The Rosie Project – a great Summer read

Well, You can’t say I don’t offer variety here! One thing I like about not reading for a course or job at the moment is that I can read whatever I like, though it makes life easier if I manage the Bookworms’ choices every month!

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion  is not the usual type of book I would pick up to read by choice. Set in contemporary Australia, dealing with a male academic with romantic and life problems, this is an unusual comedy, but with some realistic and sad events. Don is a Genetics Professor, who, as he realises, has a “differently wired brain”. I’m not sure what diagnosis  the author would give to his main character, but it soon emerges that while Don has some difficulty with everyday life, managing emotions and just understanding what is going on for other people, the other characters in the book do not exactly behave predictably as well. 

Don decides to conduct a scientific search for a wife based on a questionnaire which he believes will guarantee that he only has to spend time on the most compatible woman he can encounter. It emerges that he has very few friends who can advise him, and more people who quickly become exasperated by him. He is nevertheless thoughtful and loyal, especially to Daphne. By chance he encounters the unusual character of  Rosie, who is strong enough to present alternatives to him, encourage spontaneity, and presents a whole new way of life to him via a project to find her father. This involves Don in a whole host of new activities, including cocktail making, wall climbing and discovering that what motivates people can be tricky to understand, but a lot more satisfying than routine.

This book, according to the acknowledgements, was developed in part through film and dialogue workshops. There are references to When Harry Met Sally and other films including my all time favourite, Casablanca.

This book is so obviously set up to be filmed that I am surprised that the details are not on the dust jacket!  The other similarity is to the very funny comedy which again I am unusually keen on: The Big Ban Theory

And I am quite keen on this series; I even have the calender  on the kitchen wall…

So, to get back to the book. I enjoyed this book as a quick, fairly light read. It deals with the  big questions of identity, what makes people behave in certain ways, and the nature of “normal”. It has science, romance and comedy, as well as martial arts, music and dancing. For all those finishing exams, it is ideal relaxing reading with some interesting ideas, and for the rest of us, a cheerful book about life, the universe and everything.

The Queen’s Gambit – a fascinating debut by Freemantle

One of the great things about our local library is that they cheerfully get hold of new books on request. This does save me some money, and means that I haven’t got such huge numbers of books all over the house (or rather, I still have, just different books…enough to build a defensive barrier should the need arise)

Anyway, I was interested to read about a new Penguin book by Elizabeth Freemantle which dealt with the story of Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr. Having worked my way through dozens of books on the Tudors (Plaidy, Gregory and the rest) I thought that I would put the library system to the test. I am glad that I did!

This is an excellent book which deals with the life of a woman from the loss of her second husband, in interesting circumstances, to her own death following the birth of her daughter. This does more than merely recite the facts of her life and times, it deals with her guilt over her actions and feelings for Thomas Seymour.It is impressive as it deals so well with the sense of danger and the ups and downs of court life. The descriptions of the aging king, with his whims and severe changes in mood, are shown as reverberating round a court where no one is safe, no one can feel completely secure. Hints and rumours, jealousies and ambitions affect the queen and those close to her. Katherine is seen as determined to survive, but frequently having to conceal her true interest in the developing Protestant faith. She is an intelligent woman, keen to use her position to investigate and write about her beliefs and new views.  This is a narrative that depends on hints and signs, the physical impediments of huge jewels and grand clothes, the flowers and cures of a woman vastly more sinned against than sinning.

The element of this book that stood out is the character of Dorothy. An unusually trusted servant, her love and loyalty is severely tested as well as her own attachment to William. Her story runs parallel to Katherine’s and provides a different view of Tudor life. The research supporting this novel is obviously detailed, but it is not overwhelming to the reader and is skillfully woven in. Apparently this is Freemantle’s debut novel; I would certainly track down and read another when she publishes another.

Meanwhile, back to constructing the great wall of books …

Sword & Scimitar – the new Simon Scarrow Beyond the Romans

Living here, just North of the Roman Hadrian’s Wall, I was particularly proud of my three signed Simon Scarrow  “Roman” books, which dealt with the life and times of Roman soldiers. I was therefore  pleased to be sent a copy of Sword and Scimitar to be reviewed. It’s quite a big book to look at, and I was keen to see if the story was equally big inside.

And the answer was, yes it was.

This is the story of Sir Thomas Barrett, banished from the fighting in Malta, but now recalled to continue the fight against the Ottoman Empire in 1565.

This is not the classic story of the Crusades, of religious battles with much bloodshed. This novel recalls the New World of exploration and probably exploitation by the emerging empires of Elizabethan and Spain, the new learning and tough times of religious clashes.  Thomas is the the victim of many forces beyond his control. At the start of the book he makes mistakes, misjudgments, which leave him without a personal faith and drive to fight in these new battles.  So why should a man risk everything for a faith he no longer believes in, a cause he no longer holds to?

While I think it can be too restrictive to label books as “men’s”or “women’s”, especially when the latter can appear with not only pink covers but pink page edges (yuck!), it would be daft to fail to acknowledge that this book is aimed primarily at a male readership. Having said that, it is a book of descriptions and actions, of sea journeys and battle. It is a book of men confronting their past when maybe their future depends on their concentration in the next few hours or days. It is a book of subplots and big questions such as why someone fights when their belief seems to have been taken away.

This is a book that requires concentration to understand the battles and experiences of its protagonists. It also held back a little by the subplots which do not seem to add to the narrative, but make it a richer novel. Overall, this is a novel which engages, and is a big read, and is a great addition, even if not Roman, to the Scarrow canon.

Rose Tremain, novels and the return of Northernreader!

So, long time no see/post from the Northernreader! No excuses I’m afraid, just reading many, many books so far this year (49 !) which means that I have not been posting about them, just indulging in a little extreme reading…It’s living the dream in the Vicarage!

Two books on my list have featured highly within the last few months, both by Rose Tremain. The first, Merivel: A Man of his time, is the sequel to  Restoration, which was a brilliant Bookworms book club choice of a couple of years ago. Despite it not being an historical period I know a lot about in detail, Restoration was popular mainly because of the main character, Merivel, and his adventures and misadventures in and around the court of Charles II.

Merivel: A Man of His Time

I ordered this long awaited sequel from our wonderful local library who initially debated if there would be many copies in Northumberland. Within the next few weeks there was a waiting list! I had to read it very fast, but enjoyed it hugely. Merivel has grown older but not much wiser. His daughter has become central to his life in his much beloved home, with its collection of unusual servants. The lure of travel, a brilliant female scientist,and a captive bear all contribute to a fast moving narrative which alternates between tragedy and absurd comedy. It isn’t just a historical novel, but a brilliant book about what constitutes happiness, contentment and what to do when life seems to be ending. It does have moments when the sadness seems too much, but Tremain’s impulse to mischief soon reasserts itself. A brilliant book by any standard, and yes, dear reader, I bought my own copy…

The other Tremain I’ve delved into is the prize winning The Road Home.  I will admit that it was not one I picked up with terrific enthusiasm, as it was not one of her historical books, but it is the Bookworms book club choice (and one of the World Book Night books given away at the library quiz night, which modesty forbids me describing in detail…).

It was a slow start, and I must admit thinking that it would be a bit of a haul. Lev is first seen on a bus from a vague East -European home, travelling in search of a new life in London. He hopes to find work, a place to stay, and earn enough money to send back to his small daughter and his aged mother . He has lost his wife, his job and even the entertaining friends Rudi and his wife are insufficient to keep him from his new start.

London at first is an unfriendly, confusing place, but he is quickly (too quickly?) offered the chance of a home, a job which inspires him, and women offering friendship and more. I found his first few hours in the capital depressing but reasonably truthful, as a little money goes nowhere towards the securing of food and shelter. The subsequent finding of so much kindness of strangers does seem optimistic, especially when Lev can be illogical, infuriating and on one occasion, brutal. I hope that there are so many friendly people out there, so many opportunities, so much hope of a new start. There are some interesting characters in this novel, some realistic ones, but maybe the setting or incidents are not so truthful.  Overall a good book, but perhaps not so real as it could be, even if I would have right royally complained if it had been depressing throughout!

I have two book clubs to go to which are discussing this book, so I’ll see what they have to say.

Here’s to me writing more than one post a year! Keep watching this space for more ramblings of a bookish nature…