Monday, 20 January 2014

Holiday Reads

I was a very lucky girl over the New Year and headed to Sharm El Sheikh for a spot of sun, sea and snorkeling whilst we brought in 2014. We had such an amazing time.

Now I am not going to lie there was only 2 things I was interested in on this holiday:

1. Getting some much needed vitamin D 
2. Catching up on some good reads

If you are looking for something new to read or just add to your Amazon Wish List (am I the only one that has a specific 'To Read' wish list) you might be interested in what I downloaded for my holiday.

Life After Life  - By Kate Atkinson

This book follows Ursula, a girl born into a relatively wealthy family during a snow storm in February 1910. Ursula immediately dies. In the next chapter her birth is played out again but this time a few facts are changed and baby Ursula survives. 

The book follows in this vein, with Ursula as a child and adult often being in the wrong place at the wrong time but when she re-joins life and we re-join her she has the opportunity to make certain changes that will influence her path through life. Throughout Ursula doesn't realise that she is being re-born and instead views it as a series of deja vu and an instinct to travel in a certain direction. 

As a result the book is very jumpy and goes back and forward in time which can be a little taxing. I have to say that at the beginning I found this really difficult, never before have I had to pay such particular attention to dates in a  fiction book. But around a quarter of the way in it started to pick up pace and I had got my head around the large swathe of characters that come in and out of the story depending on which period in time is being written about. 

The story is interspersed with some philosophy and other literary references which I think are supposed to reflect Ursula's intelligence and wisdom from having lived a 'number of lives'. 

As Ursula grows we follow her life in the context of great historical events given that she 'lives' through 2 world wars. We see her married, single in London and in Berlin following various life paths including being a housewife, mother and civil servant. During this time she is also able to influence the fate of other key characters. This is not necessarily something that I like, but is always tied into the storyline. 

The story was spoilt slightly with a rather far fetched and honestly random sub-story featuring Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler but excluding those few chapters it is a great read. Whilst other reviews have commented on the repetitiveness I really enjoyed seeing the same scenes with the eyes of a 'different' Ursula, who is viewing them for the first time after following a different series of choices to get her to that point. 

Perfect for any reader who often wishes "If I had just..."

Jemima J - By Jane Green

Jane Green is one of the queens of chick lit, writing about glossy women leading glossy lives in glossy cities. Perfect sun lounger reading if you ask me 

The story of Jemima J starts with an unhappy overweight 27 year old working as a journalist at The Kilburn Herald with dreams of being skinny, beautiful and writing features for a  women's glossy. We learn early on that Jemima J has the talent and ambition to hit her career goals but unfortunately not the confidence after years of rejection from editors, "friends" and her mother. Her lack of self-confidence has led her into the life of an isolated recluse.

Like all women who have something they don't like about themselves, Jemima believes that everything in her life will be perfect - a great job, great friends, great parties and of course a great boyfriend preferably in the shape of Ben, Deputy News Editor, at The Kilburn Herald - if she could just loose her weight. 

First published in 2006 it was interesting to hear Jemimas thoughts as she dials up the modem upon discovering the internet and its opening up of the world to her, where no one knows what she looks like. The catalyst for change in Jemima is meeting the very hunky Brad, a Californian, on an internet chat room. 

One of the things I really like about this book is that Jemima only changes through her own hard work and dedication - a lesson to us all during the January resolutions. But unfortunately that is where my love for this tale ends. Perhaps it would have been a little twee but there is no 'beauty is on the inside' message here. A little detour through LA and Brad but of course like any good rom come Jemima gets her happy ending!

Predictable, yes and frustrating moral undertone at times but certainly a pleasant and quick read whilst soaking up the winter sun. 

Room - By Emma Donoghue

Jack is 5. Jack lives in Room. Room is 11 foot by 11 foot with a sky light and a locked door. Ma was captured 8 years before by Old Nick and held in this fortress in his garden unbeknown to everyone around them. Jack is the result of the relationship between Old Nick and Ma. 

We are given a detailed description of Room through the eyes of Jack. Each key reference point uses capital letters to depict its 'Name'. It is part of Jacks life rather than merely an object. We realise that every aspect of his life is in this room with his mother protecting his view of the 'outside'. This naive viewpoint is endearing in a strange way. 

You realise relatively soon in the book that Ma and Jack do get out of Room. This part of the book is written so well. My heart was actually pounding and ensuring their safe recovery meant that I stayed up well past my bed time. 

Jack is the hero of the story and watching him learn about the outside world and meeting his new family and surroundings is fascinating. As if a baby could articulate how they feel. 

The story then focuses on how Ma and Jack try to assimilate in the first month or so. They realise its not going to be an easy process and I love the optimism shown by both of them through a list shared with us towards the end that details all the things they want to do together in the future. 

I was genuinely upset when the book finished with unanswered questions. Does Ma recover? Does Jack integrate back into his new world? What happens to Old Nick? Do Ma and Jack get the justice they deserve? I suppose its nice to think of these things yourself because then you can create the happy ending you want for them. 

Have you read any of these books ? What did you think? Do you have an recommendations for my virtual reading list?

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