirrors too, but I also love Fragile Things - and October in the Chair is one of my favourites!

The Welsh Girl sounds very interesting. I'd like to read it for the time period alone. The fact that I'm interested in Wales helps too. Thanks for the review!

Cath said...

Kay, you're right, it would be difficult to enjoy a book too much and it's so nice to have comfort reads that you know will provide you with a fun read when you most need it.

Whatever people say about Enid Blyton, Maureen, children are still reading and enjoying her books 60 years after she wrote them and not many authors can say that. I don't personally see what's wrong with a bit of black and white morality. She's also very strong on loyalty and friendship, plus a few other things we could do with a bit more of these days. My grandaughter loves her books and I expect Amelia will when she's old enough. You two will have such fun!

Nymeth, there were some superb stories in Fragile Things, Gaiman has this way of sucking you into a story and whacking you around the head with some twist or other. He's very clever.

Do you have a copy of The Welsh Girl?

Stephanie said...

Oh....I read Fragile Things last year (and Smoke and Mirrors this year). I'm a huge fan of Gaiman anyway...but his short stories are certainly the cream of the crop.

I loved Forbidden Brides and October in the Chair too!!

Cath said...

Hi Stephanie. So far, I seem to prefer Gaiman's short stories to his novels but I have The Anansi Boys on my tbr pile and my opinion may change when I've read that.

BooksPlease said...

I'm behind with reviewing books as well, sometimes I just want to get on with reading the next book. I have The Welsh Girl but I've not read it yet. I was expecting it to be really good too, but I'm glad you found it entertaining anyway.

I've read about Neil Gaiman but not read anything by him. Maybe I'll have a go.

I loved Enid Blyton as a child, but I have very few of them now.

Nan said...

It seems like we live in a time of great covers with not-so-great literature inside.

It sounds as if Blyton isn't a 'guilty' pleasure at all, just a real pleasure. Here's a wonderful quote:

There is space on everyone's bookshelves for books one has outgrown but cannot give away. They hold one's youth between their leaves, like flowers pressed on a half-forgotten summer's day.
Marion C. Garretty

Cath said...

Booksplease, I'm a bit the same in that I do sometimes just want to get on and read the next book rather than review the ones I've read. It's good discipline for me to make myself do it though as it makes me really think about what I've read.

I have very few Enid Blyton books too, none left from my childhood. The ones I have I'm collecting in my fifties! A bit bizarre really...

Nan, that's a wonderful quote! And so true.

StuckInABook said...

I flicked through Fragile Things a while ago when someone lent it to me, but wanted it back smartish. I'm sure my cover had a red leaf, though...? Enjoyable, but didn't leave me desperate for more.

Enid Blyton... I read almost nothig else as a child. Haven't read one for ages, though, and must make a return. Worth reading the biography by Barbara Stoney, too.

Cath said...

Simon: Neil Gaiman varies, imo. His anthology Smoke and Mirrors had more good stories and even there, there were stories that simply did not appeal to me at all. It's quite possible he simply might not be your thing. Yes, there is another cover available with a red leaf... not sure if it's newer or older, only that the one I read was from the library so probably older.

I am actually after that biography of Enid Blyton but haven't tracked it down at the library or in the charity shops yet. I too read a huge amount of her books as a child, basically anything I could get my hands on...