Hello everyone! It's the seventh of the month and that means it's BGR time! Joining me this month are AJ from Writer's Block and Broken Lenses and Maria from Frills n Spills.
AJ picked The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson:
Practically everyone I know has told me how amazing The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared is. I'm yet to get around to reading it but found Jonas Jonasson's second book while having my usual book browse and decided I needed it in my life. Unfortunately I was disappointed. The book started out well, it was funny, interesting and the mix of narratives made it easy to read but eventually it became a struggle. The pace slowed and I ended up losing all faith in the characters.
I'm probably the only one who didn't like it but I'm not going to let it put me off reading The One Hundred Year Old Man. It's next on my reading list!
Did Maria enjoy it any more?
This was probably the book I was looking forward to the most, so many people had recommended the author and I loved the cover so much that I kept picking it whenever I was in a bookshop.
The numerous good reviews also boded well but once I read it, I felt a little flat. I enjoyed the story and the characters in it were very well observed (especially Nombeko) but it all felt a bit too contrived for my liking. Everything was just so twee and whilst I usually enjoy that, this book was trying too hard to be charming for my liking. I know this may be an unpopular opinion but I just wasn't convinced...
I know you shouldn't prejudge books but urghhh, I was not looking forward to this one. Jonasson's previous novel, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, was picked for BGR a while ago and I did not enjoy it. In fact, time has only made it seem more annoying in my memory. You should have seen the eye rolling I did when the trailer for the film came on last time I was at the cinema. But I digress! Stop being all prejudiced and try reading the flipping book, I hear you shout...
So I did. It's worse than the first one. I might have been prejudiced but in this case at least I was proved right to be! This book drags on and on and on. Vaguely amusing to start off with but it rapidly becomes irritating and then it never seems to end! You're stuck with these tedious, unengaging characters for an eternity. I was so happy to finally finish it and get on with reading the other two choices.
Well, nobody enjoyed that one! Did we fare better with my choice, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman?
I don't think I've ever been disappointed by a Neil Gaiman book. He's endlessly imaginative with all sorts of books for different ages and in different genres. My fantasy preference does tend to lean towards worlds where everything seems quite normal but it quickly becomes obvious that things are actually very odd indeed and that's probably why I like this book so much. Our unnamed narrator returns to the area he grew up in, following a funeral, and visits the Hempstock's farm. We then dive back in time with his memories to when he was seven years old and living in a old house down the lane from the farm. Very odd things happened. (I'm not going to spoil it by describing them)
The plot is an eery, disturbing, evocative joy of a thing and, unsurprisingly, it packs a punch. I reread this for BGR and the emotional impact was probably even stronger second time round. There's a very strong sense of threat running throughout this book and it doesn't always come from the obviously monstrous characters, which just makes it all the more menacing. You end up feeling desperately sorry for the narrator throughout the story and I don't know about anyone else but I feel desperately sad for him at the end of the book too. The way things are wrapped up is a little ambiguous but that works perfectly for a book that's all about perceptions of memory and truth.
What did AJ think of it?
Neil Gaiman never fails to amaze me. Every time I pick up one if his books I just get completely lost in it and with the Ocean at the End of the Lane it was no different. I was hooked from the moment I read 'for Amanda who wanted to know' (Amanda Palmer is his wife and my idol). This is one of those books when I was genuinely devastated when it ended. Not because I didn't like the ending but because I craved more. I wanted to know what came next in the life of our unnamed character god damn it!
The story is an adult's recollection of his seven year old self and brings into question what we truly remember from our childhood and whether what we think are memories are simply a fantasy that we cling on to. Gaiman once again wove together fantasy and 'reality' that at times I thought there was some element of his personal life and some of the more imaginative moments actually frightened me. I recommend this book to everyone, I made my boyfriend (who 'doesn't read' - weirdo) read it and even he finished it in a day and a half!
How about Maria?
I have never read any Neil Gaiman so I was really keen to get stuck into Alex's pick. I found this a little slow to start but I soon got pulled into the story and drawn along by the the narration. The story was quite dark in parts and I had to stop reading for a while as the themes of isolation and panic really upset and unsettled me (not ideal just before bed!)
This really reminded me of the series by Garth Nix (Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen) which I also really loved, especially with the more mystical elements. I found the ending unsatisfying but that was merely because I wanted it to carry on!
Maria selected Pompeii by Robert Harris:
You may not realise this but I am a massive fan of historical fiction and Pompeii is one of my favourite books. Robert Harris writes masterfully and is one of the best historical fiction writers out there. (Can you tell I have a little bit of a crush?!)
Marcus Attilius Primus arrives in the Bay of Naples from Rome to take charge as aquarius of the Aqua Augusta, the aqueduct that supplies water to the many towns in a region encompassing the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. Attilius' predecessor has mysteriously vanished as the springs that flow through the aqueduct begin to fail, then, dramatically, the flow of water stops entirely. Attilius concludes that the aqueduct must be blocked somewhere close to Mount Vesuvius and sets out to investigate…
Everyone knows how the story of Pompeii ends, and this book is deliciously tense throughout as you wait for the fatal explosion to start. I quickly became attached to the main characters and if you're anything like me you will spend chunks of the book shouting 'get out of there!'
I studied Classics for my degree but I will always remember the day that this book saved me in a Classics exam at college when writing about aqueducts- thanks Robert! Definitely recommended if you are even slightly interested in history or the ancient world especially as you can pick up copies for next to nothing in your charity shop.
Well, unlike the King of Sweden book, I went into this one with a pleasant sense of anticipation as I love books set in Roman times (especially the Falco series). Then the first few pages were all about aqueducts and I was all "Huhhhh??" All credit to Robert Harris though! He actually makes aqueducts interesting and it's really not long before you're entirely swept up into this brilliant historical tale. It doesn't matter a jot that you know what's going to happen (spoiler alert: volcano) and in fact that probably helps add to the breathless air of anticipation that imbues the entire book. You know most of the characters are doomed but you're desperate for some of them to escape!
The only thing I was unsure about at the time was the chapter headings as they're taken from modern books about volcanology. In one way they work because they explain the stages of what's happening. In another way they really don't work because they're a jarring fit with the historical setting. I still think it would have been better without them but it's a minor quibble. This book is excellent and I thoroughly recommend everyone to grab themselves a copy.
What did AJ think of it?
I LOVED this book. It's not something I would usually pick up and I don't think I have ever read anything by Harris before so I picked up this book with a completely open mind as I couldn't think of anything to compare it to. Throughout the whole book I felt like I was on the edge of my seat as there is constant tension and anticipation. Kind of like watching a really awesome movie. At first I was unsure about our lead narrator but he grew on me especially through the various narratives weaving in with his whole story line.
Based on a true historical event, I also ended up learning a lot about Pompeii because I kept having to put the book down to Google things and learn more. Harris' mixture between his own story and historical fact make it seem as though you're seeing the disaster through your own eyes, as clichéd as that sounds!
Thank you ever so much to AJ and Maria. Hopefully we all enjoyed ourselves overall, despite having to read one stinker!
I'll be back next month with two new participants and we'll be reading Charlotte's Web by E.B White, Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden and Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G Wodehouse.