Monday, 30 March 2009

Chasing Windmills

Title: Chasing Windmills

Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Number of pages: 385

Started: 28 March 2009

Finished: 30 March 2009

Opening words:

This is the part that's going to be hard to explain: How can I tell you why two people who were afraid of everything-other people, open places, noise, confusion, life itself – wound up riding the subways alone under Manhattan late at night?

Plot summary:

Catherine Ryan Hyde, bestselling author of Pay It Forward, returns with a provocative tour de force on first love—a modern-day rendering of West Side Story born on a New York City subway car and nurtured under the windmills of the Mojave Desert.

The subway doors open and close, and in one moment Sebastian’s and Maria’s lives are changed forever. Rendered in Catherine Ryan Hyde’s stirring and evocative prose, CHASING WINDMILLS is a poignant love story that will leave you yearning for a subway ride that is a fraction as enchanting.
Letting go becomes the purest expression of love in this extraordinary novel by the bestselling author of Pay It Forward, Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Both Sebastian and Maria live in a world ruled by fear. Sebastian, a lonely seventeen-year-old, is suffocating under his dominant father’s control. In the ten years since his mother passed away, his father has kept him “safe” by barely allowing him out of their apartment. Sebastian’s secret late-night subway rides are rare acts of rebellion. another is a concealed friendship with his neighbor Delilah, who encourages him to question his father’s version of reality. Soon it becomes unclear whether even his mother’s death was a lie.

Maria, a young mother of two, is trying to keep peace at home despite her boyfriend’s abuse. When she loses her job, she avoids telling him by riding the subways during her usual late-night shift. She knows her sister, Stella, is right: She needs to “live in the truth” and let the chips fall where they may. But she still hasn’t been able to bring herself to do it. And soon he will expect her paycheck to arrive.

When Sebastian and Maria wind up on the same train, their eyes meet across the subway car, and these two strangers find a connection that neither can explain or ignore. Together they dream of a new future, agreeing to run away and find Sebastian’s grandmother in the Mojave Desert. But Maria doesn’t know Sebastian is only seventeen. And Sebastian doesn’t know Maria has children until the moment they leave. Ultimately, Maria brings one child, her daughter. Can she really leave her little boy behind? And, if not, what will it cost her to face her furious jilted abuser?

In this tremendously moving novel, Catherine Ryan Hyde shows us how two people trapped by life’s circumstances can break free and find a place in the world where love is genuine and selfless.
Summary taken from Random House.

See Catherine Ryan Hyde’s website here.

What I thought:

One of the things that I like about Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book is the innocence that underlies them and the characters. Those elements existed in this book, but not to the degree that I have seen in her other books. I felt it lacked some of the charm of her other books and therefore lacked one of the key ingredients for me. It was ok, but nothing more than that.

Friday, 27 March 2009

The Passion

Title: The Passion

Author: Jeanette Winterson

Number of pages: 160

Started: 25 March 2009

Finished: 27 March 2009

Opening words:

It was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock. What a kitchen that was, with birds in every state of undress; some still cold and slung over hooks, some turning slowly on the spit, but most in wasted piles because the Emperor was busy.
Odd to be so governed by an appetite.
It was my first commission. I started as a neck wringer and before long I was the one who carried the platter through inches of mud to his tent. He liked me because I am short. I flatter myself. He did not dislike me. He liked no one except Josephine and he liked her the way he liked chicken.
No one over five foot two ever waited on the Emperor. He kept small servants and large horses. The horse he loved was seventeen hands high with a tail that could wrap round a man three times and still make a wig for his mistress. That horse had the evil eye and there's been almost as many dead groom sin the stable as chickens on the table. The ones the beast didn't kill itself with an easy kick, its master had disposed of because its coat didn't shine or the bit was green.

Plot summary:

This is the story of Henri, a young Frenchman sent to fight in the Napoleonic wars. It is the story of Villanelle, a cross-dressing Venetian woman, born with webbed feet. There are four sections: The Emperor. The Queen of Spades. The Zero Winter. The Rock. Told in the first-person, The Emperor is Henri's narrative, while The Queen of Spades belongs to Villanelle. The pair meet in Russia in The Zero Winter. From then the narratives switch and intertwine.

The Passion isn't an historical novel. It uses history as invented space. The Passion is set in a world where the miraculous and the everyday collide. Villanelle can walk on water. The woman she loves steals her heart and hides it in a jar. This is the city of mazes. You may meet an old woman in a doorway. She will tell your fortune depending on your face. The Passion is about war, and the private acts that stand against war. It's about survival and broken-heartedness, and cruelty and madness.

What you risk reveals what you value.

Meet Patrick, the drunken Irish look-out whose left eye can see for 20 miles. Ride out with Domino, Napoleon's midget groom. Travel to Venice and be seduced by a mysterious and beautiful woman. Find your own disguise and wear it.

Summary taken from Jeanette Winterson’s website.

What I thought:

I have to say I was not a huge fan of this book. It was an ok read, but I found the switching narrative broke the flow of the book and I didn’t really get into the story very well. I much preferred “Oranges are not the only fruit” but this book was a totally different style and a bit too odd for my liking.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Lady Vanishes

Title: The Lady Vanishes

Author: Ethel Lina White

Number of pages: 192

Started: 22 March 2009

Finished: 24 March 2009

Opening words:

The day before the disaster, Iris Carr had her first premonition of danger. She was used to the protection of a crowd, whom -- with unconscious flattery -- she called "her friends." An attractive orphan of independent means, she had been surrounded always with clumps of people. They thought for her -- or rather, she accepted their opinions, and they shouted for her -- since her voice was rather too low in register, for mass social intercourse.

Read the first chapter here under its original name “The Wheel Spins”.

Plot summary:

Iris Carr, an English girl holidaying in the pre-war Balkans, becomes friendly with Miss Froy, to all appearances an innocent, middle-aged governess. Returning to England, Miss Froy disappears, and a doctor convinces Iris that she is suffering from hallucinations.

What I thought:

This book was ok. Nothing outstanding about it, but perfectly readable and a light diversion.

Sunday, 22 March 2009


Title: Frankenstein

Author: Mary Shelley

Number of pages: 352

Started: 19 March 2009

Finished: 22 March 2009

Opening words:

From the Preface

The event on which this fiction is founded has been supposed, by Dr. Darwin, and some of the physiological writers of Germany, as not of impossible occurrence. I shall not be supposed as according the remotest degree of serious faith to such an imagination; yet, in assuming it as the basis of a work of fancy, I have not considered myself as merely weaving a series of supernatural terrors. The event on which the interest of the story depends is exempt from the disadvantages of a mere tale of spectres or enchantment. It was recommended by the novelty of the situations which it develops; and, however impossible as a physical fact, affords a point of view to the imagination for the delineating of human passions more comprehensive and commanding than any which the ordinary relations of existing events can yield.

Plot summary:

Obsessed by creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life by electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear. Mary Shelley's chilling gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley near Byron's villa on Lake Geneva. It would become the world's most famous work of horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits of human creativity.

What I thought:

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was a good plot and very readable. I am not a fan of Frankenstein type films, but I enjoyed reading this book with its slightly melodramatic elements and well paced eerie plot.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


Title: Surfacing

Author: Margaret Atwood

Number of pages: 186

Started: 14 March 2009

Finished: 18 March 2009

Opening words:

I can't believe I am on this road again, twisting along past the lake where the white birches are dying, the disease is spreading up from the south, and I notice they now have seaplanes for hire. But this is still near the city limits; we didn't go through, it's swelled enough to have a bypass, that's success.

Plot summary:

Part detective novel, part psychological thriller, Surfacing is the story of a talented woman artist who goes in search of her missing father on a remote island in northern Quebec. Setting out with her lover and another young couple, she soon finds herself captivated by the isolated setting, where a marriage begins to fall apart, violence and death lurk just beneath the surface, and sex becomes a catalyst for conflict and dangerous choices. Surfacing is a work permeated with an aura of suspense, complex with layered meanings, and written in brilliant, diamond-sharp prose. Here is a rich mine of ideas from an extraordinary writer about contemporary life and nature, families and marriage, and about women fragmented...and becoming whole.

What I thought:

I always have mixed views about Margaret Atwood’s books. Of her books, this is probably the one that I have enjoyed the most. I thought it was a good read and I enjoyed the plot and the way it was written. Some of the reviews that I have read about it don’t really seem to fit with what actually happened in the book, but I can see that this might not be ideal reading as an assigned text at school and had I read it then I don’t think I would have liked it.

So all in all I thought it was a good book and has made me feel that it might be worth persevering with her books a bit longer. It does have a weird ending though...

Friday, 13 March 2009

The Age of Innocence

Title: The Age of Innocence

Author: Edith Wharton

Number of pages: 298

Started: 7 March 2009

Finished: 13 March 2009

Opening words:

On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.

Though there was already talk of the erection, in remote metropolitan distances “above the Forties,” of a new Opera House which should compete in costliness and splendour with those of the great European capitals, the world of fashion was still content to reassemble every winter in the shabby red and gold boxes of the sociable old Academy. Conservatives cherished it for being small and inconvenient, and thus keeping out the “new people” whom New York was beginning to dread and yet be drawn to; and the sentimental clung to it for its historic associations, and the musical for its excellent acoustics, always so problematic a quality in halls built for the hearing of music.

Read the whole book here

Plot summary:

The return of the beautiful Countess Olenska into the rigidly conventional society of New York sends reverberations throughout the upper reaches of society. Newland Archer, an eligible young man of the establishment is about to announce his engagement to May Welland, when May's cousin, Countess Olenska, is introduced into their circle. The Countess brings with her an aura of European sophistication and a hint of scandal, having left her husband and claimed her independence. Her sorrowful eyes, her tragic worldliness and her air of unapproachability attract the sensitive Newland and, almost against their will, a passionate bond develops between them. But Archer's life has no place for passion and, with society on the side of May and all she stands for, he finds himself drawn into a bitter conflict between love and duty.

What I thought:

This really was not my type of book. This book won the Pulitzer Prize when it was published and is a well written book, but I just cannot really find much appeal in this sort of literature.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Under the Skin

Title: Under the Skin

Author: Michel Faber

Number of pages: 296

Started: 3 March 2009

Finished: 6 March 2009

Opening words:

"Isserley always drove straight past a hitch-hiker when she first saw him, to give herself time to size him up. She was looking for big muscles: a hunk on legs. Puny, scrawny specimens were no use to her."

Plot summary:

A lone female scouts the Scottish Highlands in search of well-proportioned men and the reader is given to expect the unfolding of some latter-day psychosexual drama. But commonplace expectation is no guide for this strange and deeply unsettling book; small details at first, then more major clues, suggest that something deeply bizarre is afoot. What are the reason's for Isserley's extensive surgical scarring, her thick glasses (which are just glass), her excruciating backache? Who are the solitary few who work on the farm where her cottage is located? And why are they all nervous about the arrival of someone called Amlis Vess?
The ensuing narrative is one of such cumulative, compelling strangeness that it almost defies description--the one thing that can be said with certainty is that Under The Skin is unlike anything else you have ever read. The result is a narrative of enormous imaginative and emotional coherence from a writer whose control of his medium is nearly flawless and who applies the rules of psychological realism to a fictional world that is terrifying and unearthly to the point that the reader's identification with Isserley becomes one of absolute sympathy.

What I thought:

This book was ok, but not one that I really enjoyed. I didn’t really get into this book, although it was well written and was perfectly readable. It had an element of sadness and gruesomeness and curiosity to it, but somehow it never really quite intrigued me enough to really engage me.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Title: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Author: Winifred Watson

Number of pages: 256

Started: 28 February 2009

Finished: 3 March 2009

Opening words:

9.15 a.m. - 11.11 a.m.
MISS PETTIGREW pushed open the door of the employment agency and went in as the clock struck a quarter past nine. She had, as usual, very little hope, but to-day the Principal greeted her with a more cheerful smile.
'Ah! Miss Pettigrew. I think we have something for you to-day. Two came in when I had left last night. Now let me see. Ah yes! Mrs. Hilary, maid. Miss LaFosse, nursery governess. Hmn! You'd have thought it was the other way round. But there! I expect she's an aunt with an adopted orphan niece, or something.'
She gave Miss Pettigrew particulars.
'There you are then. Miss LaFosse, 5, Onslow Mansions. The appointment is for ten sharp this morning. You'll make it nicely.'
'Oh thank you,' Miss Pettigrew said weakly, nearly fainting with relief. She clutched the card of particulars firmly in her hand. 'I'd nearly given up hope. Not many of my kind of post these days.'
'Not many,' agreed Miss Holt, and, as the door closed behind Miss Pettigrew, 'I hope that's the last I see of her,' thought Miss Holt.
Outside on the pavement Miss Pettigrew shivered slightly. It was a cold, grey, foggy November day with a drizzle of rain in the air. Her coat, of a nondescript, ugly brown, was not very thick It was five years old London traffic roared about her. Pedestrians hastened to reach their destinations and get out of the depressing atmosphere as quickly as possible. Miss Pettigrew joined the throng, a middle-aged, rather angular lady, of medium height, thin through lack of good food, with a timid, defeated expression and terror quite discernible in her eyes, if any one cared to look. But there was no personal friend or relation in the whole world who knew or cared whether Miss Pettigrew was alive or dead.

Plot summary:

Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, a gentlewoman spinster approaching middle-age has been working as a governess to make ends meet, but a succession of appalling employers has left her down-trodden. Then one morning, owing to a mix-up at her employment agency, she is sent for an interview with a Miss LaFosse, a glamorous but dissolute cabaret artiste, who is seeking a new maid. Despite the moral and social gulfs between them, a surprising bond is formed, and by the end of the day, both their lives have been entirely transformed.

Synopsis taken from Amazon

What I thought:

This is a light-hearted and readable book. It did take me a bit of time to get into it but by the end I was smiling at the outcome. A pleasant read.