Wednesday, October 29, 2008

51. The Fifteen Streets

The title: The Fifteen Streets
The author: Catherine Cookson
Publication: Simon & Schuster
Got it from: Library donation

If you've never read Catherine Cookson, I'll sum up her novels in five words:

We're poor, and it sucks.

Now I'll sum it up longly:

We're poor, and it sucks, and we'll have heaps of horrible things happen to us, and there will be struggles between rich and poor people, and a bunch of people will die horribly and everything will barely work out at the end with a tentatively forged romance. The End.

Last year, at the request of two cackling old sisters who came into the library, I read The Dwelling Place. Now that was a depressing book. It also made me want to throw the book at the wall because in the end the heroine actually marries the guy who rapes her and gets her pregnant, instead of the nice guy who cares for her! Never mind that he's a complete rake who impregnates every woman in the Caribbean, he's rich! (Highlight if you don't mind spoilers.)

This book was slightly better in terms of the horrible things happening-o-metre, although something awful does happen that I did not see coming (but I should have because it's a Catherine Cookson novel). The story centres around a Catholic family, the O'Brien's, living in turn-of-the-century Northern England (Liverpool?). They're dirt, and I mean dirt, poor. The only thing keeping them going is that the three older men in the family work part-time down at the docks: Shane, the father, John, the hero of the story and his younger brother Dominic, who is a complete bastard. There's a movie of this book at the library where Sean Bean plays Dominic, and I really should see it.

The story is really all about John and his relationship to his hard-working mother, Mary Ellen, and his bright and lively little sister Katie. There's a sub-plot involving the Brackens, a family who move in next door who are rich and some sort of spiritualists, which causes them to be shunned by the neighbourhood. Their daughter, Christine, falls in love with John but is pursued by the lecherous Dominic. John is kind to Christine, but is himself falling in love with Katie's teacher, a rich girl from the other side of town.

This book was really hard to get into at first. The first few pages are from the perspective of some neighbours, which really makes things confusing, and it's difficult to tell which family member is who. There is also a lot of old-timey poor class slang thrown at you right away and I couldn't tell which way was was up for about a chapter. However, once the story eased into the O'Brien household it became much more readable. I must say, even though she does write the most awfully frustrating stories, Catherine Cookson is a wonderful storyteller. She has a way of making her readers sympathize with her characters that's remarkable. I found myself truly rooting for John and Mary, the schoolteacher, to be together. Overall, even though the ending wasn't as satisfying as I had hoped, I liked the story much more than I expected. B-

Monday, October 27, 2008

50. The New Policeman

Yay! We've hit fifty books!
The title: The New Policeman
The author: Kate Thompson
Publication: Greenwillow Books, 2005
Got it from: The library

This is a deceptively big book that reads very easily and is a lot of fun. J.J. Liddy, the hero of the book, is a 15-year-old who lives in an Ireland where there never seems to be enough time. When his mother wishes for more of it for her birthday, J.J. sets out to find her some. There's a lot of Irish mythology woven in here. Yes, it involves the "F" word. (Hint: it's almost impossible to write about Irish mythology without them). Each chapter ends with a piece of music related to the plot. I wish I could read music so I would know what it sounded like. At least now I know where all my missing socks are. B+

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh, what the heck

Just to give something to amuse you until the next review, and because I get so depressed with the state of the world and people's general hatred of women, I give you: a warm fuzzy story!

Yes, the rumours you heard were true. Archaeologists were stunned to discover Britain's oldest toy buried at my favourite henge (that'd be Stonehenge) last month. It was found with a couple of babies' remains, and it seems the babies died of natural causes. In what may go down as the greatest archaeological debate this century, scientists are heatedly arguing over whether the toy is a pig or a hedgehog. No, I'm not kidding. Joshua Pollard of the University of Bristol claims he fancies it a hedgehog, while Stonehenge expert Mike Pitts says, "it's without a doubt a pig."

Hedgehog? Pig? Pighog? Hedgepig? I can't wait until the knives come out over this one. Personally, I'm seeing a pig here but hedgehogs are just so darn cute. I will follow this debate with interest.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Must update

I will post soon, I swearz. I know, I know. I haven't exactly been reading a lot this month. Can I say in my defense that I'm in the middle of a four-book series that I want to review all at once? Also that I read National Geographic cover to cover and that this month's issue took me a long time to get through? Also that the other book I'm reading is about a scillion pages long and the print is really tiny and it's nonfiction? Then can you forgive me?

Monday, October 13, 2008

49. By Hook or by Crook

The title: By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English
The author: David Crystal
Publication: Overlook Press, 2007
Got it from: The library

I wasn't sure what to expect when I put my name down for this book at the library. It was a new book about linguistics, so I thought I'd take a look and see if it interested me. One of the nice things about having no expectations about a book is that it is a pleasant surprise when you find yourself enjoying it.

This book isn't about any one thing in particular, other than being observations the author makes about funny things in the English language. Don't read this expecting a linear narrative, you'll go bonkers. It's more like a chocolate box full of interesting tidbits. And like a chocolate box, you never know where you're headed next. For instance, I learned that certain kinds of bees do elaborate dances to alert their hivemates about food sources, there's a language dying somewhere in the world every two weeks and that Birmingham accents are considered the ugliest in all of Britain. There's also a lot of references to pop culture. Extra points for the frequent mention of Doctor Who, which I have recently renewed my obsession with. B+

Saturday, October 4, 2008

RIP Canadian OED staff

Having just reviewed Six Words You Never Knew Had Something To Do With Pigs less than two months ago, I am sad to report that every one of the staff of the OED has been laid off, including Katherine Barber, the editor and author of Six Words. (MSN, in their usual lame attempt to grab readers' attention, trumpets the headline, "Entire Staff of the Canadian OED fired!" No, being fired and being laid off are not the same thing). They cite flagging sales as the culprit, but I am inclined to believe that Harper and the Tories are somehow behind it.