A Blogging Good Read - March

Wednesday, 9 March 2016


Hello everyone. Joining me for Blogging Good Read this month are my pal Lee who you can find on Twitter here and Becks who's on Twitter here. She hasn't blogged for aaaaages. Bring it back, I miss it!

What books did we read?

Lee went for 44 Scotland Streetby Alexander McCall Smith:


I first picked up this book as a real fan of Alexander McCall Smith's work. This is largely due to the style of his writing and the ease with which I found myself immersed in his worlds. This book was no exception, in fact it became my favourite of all the series that he has written, and when I was asked to participate in BGR, I thought it provided the perfect opportunity to revisit it.

This book is the first in the Scotland Street series, based on the lives of a group of residents based in an Edinburgh building. The story revolves around their interactions with one another, and those they engage with outside of the building. The characters are what totally make this book for me, they are such a wonderfully diverse group. I really enjoy how the author presents a fully rounded, fleshed out story for each and every one of them. He lets the reader see them, flaws and all, with humour and affection, so even the seemingly less likeable characters feel fully rounded and believable and you understand their behaviour, even if you don't agree with it.

I also really enjoy the book's depiction of Edinburgh, the city I've adopted as my home. I think it captures the spirit of the city and its residents beautifully, with a real warmth shown by the author that mirrors my own. I am happy to say I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this book, and now plan to use it as the perfect excuse to continue on with the whole of the series (some re-reads/some first time reads.)


Ahhh, this was like revisiting an old friend. Lee tipped me off to the existence of these books years ago (we even went to see a performance of this at Fringe once, high up in an attic in a decrepit Edinburgh building). I glommed all the ones that had been published at the time, then eagerly hunted for the others as they turned up in the library. It's been a few years since I picked one up though and this was a really nice return into a world that's very pleasant to dip back into. I think the fact this story was originally serialised means it's got quite a different vibe to a traditionally written story - the chapters are shorter and the plot unfolds in a subtly different way to a more standard book - but the overall impression is really soothing and fun.

My thoughts on the characters always swither a bit over time but poor Bertie always breaks my heart. I know things change as the series goes on but he's so downtrodden and angry about it here that I want to climb into the book and slap his awful mother. Grrrrr. She's only just worse than Awful Bruce. I defy anyone to read it and not want to hit both of them with a(n organic, ethically sourced) kipper.

Did Becks enjoy it?

I have to confess, I didn’t read this book for the review but that’s only because I’ve been a fan of the 44 Scotland Street series for years now. Having missed out on The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency I came a little late to the McCall Smith phenomenon and this was my first introduction to him. I fell in love immediately. I love books that are focused on people and this is all about the lives of the various residents of 44 Scotland Street. Pat, Bruce, Domenica Macdonald, Angus, Matthew and the absolutely brilliant Bertie. If you read this book and feel bad for Bertie and his overbearing mother, then don’t worry, Bertie can stick up for himself as you will discover as the series unfolds!

Easy to read, mostly due to the fact that the chapters are incredibly short (this book was originally published as a serial in The Scotsman) and mostly a heartwarming read. If you’re looking for a great series of books to read, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Becks picked Gulliver's Travelsby Jonathan Swift:


Over the past couple of times I have taken part in Alex’s BGR I seem to have developed a reputation for picking truly heinous books. This time I was determined to make it better. Fail.

I’m always looking for ways to expand my reading and for the past few years have tried to make more effort to read Classics and non-fiction, as well as my normal fare. Somehow, and I can’t really understand how, I’d got it into my head that Gulliver’s Travels was a children’s Classic. I can kind of see what happened – I knew that there was something about a man stumbling across a village of tiny people and they think he’s a giant and tie him up – you know, I just assumed. I settled down to read what I thought would be a nice easy children’s read and was instead confronted by an almost insurmountable wall of text and a storyline that just confused the hell out of me. I spent my time battling through it (and trust me, ‘battling’ is the appropriate word here) feeling as if there was a much bigger meaning just hovering out of my brain’s reach that I just somehow wasn’t getting. And because I didn’t get the bigger picture I was left basically reading a book where some guy gets on a boat, gets shipwrecked, ends up on an island as a giant, escapes, goes back on a boat, gets abandoned on an island as a little miniature person, escapes…

There was definitely a point being made about politics in this book. But because I wasn’t quite grasping what that point was – mostly because I’m not an expert on the political atmosphere in the 1700s when this book was written. I can only apologise for inflicting this book on two other people.

What did Lee think?

When I first found out this book had been selected I was really pleased, as it is one of those books that has always been on the 'to read' list, but which I have never found/made the time to do so. Unfortunately, however, this book turned out to be one I really struggled to enjoy. I found it very hard to settle into the world and language of this book. After three attempts at reading this book, all of which ended in failure past the first few chapters, I turned to the David Hyde Pierce narrated audio book. Here, I must admit, the tale was made more bearable due to his marvellous delivery. Despite this, the book still felt like a slog and I must confess had it not been for BGR I do not think I would of persevered with it.

I was surprised to discover that Gulliver's visit to Liliput is just actually the first in a number of travels that Gulliver makes throughout this book, but my overriding feeling, unfortunately, was that I wished he'd only made the one!


As for me, I don't think I'm being dramatic when I say that this was the sloggiest slog I have ever had to slog through for Blogging Good Read. I'd never read it before but I associated it in my mind with things like Lorna Doone and Treasure Island - classics that might be a lot more dense than modern children's literature but were still entertaining to read. Well, guess who was WRONG there?

I just didn't get it. I think it was political satire or some sort of allegory about the failings of human nature. If I'd been reading it in the early 1700s when it was written then I'd probably have been chuckling about the clever in-jokes but as a modern reader, it didn't work on that level at all for me. So what you're left with is a man getting on a ship and having a horrible time in a weird, foreign land, then doing it again. And again. And again. STOP GETTING IN BOATS YOU FOOL.


I chose Murder Must Advertiseby Dorothy L. Sayers:


The usual BGR dilemma struck here. This isn't technically my favourite of the Wimsey novels (that's Busman's Honeymoon FYI) but I can't recommend the concluding book of a romance arc as what might be people's introduction to an author because you have to read the earlier ones first or it doesn't work. Murder Must Advertise is my favourite of the more standalone Wimsey novels and I think it's a really good blend of Sayers' mixture of solid detective fiction plotting, brilliant characterisation and erudite prose. Much as I love Sayers, I struggle with the bellringing one and the Scottish dialect one. Murder Must Advertise is a lot more accessible and a lot more fun.

Lord Peter Wimsey goes undercover at an advertising agency to investigate the death of one of their members of staff. There's a subplot about drug smuggling and some glorious evening romps along with the Bright Young Things at their parties and it all adds up to a very satisfying and extremely entertaining detective novel.

Sayers worked in advertising and you can really tell - the office scenes are so vivid, funny and full of subtle details. Even though it was written and set in the 1930s, in some ways not a lot has changed and I really love that element of recognising the usual office characters and habits, even though so much time has passed.


What did Becks think?

This book was a much welcomed break from Gulliver’s Travels and I gobbled it up like the light tasty treat that it is. Crime is not my usual fare but when it’s served up with a dollop of 1930s fluff then it’s not hard to swallow. (I don’t know where the food metaphors are coming from.)

This was easy to read, with characters that you can’t help but love and actually does a pretty good job at keeping you guessing until the end. I’m a sucker for anything that has a bit of Bright Young People in it and this has these guys in in spades. I’m pretty sure I would have made an excellent member of the De Momerie crowd featured in the book. I hadn’t read any other books of Sayers but she is definitely on the list now of ones to look out for.

How about Lee?

Now this was a book I can say I liked, but not loved. I was impressed with the use of language, and I thought the author's style was wonderful throughout. However, I struggled to engage with the book at first. As the story developed though, I felt it built up a quicker pace, and I found myself much more involved from this point. One of the big plus points for me was that the book provided an interesting and electic mixture of characters. The asscioated inner office politics and rivalaries. I very much enjoyed the author's descriptions of the 'Bright Young Things' pack and their inclusion to the story. This helped to depict the era clearly in the mind.

Before reading this book, I was not previously familiar with the Lord Peter Wimsey series, other than having heard of them from this blog's author. The character of Wimsey himself was introduced under an alias in this book, which provided the first of many interesting plot twists and turns occuring throughout. I would be intrigued enought to try another book in the series, but I cannot say it would be top of the 'to read' list.


TL:DR: we all hated Gulliver.

Thanks for joining in again guys! 

I'll be back next month and the books we'll be reading are Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, The World According to Annaby Jostein Gaarder and 84 Charing Cross Roadby Helene Hanff.

7 comments:

  1. *crosses Gulliver's Travels off mental to read list*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Actually that comment could gave done with some quotation marks around 'to read'! Although by the sounds of it I would be mental to read it!

      Delete
  2. Ha ha, I love how much you all slagged off Gulliver!!! I adore the Scotland street books and yes, I want to attack Irene with a pack of Crostini!!! And Bruce-shudder!!!
    I STILL need to try Sayers!!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have been reading your blog for ages but I don't think I have ever commented before. I love your blogging good read series. Anything about books is a success with me and I really enjoy reading different opinions on the same books. Plus, you choose such good books. I love Sayers and the 44 Scotland Street Series. I look forward to reading about Jamaica Inn and 84 Charing Cross Road. I am not familiar with the third book, I am off to look it up now.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I do love Alexander McCall Smith, he has such a way with words and an incredible way of describing Edinburgh. I've only read one or two of the Wimseys, and really struggled to get into them... I should give them another go!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've learned two things from these reviews:
    One, that I really need to read more Sayers because by random chance, the only two I've read (and struggled with) are the bell-ringing one and the Scottish dialect one!

    Two, that I'm a complete weirdo for loving Gulliver's Travels!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've never liked Gulliver's Travels either : think the Back Black film ruined it for modern memory!

    Lizzie Dripping

    ReplyDelete

I'm easily pleased - a simple comment will cheer me up no end. So do drop me a line below...

Sorry to readers who prefer to comment anonymously but I am getting clobbered with spam at the moment so have had to disable anon comments. Feel free to get in touch with me in another way!