Monday, 27 May 2019

Sofa Spotlight - A Life's Ambition, Alexandre Dumas

This is a fairly short read and it didn’t take me too long to get through it. The story follows the trials and tribulations of a young actor as he tries to make it in his chosen career and not the one that his father chose for him.

For a considerable part of the book the father thinks his son is in Paris actually employed as he wishes him to be, but we the reader know better, that he is actually tramping the roads around France with a band of actors.

What struck me is that quite often the hero’s plans don’t seem to work out and more often than not he is left cold and hungry. There is one particular scene where he and another aspiring actor are traipsing through deep snow in the middle of the night looking for shelter.

The only disappointment for me came at the end - Dumas clearly knew who the actor was and probably at the time most of his readers did too. I don’t and until I get round to looking it up I don’t know what happened to the actor after this book ends.

That aside I did really enjoy it and would recommend it. My favourite character was the actor’s father who had a tragic tale of his own to tell and is in my mind the true hero of this book.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Sofa Spotlight - A Journey of Three Degrees, A. L. Kent

Well this was a different kind of novel, for me, not the genre I normally choose. The basic premise is that of a student - professor romance. And immediately my mind went to The Professor by Charlotte Bronte. Of course there were similarities but in other ways it was vastly different.

I think I would have enjoyed this a lot more when I was a student. It’s been a few years now since I was at uni so it took me a bit longer to get my head back into that world, but I have to say it was well constructed in this book. Particularly when Anna is packing up and leaving her uni accommodation on her final day, it certainly rang true. One of the obstacles my mind had was that this was an American university experience and I only have knowledge of my British uni. I spent quite a bit of time making comparisons between the two but this was actually quite enjoyable
So anyway back to the romance aspect of this book. Because it is this that drives the story forward. Firstly I should say that this book has some fairly explicit scenes in it. I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to this so I didn’t enjoy them. And I don’t think the story would have lost anything by losing these.

When the romance starts to unfold you can’t get away from tension of how this all might go wrong. Or at least that’s how I felt. But you do get sucked into this story no matter how you feel about what is going on between Anna and her professor and also between Anna and her friend Justin. Her professor was not my favourite character. I think what he tries to do in the end is good, but I also think that it wasn’t fair of him to do that after what he started.

What surprised me is how it turned out. I hadn’t anticipated how the story ended as a possible outcome. This would be a spoiler so I’m not going to tell you, but I think it worked as an ending, so it was a pleasant surprise. And I like not being able to guess how things will turn out.

However, for me the strength of this book was in the second half. Anna heads off for two weeks in France, starting in Paris. What made it so good was the way I was completely transported to Paris or any of the other locations that she visits. As she is staying with a friend who lives in Paris we get an opportunity to explore more than just the obvious tourist spots. And this made for a really refreshing description. I loved this part of the book and was very sorry when it came to an end. If ever writes travel books I wouldn’t hesitate to read them.
What was also interesting is her French friend’s take on romance. Although I’m not unaware of French culture it was nicely juxtaposed with the main characters thoughts and feelings.

So yes I was out of my comfort zone with this one but ultimately enjoyed exploring two different cultures to my own in one book.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Sofa Spotlight - Rob Roy, Walter Scott

I have returned to Walter Scott for another of his adventures. Given how much I enjoyed Kenilworth I was quietly excited and confident that I would enjoy this one. I was wrong. So far this is my least favourite Walter Scott novel.

My main problem with this book is that at the end I’m not entirely sure who benefits from what happened in the book. There doesn’t seem to be any clear satisfactory ending. When characters go through a lot, and these characters do go through a lot, you want them to be rewarded with what they want. Not so here. The best that happens is that a major tragedy is avoided, the people you like escape, and main characters are spared financial ruin. Which I suppose is a positive outcome.

But to achieve that the main character, Frank Osbaldistone, has to meet his cousins, who are a bizarre bunch. Rashleigh being the worst, and quickly cast as the villain. Osbaldistone then has to rescue his father’s firm from ruin at the hands of the dastardly Rashleigh by venturing into hostile Scotland. Starting with Glasgow. There he meets an acquaintance of his father’s who proves to be an ally - albeit a timid one in later adventures.

By this point you can’t help but wonder where is Rob Roy who the story is about? And about now he does make an official appearance although he has appeared before in the story thinly disguised as it seems is Scott’s style. (Thinking King Richard in Ivanhoe).

As it happens Rob Roy is connected with Rashleigh in some way, which I never was fully clear on, and offers to assist our hero in the accomplishment of his quest.

From here it is a trip into the Highlands where we see our hero chased by English soldiers and sort of helped by Highlanders. We meet Rob Roy’s wife, who is formidable to say the least, and after it all everyone sort of returns to normals.

From a plot point of view I think it’s fairly weak. There are too many secrets and hints at mysteries that are not that exciting once they have been revealed. I found it hard to work out what Rashleigh’s motives were, although at some point I think I clocked them. But like the rest of the novel it was a bit obscure for my liking.

Like I say not my favourite Walter Scott novel so not one I would recommend. If you’re going to read Scott I would say start with Kenilworth. The storyline is more obvious and although it can be a little dubious it’s a good story.
However if you are rather fond of this novel then I am very sorry for not treating it very gently. I suppose it’s just not my cup of tea.
Have you read it? Do you agree or am I completely wrong?!

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Sofa Spotlight - Racing Through the Dark, David Millar

The cycling season is well underway now and I haven’t read a cycling book for a while. I read this when it first came out and I had just got into watching cycling. Obviously I started by watching the Tour de France, which of course I still do, and for three weeks of the year the only place I go is to the sofa in front of the TV. And if my housemates want to watch something else... hmm

Anyway I appreciated reading this book when I did because it helped to explain the world of cycling that I was trying to get my head round. Millar in this book, very much like his commentating now, doesn’t assume knowledge but explains concepts and jargon so that his reader can keep up.

However, this book isn’t about explaining the basics of cycle racing. It is a very honest account of how David Millar came to be a professional cyclist, and the challenges that he was confronted with in that world, particularly doping. If you’re wondering what all the fuss about Lance Armstrong was about or if you dismiss cycling as a sport riddled with dopers then I would highly recommend reading this book. It shows the events from an insider point of view and explains the culture in which they happened. And to cap it all it is an entertaining read as well. Both informative and enjoyable - what more could you want?