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American Literature Month: Flash Reviews from the Archives

A series of flash reviews of American Literature seems a fitting interlude to post amongst the extensive reviews of late.  These have all been posted on the blog over the last couple of years.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner ****
I adore the Deep South as a setting and am wondering why, after finishing this stunning novel, I’ve not read any of Faulkner’s work before.  I adored the differing perspectives throughout, and the way in which each and every one of them was so marvellously distinct.  The story is such an absorbing one, and I love the idea of it – a family waiting for and commenting upon the death of one of their members.  Faulkner’s differing prose techniques in use in As I Lay Dying are wonderful, and show that as a writer, he is incredibly skilled.  Terribly sad on the whole and very cleverly constructed.

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Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann ***
I have read some absolutely marvellous reviews of this novel, and couldn’t wait to begin it.  The prologue of Let The Great World Spin is visually stunning and well thought out.  If only the rest of the book had been the same!  I enjoyed the author’s writing on the whole – some of his descriptions, for example, are sumptuous – but my stumbling block came with the characters.  They were interesting enough on the whole, but they were all so broken, often by alcohol and drugs.  Because of this, no distinct characters stood out for me, and I found it difficult to empathise with any of them in consequence.  An interesting novel, but a little disappointing by all accounts.

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Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan ****
Summer days warrant these witty, fun reads for me.  The books which Cohn and Levithan write are not your usual teen fare.  Rather than being fluffy, simply written and overly predictable (sorry, Sara Dessen, but I’m looking at you), their tales are smart, well constructed, intelligent in their prose and rather unique in terms of the cast of characters they create.  Yes, I suppose that there was an element of predictability here with regard to the ending, but the entire story was so well wrought that it really didn’t matter.  The characters are all marvellous, with perhaps the exclusion of Naomi, whom I found to be an incredibly difficult protagonist to get along with.  I loved the way in which Cohn and Levithan tackled serious issues – the rocky road of teen friendships, homosexuality, trying desperately to conform with peers, and so on.  Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List is a great book, and one which I struggled to put down.

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Children on Their Birthdays by Truman Capote *****
As with the delightful Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I got straight into these stories from the outset. I love the stunning sense of place which Capote never fails to create, and his characters are both marvellously and deftly constructed. His writing is just perfect. The tales in Children on Their Birthdays are short, but boy, are they powerful and thought provoking.

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A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams *****
Williams portrays relationships, even the most complicated, in a masterful manner. I love the way in which he writes. His characterisation is second to none, and he gives one so much to admire in each scene, each act. The characters were all fundamentally troubled souls, each imperfect in his or her own way, but they worked so well as a cast, and Blanche Du Bois is eternally endearing. Williams’ dialogue is pitch perfect. An absolutely marvellous, perceptive, strong and unforgettable play, and one which I’m now longing to see performed.

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Sunday Snapshot: Christmas Reads

Although I am scheduling this post rather far in advance, Christmas will be almost here by the time this is posted, so I thought it would be a good idea to post a list of marvellous Christmas reads.  All of these are ones which I have very much enjoyed, and which I will be sure to be re-reading this year.

1. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan *****
2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss *****
3. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien ****
4. The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet Ahlberg *****
5. The Book of Christmas by Jane Struthers ****
6. Dickens at Christmas ****
7. The Virago Book of Christmas, edited by Michelle Lovric *****
8. Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm and Other Stories by Stella Gibbons ****
9. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas ****
10. Madeline’s Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans *****

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Flash Reviews (20th September 2013)

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel ***
I really enjoyed Life of Pi and was interested to see how it compared to Martel’s other work.  Beatrice and Virgil certainly follows a similar structure – a protagonist takes a journey (this one is mainly metaphorical) with a couple of animals who have human names (and who are given voices here by way of a play written by a taxidermist), and who muses about life along the way.  There is quite an autobiographical feel to the story, and it was rather clever at times.  I liked the use of different narrative techniques throughout, but some of the sections of the taxidermist’s play seemed a little long and far too drawn out.  Beatrice and Virgil is a very sad book on the whole, and its odd ending makes the entirety feel rather disjointed, which is a real shame.

Our Little Finnish Cousin by Clara Vostrovsky Winlow ***
I downloaded this on my Kindle on a whim before I went away, merely because it sounded cute.  Finland is the only Scandinavian country which I’ve not visited as yet and I’m longing to go there, so my interest in the title was peaked,  I think the sense of place which Winlow captured here was lovely, and the book is rather educational for its intended child audience, both geographically and in terms of the culture it portrays.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan ****
I have wanted to read Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist for such a long time, ever since I watched the rather sweet film adaptation with my boyfriend.  I started reading it on the plane over to Menorca, and had to read it in secret on my Kindle during our landing (naughty, I know) when the air hostesses came around, because I couldn’t bear to put it down.  Having seen the film, I knew what was going to happen, but the getting there was the best bit.  There is perhaps a little too much swearing in the book, whereby it is used for the sake of it and for no real narrative effect, and it certainly shouldn’t be marketed as a children’s book, but it is very sweet on the whole, and rather amusing at times.

French Leave by Anna Gavalda ****
I have been wanting to read Gavalda’s work for what seems like an age.  I wasn’t expecting such a contemporary novel, but I very much enjoyed it.  The characters and their differences were drawn very well, as was the French countryside and the relationships between the Loriat siblings.  The novel is rather a short one really, but I imagine that it is a great way to become acquainted with Gavalda’s writing style.

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Flash Reviews (6th September 2013)

Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan ****
Summer days warrant these witty, fun reads for me.  The books which Cohn and Levithan write are not your usual teen fare.  Rather than being fluffy, simply written and overly predictable (sorry, Sara Dessen, but I’m looking at you), their tales are smart, well constructed, intelligent in their prose and rather unique in terms of the cast of characters they create.  Yes, I suppose that there was an element of predictability here with regard to the ending, but the entire story was so well wrought that it really didn’t matter.  The characters are all marvellous, with perhaps the exclusion of Naomi, whom I found to be an incredibly difficult protagonist to get along with.  I loved the way in which Cohn and Levithan tackled serious issues – the rocky road of teen friendships, homosexuality, trying desperately to conform with peers, and so on.  Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List is a great book, and one which I struggled to put down.

The View From Castle Rock by Alice Munro ***
The View From Castle Rock is ultimately disappointing, particularly in comparison to Munro’s other short stories, which are tiny masterpieces in themselves.  I liked the way in which she wove in her family history, but I simultaneously felt as though it bogged down the tales somewhat, making them rather stolid and plodding in consequence.  The strongest tales here were certainly those written using the first person perspective.  The others I felt incredibly detached from.

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 1 by Joseph Gordon-Levitt *****
I found this gorgeous little book in the Book and Comic Exchange in Notting Hill last year, and read it on the train on the way home in one delicious gulp.  It has been my ‘go to’ book for when I feel unwell or just need a breather from more serious literature.  I was feeling a little under the weather near to the end of August, and my boyfriend read this book to me in its entirety in the hope that it would make me feel better.  It did.  It is stunning, both in terms of the words and lovely illustrations.  I’ve upgraded my rating from my previous four to five stars, because this book is a real treasure.

A Midsummer Tights Dream by Louise Rennison ***
I only purchased this because I so enjoyed the Georgia Nicolson series.  I’m fully aware that I’m far too old for such a book.  Also, let’s face it – the title is rather good as far as puns go.  It is silly frivolous teen fiction, just as I expected it would be.  Tallulah, the protagonist of this volume, does not have the same charisma or silliness which her ‘cousin’ Georgia has, and some of the language which the teens use throughout feels rather outdated.  A Midsummer Tights Dream is rather a fun, quick read, but it would have made far more sense had I read the prequel beforehand.