A Wild Read

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I’ve read a lot of books lately but none that made me want to blog a review. There were books that were mildly entertaining and books that were a real struggle to get through. That’s until I picked up Wild by Cheryl Strayed. This book was thrust into my hands by a colleague with the command, “You must read this!” When the colleague is your boss that’s even more of an incentive to read something.

Then I heard that Wild has been made into a film starring Reese Witherspoon – out early next year. There’s nothing I love more than reading a book before seeing the movie!

So I started this on a Friday night and finished it on a Sunday. It was the kind of book you start and don’t want to stop reading until the very end. Wild tells the true story of a young woman’s remarkable trek along the Pacific Crest Trail – a very long distance hiking trail stretching from the Mexican border to the Canadian border and passing through  the states of California, Oregon and Washington. It crosses through the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges through 25 national forests and 7 national parks. All in all it is 2,663 mi (4,286 km) long (thanks Wikipedia).

Cheryl decides to trek the trail from the Mojave Desert through California and into Washington – a journey of eleven hundred miles. She plans to walk alone for 100 days. What is even more remarkable (or foolhardy) is that she does it with very little trekking experience, no physical preparation, barely any money, a massively overweight backpack and shoes that she soon learns are the wrong size!

She walks to get through the pain of her mother’s death from cancer. She walks to come to terms with her recent divorce. She walks to rediscover what she wants from life and how to get it back on the right track (pun intended). Cheryl is brutally honest about the life she led before going on the trail. Her emotional journey is every inch as painful as the physical turmoil she goes through. From freezing cold temperatures and snow to incredible heat, you read this book and the vivid writing makes you feel every step along with Cheryl. You feel her hunger as she goes through periods of little food. You feel her triumph as, against the odds, she manages to not give up.

Along the way Cheryl discovers a strength she never knew she possessed and meets many colourful characters, either hiking the same path or in the detours she takes along the way.

Wild made me want to strap on my shoes and go out for a really big walk. But more than that it reminded me of what amazing life experiences you can have and how you can grow as a person when you’re brave enough take a risk and step outside your comfort zone.

It’s always great to read a book that inspires you in your own life.

The One Plus One by Jojo Meyes

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (kindle edition, 528 pp, Feb 2014)

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (kindle edition, 528 pp, Feb 2014)

Recently I had a couple of long weekends off in a row and went away to see family. This involved a lot of hours in the car. Luckily, my partner did the driving which allowed me to sit back and read. I read The One Plus One by Jojo Meyes over one long weekend and I have to say it was the perfect travel book.

I discovered Jojo Moyes a while back when I read Me Before Youa powerful read about the relationship between a quadriplegic man and his carer. It was one of those rare times when you stumble upon a book that you know nothing about and then it turns out to be an absolute gem.

If there is one thing Jojo Meyes is good at it is creating characters who you can’t help but feel for and cheer for. The One Plus One is told from the perspective of four characters: Jess Thomas, a single mum separated from her deadbeat husband and working as a cleaner and in a pub to try and make ends meet; Ed Nicholls, a talented software developer with a lot of brains but not the best sense when it comes to relationships; Tanzie, daughter of Jess and a maths genius who has a chance for a better future at a new school, but money is an overwhelming obstacle; and Nicky, the teenage son of Jess’s ex who she has taken under her wing, his difference sees him the constant target of the local bullies.

Jess meets Ed when she cleans his weekender and again when he gets drunk at the pub where she works and she is forced to drive him home. The pair don’t think much of each other and their worlds are very different. At this point you might think the book is setting up a Cinderella-like story of rich guy falls for poor, single mum, but this book is far more interesting than that.

Through a whole heap of circumstances, this book becomes a road trip/Little Miss Sunshine story of sorts as Ed offers to drive Jess and her family to Scotland so that Tanzie can compete in a mathematics competition that if she wins will give her the money she needs to attend a better school. Along for the ride is Norman a huge slobbering dog who unofficially is the fifth main character in this novel.

I’m not giving much away. How they end up in a car together and what will happen along the way is what makes this a great read. Throw in a visit to the deadbeat dad, Ed’s current trouble with the law, Nicky’s struggle to find his place in the world, Jess’s guilty secret and Tanzie’s quest and this was the perfect weekend getaway read.

If you haven’t read Jojo Meyes before, you should definitely give her a try. So often women’s fiction is made out to be brainless fluff by critics, but this book shows just how much intelligence goes into writing a page turner. It’s nice to read a book where you truly care about the fate of the characters.

Burial Rites: A Review

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (ISBN: 971742612829,338 pages  Pub 2013)

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (ISBN: 971742612829,338 pages Pub 2013)

Have you ever had one of those reading experiences where you wonder – is this book difficult or is it just me? Well, I was left feeling that way about Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. This novel, set in Iceland in the 19th century, has been out for a while and has garnered a lot of praise from critics and readers alike. Which is why I was so eager to finally read this.

Based on real events, Burial Rites recounts the story of the last criminal to be executed in Iceland – a woman named Agnes who was accused of taking part in the brutal murders of two men.The novel starts at the farm where Agnes is to be brought to serve out her last days on earth before her execution.

The family who live at the farm are none too pleased to be saddled with Agnes, but they are in no position to refuse. The mistress of the house and her two daughters soon learn to view Agnes as a person, but no one can be sure if she is guilty or not. What they do know is that life hasn’t dealt Agnes a good hand and she has endured a lot.

Thrown into the mix is Toti, an assistant reverend who Agnes has requested to help prepare her for death. Though at first she refuses to speak to Toti, slowly she thaws and piece by piece her story is told and the truth revealed about that fateful night.Toti struggles with the task of bringing comfort to a condemned murderer, not helped by those who see Agnes as a difficult, unlikable woman.

Agnes’ story is also told through a series of flashbacks and the text is interspersed with what is probably real historic records from the day. It is a fascinating premise for a novel, coupled with a perfect atmospheric backdrop – all written by a debut author whose use of language makes you think she is someone who has been writing novels for years. So, all great ingredients for a book … BUT I struggled to get through this and in the end I had to sit down and force myself to finish it.

I don’t understand why I found a book that everyone raves about so difficult to get through. It just seemed that whenever the story seemed to be gaining momentum, it stopped. I also found it difficult to get back into each time I picked it up. Perhaps it was the prickly character of Agnes, or the bleakness of the story. I don’t know. By the time the story kicked in, I was just grateful to be getting to the end. And once at the end I am not sure what I was supposed to feel, but I felt relieved to be finished.

This is all sounding a bit of a negative review. It is not meant to be. I just wanted to like this book a lot more than I did.

Have you read Burial Rites? What did you think?

 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (ISBN: 9780143567592, published 2012)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (ISBN: 9780143567592, published 2012)

I received a book voucher for Christmas. I haven’t had one of those in years so was excited to go to my local bookstore to browse. I had seen The Fault in Our Stars by John Green on bestseller lists for a while, but never really paid close attention to what it was about. Then I heard that a movie based on the book was coming out this year so decided to give it a read.

My head must have been well and truly buried in the sand these last six months because I had no idea what it was about before starting to read it. I don’t think I even glanced at the blurb on the back before I bought it. So I didn’t realise that the main protagonists were teenagers – or I should say young adults given how wise and mature they came across on the page. And I didn’t realise that the main character Hazel was fighting terminal cancer nor that she would meet the love of her life in a Cancer Kid Support Group. I started reading this book thinking of it as a young adult book, but soon realised that it had that YA cross-generational appeal.

It’s one of those novels that you read quickly over a period of a couple of days because it sucks you in. Hazel is a character who is smart, funny and strong and resigned to the fact that she will soon die. She is older than her years because her illness has made her that way. And it’s even more poignant given that her parents love her so much and she is their only child. She is not leaving the house much and reading her favourite book over and over. The book is about a girl with cancer and the author writes in such a way that it mirrors exactly how Hazel feels about her cancer. The book also abruptly ends in the middle of a sentence leaving Hazel to wonder what happened to the characters.

Hazel meets Augustus Waters in a support group for teens with cancer, or in Gus’s case, in remission from cancer. They bond over their mutual black humour over the group’s positivity. It’s hard enough being a teen, let alone one going through the harshness of cancer and Gus draws Hazel out of her anti-social funk and makes her feel like an actual teenager again, rather than just a cancer patient.

Then the pair get the opportunity to go to Amsterdam to meet the author of Hazel’s favourite book. I’ll leave it there as I don’t want to give too much away …

You’re going to read this and feel teary. You’re going to get a surprise. And you’re going to wish for some miracle cure for cancer. But literature, as in life, doesn’t always give us the ending we want. That’s what makes this such a bittersweet read.