Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell – 9/10

I am writing this review 10 months after reading the book, so bear with me if some of it is a big vague!
“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”
E&P
Eleanor knows what it’s like to be the outsider. Big red hair is just the first of her problems. When Park shows her a moment of kindness on the school bus, she finds a soulmate. This is the story of two misfits just trying to get by in the world.
It’s no secret that I loved Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments, and I also read Fangirl this year. Part of what I love about Rowell’s writing is the effortless humour – it’s real, unaffected. I found the main characters a little unrelateable to be honest – they were such misfits that it was quite tricky to identify with them. That said, they are very sympathetic and pleasant characters to spend time with, and certainly vivid creations of Rowell’s. The relationship between them is built up very gently and slowly, which really suited them – they are both a bit quiet and not wanting to upset any kind of status quo.
The side characters are in a sense more one-dimensional which is all they needed to be – Eleanor’s mother is a victim, her stepfather is abusive, Park’s father is a bit distant and doesn’t really understand his son… all of them provide the necessary conflict for our main characters. I found Eleanor’s mother quite frustrating in her inability to perceive the abuse going on around her, but perhaps (my knowledge of domestic abuse is thankfully non-existent!) this is actually an accurate portrayal of a typical abuse victim.
Rowell manages to touch on a lot of topics in her books – this one includes not only the travails of being a teenager, and a misfit one at that, but also domestic abuse, gender identification, poverty, family conflict, comics and music (particularly of the 80s). This was actually pretty dark (or certainly darker than I was expecting) and doesn’t have the fairytale ending you sort of expect of YA books these days. I think it was really interesting that Rowell chose to set the story before the internet and mobile phones. Whether that enables her to draw on her teenage years more easily, or whether it facilitates a certain set of conditions she wants to explore, I’m not sure.
The setting is unremarkable – it’s not crucial to the story, it’s just a town in the middle of somewhere. All school buses and classrooms are equally cruel.
Personally I thought Attachments was better in some ways, and definitely more approachable for an office-resident adult, but this is a bigger, wider-ranging, more serious work – and I’ve failed to convey just how good it is in this review!
Other reviews: Semicolon, Book’d Out
Additional information
Copy borrowed from Mini-Me, who read it the same week. 
Publisher: Orion Books, 336 pages (paperback)
Order Eleanor & Park from Amazon*,Waterstones or Foyles
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Mini-reviews: Strings Attached and Bellman & Black

strings attached

Strings Attached – Joanne Lipman & Melanie Kupchynsky – 6/10

“Mr K had achieved the impossible: he had made us better than we had any right to be.”

A memoir after a fashion – Joanne and Melanie learnt violin from Melanie’s father, the fabled Mr. K. Famous as an incredibly tough but motivational teacher in their New Jersey school district. The writers alternate chapters, and it’s also partly a family memoir for Melanie, writing about her invalid mother and missing sister.

Coming from a half-musical, half-education background, I found a lot of the material about Mr K’s enthusiasm and teaching styles and musical tuition really interesting. I was less interested in the stories of growing up and school awkwardness and actually the storyline of Melanie’s missing sister (a heartbreaking story and I know why it was included, but it felt like an incongruous addition).

bellman and black

Bellman & Black – Diane Setterfield – 7/10

Another e-book that spent a year unreviewed. See a theme here? Also I should start with a note – I am not a fan of supernatural storylines. And I did really enjoy another of Setterfield’s novels, The Thirteenth Tale, though there was a strong homage tone there.

William Bellman kills a rook with a catapult at the age of 11, and for years it seems to bring him good luck. Slowly his wonderful life is eroded and he spends more and more of his time at funerals, where he always sees a ghostly stranger. The stranger has a business proposition for him…

This reminded me very much of another book, and I cannot think which one it is (I think it’s a Philippa Gregory one?), in which the women are very conscious of the circle of fortune – sometimes a family is at the top, and sometimes at the bottom.

Really well written, though like Life After Life, could have done with some of the chapters having been cut down. I wasn’t a fan of the supernatural aspect and in fact found the non-resolution of it quite frustrating. But, it didn’t bother me as much as it might have.

Mini-reviews: Audacity of Hope and Life After Life

audacity of hope

The Audacity of Hope – Barack Obama – 7/10

I listened to this back at the start of 2013. From what I can remember:

a good quote

– a decent primer on American politics and how it works

– a reading voice (the author) I would happily listen to for hours

– a distinctly non-pompous, “everyman” tone

– surprising honesty about personality types (introversion/extraversion) and the difficulties of sharing childcare responsibilities

I’d definitely recommend it. I’m now reading Dreams from my Father.

life after life

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson – 7/10

Ursula is stillborn. Ursula is born again and dies falling from a high window. Ursula is born again and finds her way into an abusive relationship. Every time, Ursula dies and is reborn, given a slightly different chance in life.

This is one of those books I would rather have read in print rather than as an ebook. I didn’t have a sense of the progression of the story because I didn’t have a sense of the physical progression through the book.

I loved When Will There Be Good News, the only other Kate Atkinson I’ve read. Life After Life is very well written, though some of the storylines were distinctly less enthralling than others (could have done with a stronger edit). Some of them were very interesting and unexpected. Good characters, interesting to see the progression through time of fashions and places… Go read it.

Old mini-reviews

Some of my reviews have been outstanding since 2012, to the point where I can’t remember very much about the books any more. So it’s time to jot down some thoughts and move on.

Also – 3 of these were NetGalley copies i.e. on the Kindle – which is how they got forgotten about for so long (and the other one I had in paperback but lent it to a friend and haven’t got it back… though I don’t really want it back). So the moral of the story is here, my friends, out of sight, out of the review chain.

little night

Little Night - Luanne Rice – 5/10

I don’t remember very much about this one at all except that it centred on domestic violence. Now that I’ve read the internet a bit to remind myself, it was more complex than that. It’s a web of family dysfunction – very pronounced characters struggling to play nicely together. It’s very New York, but apart from that nothing really stands out. Next.

last apache girl

The Last Apache Girl – Jim Fergus – 5/10

An amateur photographer signs onto the “Great Apache Expedition”, one of dozens of men hoping to free the son of a wealthy Mexican rancher kidnapped by a violent band of Apaches. A wild Apache girl is being held as counter-argument, and Ned slowly builds a relationship with her, but their relationship is doomed from the start.

Somewhat like Dances with Wolves. I don’t remember struggling to get through it, but if you’re going to read something like this, I’d stick with Dances with Wolves.

house of serenades

The House of Serenades – Lina Simoni – 6/10

Historical romance/social study set in 1910 Genoa. Romeo & Juliet after a fashion – rich girl meets poor boy, falls in love, daddy says no. Has some interesting things to say about treatment of women in that age – particularly women who we would expect to be financially independent. Don’t remember a lot about it but I did zoom through it pretty quickly – that’s always a good sign.

world without you

The World Without You – Joshua Henkin – 8/10

I actually remember really enjoying this one – it’s sentimental and tear-jerking, but in a good way. It’s the story of the family left behind when a US journalist dies in Middle Eastern conflict; how his wife struggles to interact appropriately with his grieving parents – she wants to be part of this family and give them access to their grandson, but also wants to move on. The parents are struggling in marriage and in grief. The three siblings are each fighting their own demons – including one who has embraced Orthodox Judaism and feels excluded from her family as a result. Would definitely recommend (but keep the Kleenex handy).

Flying Too High – Kerry Greenwood – 6/10

“She looked like a lewd Corinthian column. She certainly looked seductive, but Isola would have looked seductive in gunny sacks tied with old rope.”

Flying Too High
Fresh from her adventures in Cocaine Blues, Phryne Fisher is taking on more mysteries to be solved, as 1920s Melbourne’s premier investigator. In this slim volume, she has to solve a murder and catch a kidnapper, while indulging her passion for flying and moving into a more permanent residence than the Windsor Hotel.

I found this plot a bit chaotic. While it all comes together neatly at the end, the kidnapping storyline starts somewhat abruptly and it’s difficult to follow for a while. The other plotline, that of the murder, is more interesting and straightforward.

The favourite characters from the previous book are back – Phryne, Dot (who has a lot more space to blossom this time), Dr Macmillan, Bert & Cec – as well as numerous new characters, with a particular focus on the Strong Independent Woman. While I appreciate the historical significant of female lawyers who struggled to get cases in the 1920s, every now and again it does feel like Greenwood is on a bit of a campaign.

I’ll definitely keep reading this series; this was a classic second book. Not quite as good as the first, but certainly not a deterrent.

Additional info

A birthday gift from The German.
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 173 pages (paperback)
Order Flying Too High (Phryne Fisher Mysteries) from Amazon*, Waterstones or Foyles
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

The Sunday Salon – Slumpy

TSS

Really, really tired. I don’t know how I could have gone back to work this week – so I have no idea how anyone keeps working to 38 weeks of pregnancy or similar!

Have read a little bit… kept listening to Dreams from my Father, which has slid into a political bit that I’m not so interested in. Can’t quite bring myself to pick up Death on the Cherwell again (I’m about 60 pages in), even though I know I should just make a decision, either keep reading it or give up on it. And started on Steven Saylor’s Roman Blood which is ok, though a bit over-detailed for my liking. I think part of the problem with my reading at the moment is me – my concentration span is close to zero.
Other stuff this week… really not very much. I went to some classes at the hospital and the local NCT group. We played our usual pub quiz and came 3rd like we often do (no prize). I’ve watched a lot of cricket (the 4th Test match between Australia and India, endless Big Bash games…). I’m hoping to see Mockingjay Part I with a friend tonight but it depends on both of us staying awake until 8.10pm, which is in doubt.
I spilt water on my laptop just after Christmas and it seems to have mostly recovered, but some of the keys are still a bit uncooperative, like the Z key. Which means I occasionally have to remember how to type on a German keyboard setting (the easiest way to get to a Z is to change the keyboard setting to German, which switches the Y and Z from an English setting). Might have to go into work next week for an hour or so to get it fixed!

Linky stuff for Saturday

Because… why not.

Jamie has some thoughts on the Sacrificial Lamb Book – you know, the one you read after you read a brilliant book, that you know you’re not going to love. At time of writing this, I read The Patron Saint of Liars in a day yesterday and am scared to open another book because I know I won’t love it as much. So naturally I’m blogging loads and listening to The Physicist watch Transformers 4 (obviously I’m not going to watch it…)

Amanda has some thoughts on “Have Babies, Keep Reading“. It’s a bit sweary for me, but I totally agree with the sentiment. Someone please remind me of it in February when I’m losing my mind about socks.

Over at the Worm Hole there are some thoughts on planning out your reading for the month. I’ve never really managed to do this although I would like to – I’m sort of the opposite of the opinion being expressed here. What do you think?

I love to read while on public transport. Particularly something really engrossing for when I have to get in a Flying Tube of Doom (the rest of you call them aeroplanes), but a really long train ride is the best. I read the first Hunger Games book on the London to Lancaster train (2 hrs and 20 minutes, since you ask) and was barely coherent when I got off. I have relished train travel to visit Ma and Pa Physicist because it’s 4 1/2 hours of uninterrupted reading time. Particularly if I splurge on First Class – then they bring you unlimited tea as well. People don’t normally try to talk to me on planes and trains (do I give off a particularly unfriendly vibe?) – but Book Riot has some tips on how to be left alone if people often bug you while you’re trying to read.

And finally – 35 Things To Do with All Those Books. The title says it all. I am a huge fan of #8, #15 (particularly the reading nook), a little bit of #28, and #34 is standard in this house.

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