February reads.

Hi all. I think my reading this month has been pretty varied. The easier reads of Judy Blume and Penny Vincenzi have been balanced out by the Coetzee and Morrison which were pretty harrowing.

It is now the 1st March and I am embarking on the epic that is The Cider House Rules. This is one big ass book which will probably take me the majority of the month!!! 🙄

  • Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. 4⭐️.
  • J.M. Coetzee born 9th February 1940.

After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy’s isolated smallholding. 

For a time, his daughter’s influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonise his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faultlines in their relationship.

If you had asked me my thoughts at the end of the first chapter, I would have told you that the book was destined for my charity shop bag. To say I hated the character of Lurie is is an understatement. I loathed this man. I found his relationship with his student utterly predatory and distasteful. I couldn’t bear the thought of committing my time to this individual for another 200 pages. It was the writing that made me persevere. Coetzee writes with a total lack of pretension which I loved. As the winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature, I was wrongly expecting flowery, writing. This is not the case and this in my opinion is the strength of the language. Coetzee does not waste words or sentences which I think makes the story even more brutal and immediate. The visceral writing, makes it impossible not to connect with the story.

I think I started to enjoy (if enjoy is the right word….it’s not) when David went to stay with his daughter on the farm. Throughout this section I softened towards the man I initially loathed. His relationships with his daughter, Bev and the animals were so interesting and bleak that I couldn’t fail to be moved.

I think this might be my first foray into South African literature and it definitely won’t be my last.

  • Then again maybe I won’t by Judy Blume. 3⭐️.
  • Just Blume born 12th February 1938.

Tony Miglione is thirteen, and his family lives in a cramped house in New Jersey. But then his Dad invents something that makes them rich, and they move to a luxury home in Long Island. But being rich brings it’s own problems – Tony’s Grandma feels useless when she doesn’t have to cook any more, and his mum is obsessed with impressing the neighbours, but Tony knows the boy next door isn’t as perfect as he looks. The only upside to his new life is that his neighbour Lisa keeps undressing with the light on. As he tries to adjust to his new life Tony starts to suffer from anxiety attacks and wishes everything would just be normal again.

Then Again, Maybe I Won’t is a classic coming of age story from the boy’s perspective, from Judy Blume, the author of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Oh Judy, Judy, Judy. My first sex education teacher. The woman who taught my 11 year old friends and myself about wet dreams, hard ons, boobs, periods and …..RAPLH!!!! I remember break times at school with my friends, hiding under the stairs with a copy of BIG magazine, Just Seventeen and Forever. It was lucky one of us had an older sister so we could steal these epic bibles of sex education. I remember feeling scared, intrigued, disgusted and clueless. So clueless in fact, that when the tampon lady came to give us the talk I spent at least two occasions walking around with the tampon AND the cardboard applicator inserted…..really painful! You literally couldn’t pay me to go back to those days.

Reading Judy Blume as an adult and a mother of two girls stirs up as much emotion as was contained in my 13 year old self. Different though. It makes me appreciate the stress my parents must have gone through with me as a teenager. I was a bloody nightmare. Boys, boys, alcohol, boys. My 5 year old daughter is already chatting about boys. I think as punishment for my teenage years, I am destined to have a boy mad daughter….I just thought it would start later than 5!

I guess having read this book as a mother, and having wisdom and age on my side (😳), I can take some comfort in knowing that everything will be alright (touch wood). You can’t stop kids being interested in sex etc and neither should you. Hopefully, if you bring up your kids well, they will always have some kind of moral compass and not go too far off the rails. In this book, Tony is a great kid. Sure he spies on the next door neighbours daughter and raids the drinks cabinet but on the hole he comes off a lot better than his incredibly annoying mother. Having listened to this on audio I think I hated Mrs Miglione ten times more because of the reader’s screechy, high and slightly hoarse voice he used for all the women in the book. Mrs Miglione comes off as a weak, social climber, desperate to keep up with the Joneses. I was impressed how money didn’t change Tony. He had a strong sense of fairness and what is right and wrong. As teenagers go, I think he is pretty special.

I am left pondering what teenage boys today would think about this book. As a mother of 5 and 3 year old daughters, I have no contact with teenagers. I am left wondering if today’s teens would find Judy Blume a little dull. Due to social media, you tube, tv, computer games etc, I think kids grow up quicker now and are less shockable. I can’t imagine the teenage girls I pass on the school run, reading Forever under the stairs in lunch break.

  • Dreams of Joy by Lisa See. 3⭐️.
  • Lisa See born 18th February 1955.

Nineteen-year-old Joy Louie has run away from her home in 1950s America to start a new life in China. Idealistic and unafraid, she believes that Chairman Mao is on the side of the people, despite what her family keeps telling her. How can she trust them, when she has just learned that her parents have lied to her for her whole life, that her mother Pearl is really her aunt and that her real father is a famous artist who has been living in China all these years? 

Joy arrives in Green Dragon Village, where families live in crowded, windowless huts and eke out a meagre existence from the red soil. And where a handsome young comrade catches her eye… Meanwhile, Pearl returns to China to bring her daughter home – if she can. For Mao has launched his Great Leap Forward, and each passing season brings ever greater hardship to cities and rural communes alike. Joy must rely on her skill as a painter and Pearl must use her contacts from her decadent childhood in 1930s Shanghai to find a way to safety, and a chance of joy for them both. 

My slightly macabre fascination with Chinese history started when I was a child. I remember being on holiday and my mum was reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang. Mum read the section about foot binding to me. I remember being repulsed, terrified and fascinated all at the same time.

Since that fateful holiday in Javea I have read a lot of books about China. Lisa See is completely brilliant and I have loved everything she has written. Shanghai Girls was the first in this series of two books and I have to say that I enjoyed it slightly more than Dreams of Joy. The first book was more of a family saga, centered around the Pearl and May, sisters who travel from Shanghai to LA. The book spans the 1930s-1950s and deals with sibling relationships, immigration and racial prejudice.

Dreams of Joy centres around Pearl’s daughter, Joy. She leaves LA to return to Shanghai to search for Shanghai and join the Communist movement. Pearl follows her daughter and returns to the Shanghai of her childhood. The country is now under communist rule and is much changed. People are suspicious of eachother, food is scarce and everyone’s moves are monitored.

There definitely wasn’t as much action as Shanghai Girls and at times I felt it was all a bit slow but it’s definitely worth a read.

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison. 4⭐️.
  • Toni Morrison born 18th February 1931.

Terrible, unspeakable things happened to Sethe at Sweet Home, the farm where she lived as a slave for so many years until she escaped to Ohio. Her new life is full of hope but eighteen years later she is still not free. Sethe’s new home is not only haunted by the memories of her past but also by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

One of the things I have noticed since starting my mission to read books written by authors who were born or died in the month we are in, is that books are chosen because of the authors and not the content. This means I often have no idea what the books are about before I delve in. Of course I had heard of Beloved but I thought it was a story set on a slave plantation. Of course there are aspects of Sethe’s previous life on the plantation of Sweet Home but the book is also a ghost story and about how the characters have adapted to life since being released from slavery. The story is told in flash backs and through the memories of the main characters. The central event is Sethe murdering her own daughter rather than letting her be captured and returning to a life of slavery.

In writing the novel, Toni Morrison was inspired by the sad story of Margaret Garner. Garner escaped from slavery in 1856 and fled to Ohio which was a free state. She killed her own daughter rather than letting her be recaptured. When she was arrested, authorities didn’t know whether to try her for murder or desecration of property.

I have to admit that I preferred the flash back chapters to the chapters which involved the character of Beloved. Initially I found the magical realism element in a book about a subject as harrowing as slavery a little confusing. A couple of days ago I listened to a podcast with Toni Morrison who said that all the characters within the novel were trying to escape their past. Morrison wanted ‘the past to come in a sit at the kitchen table.’ This is definitely what happens with the character of Beloved and the question of whether she is a reincarnation of the murdered daughter doesn’t actually matter. Her arrival means that all the characters have to face their previous lives. I think this is what I found so heartbreaking….ultimately, all the characters are still wearing the shackles of slavery.

In the podcast, Morrison also talks about how a second reading of a novel is always richer. I am sure that without a doubt this would be true of Beloved. I am ashamed to say that I don’t think I could read it again. I found it so harrowing that I had to give myself a couple of days off. Hard though it was to get through however, I honestly don’t think I have ever been so moved by a book in my life.

  • Into Temptation by Penny Vincenzi.
  • Penny Vincenzi died 25th February 2018.

Power, politics and closely guarded secrets abound in INTO TEMPTATION, the third and final novel of Sunday Times bestselling author Penny Vincenzi’s Spoils of Time trilogy. ‘Like an illicit lover, I have been sloping off all week to snatch another hour’s pleasure with … Penny Vincenzi’s terrific new novel’ Jilly Cooper. For any reader of Elizabeth Buchan, Santa Montefiore or Harriet Evans, and for any fan of epics such as Downton Abbey.

The Lytton family past is full of secrets, and only Lady Celia knows them all. There’s her daughter Adele’s difficult, dark past; the dreadful cruelty of a truth her son Kit had to confront; even the shadows of Celia’s own life, and that of Barty Miller, the child she rescued from the slums in babyhood who now owns more than half of the Lytton publishing house. Some secrets are more dangerous than others, some shared with Celia’s family, some entirely her own. And all absolutely safe in her keeping. Until something threatens to reveal them all…

Are you ever guilty of judging a book by its cover? Are you ever guilty of making rash judgements about books based on an author’s name or genre. Without a shadow of a doubt this is something I am 100% guilty of but I am also someone who can admit they were wrong. Penny Vincenzi, I owe you an apology.

I first came across Vincenzi’s books when I was in secondary school. I had a good friend whose mum always had one on the go. I remember they would be 800 page door stops with terrible covers – women pictured in profile, often wearing a large, glamorous hat, Penny’s name picked out in gold, raised font. I remember thinking ‘my mum doesn’t read books that look like that.’ Chick lit I thought. 800 page books about women who were looking for a man, thinking about their weight and what to wear.

Two years ago a friend bought me The Spoils of Time trilogy. I must admit, I was appalled: you want me to read Penny Vincenzi???? Author of middle-aged chick lit???? Nope, nope, NOPE!

The books sat on my bookshelf for about six months. I then decided to try the first one, No Angel (😱🙄😄bloody awful title). I’ll try the first 100 pages and then as I will probably hate it, I can take the whole trilogy to Oxfam and reclaim a large chunk of my bookshelf. The shocker came when I didn’t hate it. In fact I really enjoyed it. What’s not to love. A family saga set in the most interesting time in British history. The women weren’t man hungry nymphos. Celia Lytton is a strong, modern woman. Ok, yes, there’s the odd affair but this is in no way a soppy, romantic love story.

I am now nearly finished the last book in the trilogy.…Into Temptation (😱🤣🙄 another shit title). Whilst reading on the tube this morning, this book actually made me cry!!! I usually pride myself on being a bit of an emotional desert….I cannot believe Vincenzi made me cry. I am torn between being a little embarrassed and wanting to become a massive Vincenzi cheerleader.

Anyway Penny, I apologise for my misgivings about your books. The Lyttons will always have a fond place in my heart….I do think a Lady Celia would have been utterly appalled by your titles and covers however!!!

Anyway, that’s all for this month folks. Sorry for the rather eclectic choice of books.

See you next month and thank you so much for reading .

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