April Reads

  • Hi all. Hope April was a good reading month for you. I have stopped work now and am on baby countdown. Really looking forward to May as we have some nice family time away. We are heading to Mousehole in Cornwall for a week for half term. Think it will be the last time we can all comfortable travel in the car. Definitely not going to be as easy with 3 stroppy kids in the back!!!
    • Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz. 4⭐️.
    • Anthony Horowitz born 5th April 1955.

    Sherlock Holmes is dead. 

    Days after Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty fall to their doom at the Reichenbach Falls, Pinkerton agent Frederick Chase arrives from New York. The death of Moriarty has created a poisonous vacuum which has been swiftly filled by a fiendish new criminal mastermind. Ably assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction, Chase must hunt down this shadowy figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, a man determined to engulf London in a tide of murder and menace. 

    The game is afoot . . .

    The first book I read this year was The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz and I completely adored it. I still haven’t ventured into any of the work by Conan Doyle (that will come in May or July) but as Horowitz is the only author authorised by the Sherlock Holmes estate to write about the great man, I feel I am well prepared and I feel that when I finally meet Doyle’s Holmes, it will be like meeting an old friend.

    Moriarty didn’t disappoint. Holmes and Watson do not appear and the action centres around American Investigator Frederick Chase, and Holmes obsessed Athelney Jones of Scotland Yard. Jones is a character that appears in Doyle’s novel The Sign of the Four written in 1890. Jones appears as a policeman who comes under criticism by Holmes for his poor attempts at deduction. In Horowitz’s book, Jones appears to have taken Holmes’s criticisms on board to the point of obsession. I don’t want to go into detail about the storyline. I will tell you that after the first 50 pages, I couldn’t put it down. The characters are brilliant and Jones and Chase seem to completely model themselves on Watson and Holmes. I will say that this book is more graphic and brutal than the first and I did miss the detail of Victorian London which was such a big part of House of Silk.

    • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. 3.5⭐️.
    • Barbara Kingsolver born 8th April 1955.

    An international bestseller and a modern classic, this suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and their remarkable reconstruction has been read, adored and shared by millions around the world.This new edition for 2017 features a cover design by award-winning fashion designer, Tina Lobondi.

    This story is told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. 

    They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

    This book was published in the UK in 1999 and must have been on my shelf for about 15 years. I have to admit that I approached it with some trepidation….firstly, it’s long, 543 pages. I am always slightly wary of long books. I remember as a child feeling very grown up if I was clutching a book with over 400 pages. In fact I would search out long books over shorter novels. Now as a grown up, long books intimidate me. What if it’s just a bore and I have to spend 3 weeks lingering over a book that others have adored but I just find a bit dull??? I suppose I am an impatient reader. I want to try everything – every sweet in the shop and I haven’t got time to dedicate to a massive tome that I’m just not loving. My second reason for reticence was this book was bought for me by my wonderful sister in law. She and many other good friends and readers whose views I respect gave it really high marks on Goodreads. Would I love it as much? Would I disappoint them if I didn’t adore it?

    So, my verdict……???????? A solid 3.5 stars. I can’t say it changed my life. In fact I frequently felt frustrated because it wasn’t the story I wanted it to be. I kept expecting Kingsolver to elaborate on the women’s revolt against Nathan, the evangelical patriarch. Nathan’s relationship firstly with his family and secondly with the community in South Africa was so interesting and sometimes surprising funny, I just wanted more of it…..

    Yet we sang in church Tata Nzolo! Which means Father in Heaven or Father of Fish Bait depending on how you sing it, and that pretty much summed up my quandary. I could never work out if we were to view religion as a life-insurance policy or a life sentence.

    I enjoyed the story jumping for one Price woman to the other and I loved hearing their different perspectives. On reading reviews, Rachel gets a lot of criticism but for me she was my favourite. I thought that as a character she was just so well observed. Starting the novel as a 15 year old, self-centred teenager, she learns nothing and is changed relatively little by her experiences in the Congo. The arrogance of youth that Kingsolver taps into during her chapters is just fabulous. Words that Rachel uses incorrectly and her observations of her surroundings provide a little light relief which for me was much needed.

    That would be Axelroot all over, To turn up with an extra wife or two claiming that’s how they do it here. Maybe he’s been in Africa so long he has forgotten that we Christians have our own system of marriage, and it is called Monotony.

    I am pleased that I have finally read this book. I enjoyed it but feel it probably could have been about 100 pages shorter. I’m sure this sounds like a silly thing to say but for me I was looking for a plot driven narrative and this was definitely character driven. The idea of an evangelical preacher trying to impose his views on his family and a community which ultimately wasn’t interested was the novel I wanted to read and there wasn’t enough of that for me.

    • Engleby by Sebastian Faulks. 4⭐️.
    • Sebastian Faulks born 20th April 1953.

    Mike Engleby has a secret… 

    This is the story of Mike Engleby, a working-class boy who wins a place at an esteemed English university. But with the disappearance of Jennifer, the undergraduate Engleby admires from afar, the story turns into a mystery of gripping power. Sebastian Faulks’s new novel is a bolt from the blue, unlike anything he has ever written before: contemporary, demotic, heart-wrenching – and funny, in the deepest shade of black.

    Before embarking on this novel I read some reviews. One in particular got me scared….’unreliable narrator‘ and ‘not much happens.’ Uh oh. I have to say that I loathe an unreliable narrator. To trek through a book believing one thing and then to be told that you were wrong at the end is so frustrating. It’s almost like the author is having a laugh at your expense. I want to go on a journey with a book. I want to hold hands with a book for the duration of my reading and not to be told at the end ‘ha! Everything you thought was wrong.’ The comment ‘nothing happens’ also got me slightly worried. I need a book to hook me!

    Anyway, surprisingly I LOVED it. I found it moving, poignant, amusing, dark and interesting. It held my attention throughout although I have to admit that I preferred the second half of the novel. The bullying scenes and Engleby‘s resignation to his fate was excruciating. Faulks writes beautifully and I thought Engleby was a really believable character .

    • A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold. 4⭐️.
    • Columbine shooting 20th April 1999.

    On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives. 

    For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently? 

    These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts. 

    Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent. 

    All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.

    Each time I start trying to put my thoughts down about this book, I delete the line I have just written. It sounds melodramatic but my head is in complete turmoil. I decided to look through other reviews on Goodreads and I have to say I agree with a lot of them even though many are contradictory. I have also watched documentaries to try to help myself make sense of something which seems utterly senseless. I think this is the first point of controversy. Should Sue Klebold try to make sense of such a senseless act? Is she trying to excuse her son’s actions. By writing this book is she disrespecting the memory of the 13 people who died and the 24 people who were injured? If my child had been gunned down in school would I want to read why it might have happened???? Reading why doesn’t change the outcome!! However, if my child, the child I had raised, looked after when ill, wiped away tears when they were sad, laughed at their jokes and supported their dreams did something like this, as a mother, I would look for reasons to try to make sense of it all. I think that is human nature.

    I went completely numb as detailed information about the massacre rained down on us. It was like a documentary so violent and depraved that I would never, ever under ordinary circumstances, have watched it.

    A single fact had emerged, without any ambiguity at all: Dylan had done this thing.

    The event had been planned a long time in advance, and Dylan had participated in the planning. The attack had been carefully times and strategically constructed. Dylan had deliberately killed and injured people. He has derided them as they begged for their lives. He had used racist, hateful language. He had not shown mercy, regret, or conscience. He had shot a teacher. He had killed children in cold blood.

    I was, and will always be, haunted by how those lives ended.

    For Sue Klebold, her husband Tom and her son Byron, I am desperately sad. They are mourning the death of Dylan whilst coming to terms with the fact that he wasn’t the son they thought he was. How do you deal with thoughts like these? I guess the answer is that you don’t. You spend the rest of your life knowing that your son is dead and he is responsible for gunning down innocent people. In writing this book, Sue isn’t trying to excuse the act. At no point do I feel that she tries to get the reader to empathise with her son.

    On reading this memoir, I looked back on my behaviour as a teen. I went to a highly academic girls school in which I never felt comfortable. I wasn’t clever enough. I carved my niche by being the joker and as a result, the teachers thought I was a trouble maker. Looking back on it, I was probably a nightmare to teach but I remember feeling very isolated and misunderstood during my teenage years. I desperately wanted to fit in and if I wasn’t allowed to do things that my friends were able to, I would lie. My behaviour was out of control and I did some things I am ashamed of. As someone who has struggled with depression my whole life, I can say that without a doubt it started at this school. Did my parents notice? I mean they were up at the school frequently, discussing my behaviour with teachers but I don’t think they really saw how depressed I was, partly because no one including myself realised how depressed I was. With depression, you don’t wake up one morning, having had a personality transplant and being in the depths of despair. It is a gradual thing. Sometimes so gradual that you don’t notice it creeping up on you. Your depression becomes part of your personality. Teenage depression must be a nightmare to diagnose. When do you decide that a hormonal outburst isn’t something more sinister? Luckily for me, I was struck down with glandular fever which took me out of school for a few months. I say luckily because I was absent for so long that I had to repeat my year. The thought of doing this at the same bitchy girls school was impossible so I went to another school. This new school was less academic and more arts based. Without a doubt, if I hadn’t changed school I would never now be an opera singer. Incidentally, it was at this school that my depression was diagnosed.

    So what has this got to do with Dylan Klebold? I don’t think I would ever have gotten to the point where I walked into a school with a fire arm BUT I was on a very destructive path. Probably due to sad stories like these, I feel schools are much more aware of mental health. In fact my 5 year old often tells me that she needs some “me time.” 🤣 I laugh but surely this can only be a good thing. I hope that now, 20 years on from this awful massacre, that parents and teachers are more aware of the mental health issues that affect kids. I also hope that nowadays, that individuals feel more proactive to seek help when they feel they are having a mental health issue.

    As a parent, this is a particularly hard book to get your head around. I guess when the unthinkable happens, society looks for reasons and for someone to blame. No one picked up the signs that these boys were so damaged and dangerous so was this whole disaster a dreadful combination of ignorance about mental health issues and the ease by which these boys acquired guns? I don’t think we will ever know the answer but I applaud Sue Klebold for writing this book and making me question the unthinkable.

    • The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. 5⭐️.

    Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers. 

    What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888. 

    Their murderer was never identified, but the name created for him by the press has become far more famous than any of these five women. 

    Now, in this devastating narrative of five lives, historian Hallie Rubenhold finally sets the record straight, and gives these women back their stories.

    When I look back on the month of April, Jack The Ripper is a name that has come up a lot. At work we opened Jack The Ripper:The Women of Whitechapel, I listened to this great book by Hallie Rubenhold, I bought it for a few friends and I also watched that documentary with Emilia Fox. I have to say, I thought the documentary was pants…..wondering around Whitechapel with your iPad…it was just really pretentious.

    Our production wasn’t about Jack. In fact ‘Jack’ never appeared but was always an ominous presence. The set was coffins hollowed out on the floor. We sang ‘Fourpence a coffin, or tuppence a rope. A penny will buy you a blanket.’ In the 1800s, homeless paupers would save their pennies to sleep in a ‘coffin’ in a doss house. If you didn’t have the money for a coffin you could pay to sit on a bench with a rope stretched in front of you, so you had something to lean on. It was information like this that I swallowed up when reading the book by Hallie Rubenhold.

    The Five isn’t about the Ripper. If you are interested in social history, pick it up now. Rubenhold tells each woman’s story….their falls from grace, living in poverty with children to feed, moving from one abusive relationship to the other and their daily lives on the streets of London. A completely brilliant and desperately sad read.

    That’s all folks. Thanks for reading. See you next month.

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google photo

    You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s