Wednesday 28 February 2018

Fairvale Ladies Book Club by Sophie Green

TheInaugural Meeting of the

Fairvale Ladies Book Club

 by Sophie Green.

Books bring them together - but friendship will transform all of their lives. Five very different women come together in the Northern Territory of the 1970s by an exceptional new Australian author.
  That is the tagline for this new novel that seems to be channelling Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend and Thorn Birds. In all honesty this was not quite the novel I was expecting; with this title I was expecting the actual bookclub to be far more of a presence. In fact, while the Book Club was what brought the central characters together, it was very much pushed into the background by events in their lives and in the wider world. Somewhat disappointingly the Fairvale Ladies only seemed to hold their bookclub about twice a year.
While this was a disappointment for a ridiculous bookworm, and big bookclub fan, it did not effect the effectiveness or poignancy of the novel as a whole. 
Starting in 1978 this novel follows the lives of five women, all of who are struggling with some aspect of life in the remote and difficult Northern Territory. 
the location is integral to this novel and to the lives of everyone represented, the author evidently sees the beauty of this alien landscape, but at no point does she romanticise or ignore how brutal and hard life can be when confronted by the heat, humidity and extremes of climate. The central character here is Sybil Baxter an ex-nurse from Sydney who has raised a family of two boys on the Fairvale cattle station. Her family relationships have started to fall apart as her eldest son has finally abandoned the family, the debts are mounting up and her younger son is forced to leave his new English wife and his home to earn a living. Sybil is the driving force behind the initial meetings of the book club, hoping to find a connection with her young daughter in law, and to find a way to keep both of them entertained and connected to the outside world. 
Kate is the sheltered young English woman, trying to forge a new life in an unfamiliar world, and being tested physically and emotionally by the trials she finds in this new home a world away from everything she has known. The character that Kate connects to most strongly is also a long way from home; Della is a Texan used hard work and to supporting her family. In Australian she is a pioneer both through her job on Ghost Station as a cattle hand, and also through her interracial love affair with Stan, one of the Aboriginal workers there. While I was hopeful for Della at the start, I found her the least convincing of the women portrayed here. The use of her love affair with Stan was a great way to highlight some very difficult aspects in recent Australian history, the lack of acceptance that they find among the local community makes it clear that there was no parity to be found in 1970s Australia; however Della's lack of understanding of the situation seemed a little bizarre for a woman of the period. At times the writing seemed to be more heavy handed than it needed to be, it also felt very much as though it was coming from a contemporary standpoint. This clashed with the majority of the novel, which captured period detail really well. For me Della's character was just a little more clunky that that of the others. 
I found the final two characters the most interesting, SallyAnne is struggling with small town prejudice; three young kids and an emotionally abusive drunk husband. She has so many unfulfilled dreams and fears that her life is essentially over. Rita on the other hand is a slightly jaded and fiercely independent nurse with the Flying Doctors, she worked with Sybil back in Sydney and is still trying to reconcile herself to  emotional disappointments. For these two, the character arcs seemed both realistic and also the most dramatic. It was deeply satisfying watching SallyAnne blossom and gain in confidence as she distanced herself from her abusive husband. Again this relationship was used to highlight a dark aspect of Australian society, this time an ingrained misogyny that permeates all levels of society.
One thing that I did really like about the novel was the inclusion of short reading notes about all of the titles chosen to be part of the bookclub's reading list; even those that seem to have proved to be too racy for the club to actually read, such as The Group.
Overall this is not a perfect novel, however it is a wonderful portrayal of female friendship and the resourcefulness of women in difficult circumstances. The landscape and climate are used to convey so much about the emotional states of the characters and the whole thing has a perfectly Australian flavour throughout. This is a light an easy read, but not a bit of fluff. It has some wonderful characterisations and some beautiful prose, certainly one to look out for.


Monday 22 January 2018

2018- A Whole New Year

So last year was busy... stupidly busy. I started the year with such good intentions but two hours commute each day on top of often 12 hour work days was just too much and something had to give. What gave out was my ability to post stuff on here.
Towards the end of the year though, I had a wee bit of news. Husband was posted again and a big old move was on the cards. This resulted in a manic few months trying to get everything sorted, lots of emotional moments at work and at home and insane numbers of boxes required to pack up books. With Christmas to work through, our car written off just before Christmas (A big shout out to the idiot who drove into the back of us on the M25), most of the house to pack and a job refundable holiday to get packed for... not to mention a new job to get lined up for the post move time... I have been slightly stressed. We are at the point of almost being sorted now.
Leaving work was emotional... but on my final day I got the brilliant news that my promotion and transfer was a go... such a massive relief! I had a further couple of manic days packing and cleaning the old house and have a couple more to look forward to at the end of the month, but right now we are Half way through our holiday... Now I finally feel as though I have relaxed and it is wonderful!
I have so many plans for the new job, The new house and for my reading year. I should be able to get down to mainly 10hr working days and have a mere 20 minute commute so yay!
So far I have been quite busy skiing so haven't been reading as much as I sometimes do on these holidays... A lack of injury (touch wood) leads to more skiing and less reading. Today though the 60cm snow that fell overnight and high winds made going out to the mountain a big fat nope so the day has been spent reading through some of my reading heap. It has been good.... and I have reviews to follow.

It is a whole new year everyone!

Friday 3 February 2017

January 2017- Books of the Month and General Round-Up

I spent half of this month on my annual skiing holiday, so my reading had something of a holiday theme. While I am away I always manage to get a fair few books under my belt, but this time I didn't seem to be in much of a 'steam on through' mood. I think a lot of this was down to the large numbers of rather plump Russians who seemed to want to use the hotel's spa at the exact same time as my husband and I headed on down there. It is a little difficult to get comfortable chilling out in the hotel's hot tub or sauna with a book if you are being squeezed up against lots of stranger flesh.... not the most relaxing of atmospheres. In the end we decided to cede the victory to the Russians and stopped using the spa at all. Our aching post-ski muscles had to make do with a hot shower and wee lie down instead. So I did manage to get some reading in, just also found myself slipping off to sleep quite a bit, thus cutting down on my reading time.
We were skiing in the South Tyrol/Alto Adige region; a contested area that has swapped between Italian and Austrian control for centuries. I had failed in tracking down any novels set in the region, although since I have read one and acquired a couple more. (See my Feb. update I am sure) I did take one book set in the mountains, The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain. This was the book of the month for work, and I wanted to like it. I am afraid that the setting did not save it though. I HATED it! Firstly it is a bloody depressing book; hateful parenting, mismatched marriages, unrequited (and largely unacknowledged) love, personal failure, childhood abuse (sexual and emotional), tb, parental death, cancer, mental illness oh and a wee dash of holocaust related issues make for a cheering mix. So probably not best to sell this to anyone wanting a charming Swiss idyll. Despite the high levels of depression I still found the writing to be rather twee at times, like Heidi with added misery (if that is possible) perhaps. Much of the dialogue seems slightly ridiculous tbh, I can't believe that people anywhere have every spoken to each other like this. Occasionally there is a burst of believable dialogue but this is rare. Secondly the characters themselves; highly unsympathetic in the main would be my polite way of putting it. Gustav, following his quite appalling upbringing, is stilted and uptight beyond every possible stereotype of an uptight Swiss hotelier; the love of his life, Anton is a mildly hysterical and rather irritating little twerp who speaks and acts without any thought for the feelings of anyone around him. Among the other characters you can expect stilted conversation interspersed with the odd rather graphic incident of enemas being given to old women in sheds, old ladies making inappropriate advances on the children of their former lovers and a fair bit of discussion of masturbation (mainly among the older cast members of this little tale.) The setting is firmly in provincial Switzerland, with just a brief interlude in Paris which came as something of a relief but also led to some awkward sexual propositions.
So who should read it? Well it is possible to link it to A Whole Life, they overlap slightly historically, and the rural Tyrol isn't a million miles away from provincial Switzerland, however the writing and the story do not have the beauty or the delicacy of Seethaler, Imo. The theme of maintaining neutrality, literally being like Switzerland, is hammered home and I found it rather repellent if I am honest. Edna O'Brien readers might appreciate the small town setting, the graphic (rather pointless sexual scenes), and the general high levels of depression. So there it is.... not sure if you can tell but I am not a big fan of this book, certainly not up to the previous standard of earlier novels by Tremain imo.
Certainly it was not for me. 

So Gustav was by reading low for the month... and wow was it a big ol'low, the reading equivalent of falling off a chairlift and getting your skis in a tangle. ;)
That was my low, what was my high? I finally finished the Cormoran Strike books by Galbraith/Rowling. I had held off reading these for so long, refusing to be drawn into adult Rowling novels. Then in January I was looking for a new audio book for my long commute to and from work and bit the bullet, downloading Cuckoo's Calling. I loved it. It's not high literature, some of the descriptive passages are a little too long and I can see that it may not date terribly well, but it was a very enjoyable book to listen to and had some great characters. Cuckoo was certainly good enough for me to download books two and three for my holiday. Robert Glenister is a brilliant narrator for the stories and they make wonderful travel listening. 
My main highlights for January were The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley and At Home by Bill Bryson.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is simply delightful. It took a wee while for me to get going with it, but once I did it was just a delight. For me the start had a little too much 'timey-wimey' stuff going on; I was genuinely confused about why we kept flipping into the past and to Japan of the Shogunate. There is a genuinely strong female character, in the form of Grace Carrow although I was a little disappointed and in fact confused by her character arc if I am honest.The whole thing is delightfully quirky and beautifully put together. If nothing else it is worth reading just to meet Katsu the Octopus. The relationship between Thaniel and Mori is lovely and beautifully portrayed, and the story also contains one of the most horrible moments of passive aggressive petty vindictiveness I have come across in a good while. It isn't often that you come across a same-sex, inter-racial Victorian romance in a novel, much less in a novel that also contains a gorgeous robotic cephalopod. Oh and did I mention that the book is a thing of steam punk beauty? Because it really is! 
At Home by Bill Bryson is a look at domestic history of the past two hundred years or so. As usual Bryson takes an unusual approach to his fact filled history. Using his Norfolk parsonage home as a launch pad, he examines the history of domestic life room by room. Everything from the condiments  our tables to the pipes that remove our waste is looked at in glorious and highly entertaining detail. It is no secret that I am a big Bryson fan and I found this book to be as inexhaustibly entertaining, funny and informative as ever. I think I only have one of his books left to read now, as I read his brilliantly amusing history of Shakespeare in January as well. Part of me wants to keep America 1927 until I know Bryson has something else coming up.... we will see.
As I was away for half the month I didn't buy many new books, a thing for which my groaning bookshelves are probably grateful for. I did pick up a very cute little cookbook La Cucina nelle Dolomiti by Anneliese Kompatscher brilliantly this cookbook is written in both Italian and German, so if nothing else it will be great for language practise. There are some great recipes for soups and puddings and it should prove interesting to try some of them out.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Bleeding Hell!

so... almost another full year has passed by and here I am again, feeling rathe guilty about my lack of activity on here during just about the whole of 2016.

I've had a busy year, read a lot, travelled a bit. Worked far more than I probably should have done, and all of this has combined into not a lot of extra time to spend writing up any bookish thoughts. My recent insistance on making it to the gym fove days a week has left me even less time to think about coming online, if I am honest I cannot say how much any of this is likely to change in the next year.

So while I cannot promise that 2017 will lead to me being any more dedicated than I have been throughout 2016, I can pledge to at least try.....

Wish me luck!!

Friday 25 December 2015


So..... it's Christmas day and I have been a bad, bad book blogger.......

It's been several months since my last proper post. Several months during which I have read MANY great books and yet I haven't posted anything on here. Slap my wrist immediately!!

In my defence I have had a very busy few months. Promotions at work have meant that I am WAY more involved in the running and management of the place. This is great, but it does mean that I have been putting in some crazy hours and making time to read takes priority over writing about making time to read. Sorry folks but that's the truth.... without the reading I don't know that I could go on, writing about it is VERY much secondary to that in my heart.

However... a new year is almost upon us; and I'm pledging to make a resolution. My resolution for 2016 is to take the time to write about my book habits at least once a week. That's a mere 52 posts, something that I have every intention of squeezing into my schedule.

So for now let us all eat, drink and be merry. We have all had a nice little heap of books as gifts I am sure now is the time to read them and we'll talk soon. ;)

Laters people.

Merry Christmas!!

Friday 28 August 2015

Asking For It - Louise O'Neill

Ok so this review contains spoilers and bad language, if you'll be offended then don't bother reading this.

Shit.... 'scuse the language, but seriously if you are offended by that then this is not a book for you to read. In fact although I would say this is something that should probably be read by both sexes at some point, if they are too young or immature to cope with my initial language here then they are too young to be given this book. This is brutal, brutally honest, totally raw and deeply upsetting at times. Apparently more than 50% of kids today have watched online porn by the time they are around twelve, a really shocking fact about modern tech-savy childhood. This online generation not only have their sexual expectations formed by what they see in online porn, but they also have access to social media, giving them the potential power to share expectations and experiences instantly. I would hope that anyone who watched the recent Channel4 programme 'Sex in Class', was as shocked as I was by the attitudes expressed by some of the teens who took part.
This new novel from Louise O'Neill tackles issues of sexual consent and the impact of social media head on, in a brutal, raw and yet believable way.
The start of the novel introduces us to Irish teenager Emma O'Donovan. At eighteen she is beautiful, fun loving, and pretty typical. She likes to get drunk with her friends, she revels in showing off her body in skimpy outfits, and loves the 'power' that her appearance gives her over both men and women in her small town. She has had sexual partners, probably more that the average teen, most of these experiences have taken place under the influence and with some she has been left a little hazy on the details of quite what has happened. In many ways she really is something of a bitch, she treats her friends pretty badly and comes across as manipulative and self centred. It becomes clear that because of her pervious flirtatious behaviour her friends don't totally trust her around their boyfriends mainly because she struggles with anyone else every being the centre of attention. However her world is turned upside down when she attends a party and a group of boys basically decide to repay every flirt and every diss they have ever perceived from her. Due to a mix of drink and drugs she loses all control after consensual sex with one of the local sports stars. Next thing she knows she comes to outside her own house, with her underwear missing and her dress covered in God-knows-what and on backwards. What happens next is one of the more shocking things I've read, and is brilliantly written. Back at school, everyone is whispering about Emma, and she has no idea why. As far as she knows she simply got drunk and got off with the wrong bloke. Everyone seems to be blowing things massively out of proportion, something that she struggles with alongside her hangover, and some unexplained bruises and soreness in intimate areas. She simply assumes that the one man she remembers having had sex with liked it rough, in fact she is so concerned that she has upset people with her drunken behaviour that she sends texts to all of her 'friends' male and female checking to see if they are ok with her. The scenario of losing time due to drunkenness is an experience that the majority of young people will have at some point, what I sincerely hope that people don't have to experience is what happens next to Emma. Her brother gets in touch to tell her just how disgusted he is with her, it seems that images of her having sex has gone viral. A new facebook page has been set up in her name, this consists of nothing but images of her passed out while a group of men and boys use her in every way they could imagine. She is shown being fucked by all of the men, being degraded, being vomited and urinated on; really disgusting acts of abuse and degradation. Everyone at school has seen these images, in fact the friends of everyone has seen them and each person seems to have commented. Emma has been totally taken apart and used. When a complaint is made to the Guards by her school, leading to rape charges against the men involved, things spiral even further out of control. Emma's initial response is to try and deny that there is a problem, she doesn't want to be a victim, she doesn't want anyone to hate her and she has such sketchy memories of events that she can hardly believe that anything has happened. The court of public opinion is quick to come down on each side, with the majority of people in the town finding it easier to label Emma as a slut, asking to be used thanks to her clothing, behaviour and use of drink and drugs, than to see they boys as abusing rapists. They are 'nice boys really, things just got out of control' that is the attitude that Emma is met with. What did she expect if she chose to act like she did? The remainder of the novel comes one year after the gang rape. It shows how the attack and impending trial has destroyed Emma and the lives of her whole family. In fact the case has torn the whole community apart; due to the unusual impact of social media in the case it has drawn national media attention and is being seen as a precedent setting case creating even more pressure on Emma and her family.
The ending is both shocking and truly upsetting. As O'Neill points out in her afterword it is also tragically common. She makes no apology for the bleakness of the writing, and nor should she. It is dreadful to read and yet deeply important that the issues of consent, sexual behaviour and use of social media be discussed by young people living in the modern world. I would not suggest that this is suitable for younger teens, but at the same time kids do need to read shocking stories like this before they think about becoming sexually active, the subject makes for a difficult and painful read but is also groundbreaking and deserves to be something that is looked at both in schools and in society in general.

Noonday - Pat Barker

The third book in the series that started with Life Class and Toby's Room, this takes the story of the love triangle that is Elinor, Paul and Kit into middle age and into the horrors of London during the Blitz. Although this is the third book in the series there seems to be enough background provided to make it possible to read this as a standalone book. I really don't think that you would appreciate the depth of story and feeling should you choose to read it in this fashion. The ghosts from the earlier books certainly haunt this one.
While I did enjoy my experience of reading this, there were times when I found aspects of the story-telling grating in the extreme. The story arc involving Bertha Mason (not Mrs Rochester, but a hugely overweight clairvoyant) was fascinating but also deeply irritating at times. These sections seemed fragmented and I found them rather confusing, a distraction from the main story. Despite this the writing covering the experience of the Blitz is brilliantly executed. The terror and confusion is captured perfectly, as well as the near-total dislocation from normal life as the city became unrecognisable.
As you'd expect from this series issues around the artistic world do play a part in this story arc, with some discussion of the role of a war artist, as well as what was considered to be 'proper' subjects for artists of box sexes. Unlike the first two books in the series though, these considerations were very much on the background, a decision that I thought made sense considering the massive and devastating events against which this is set. In many ways, despite being set in the 1940s this is still a novel of the First World War, the continuing impact of the 1914-18 war is what has shaped all of the central characters. All of their actions have to be seen against the trauma of their experiences during WWI, it is fascinating to see the first war through the eyes of characters already shaped by and earlier conflict.
Despite it's flaws this is a book to read, and a worthy and satisfying conclusion to the series; it will be interesting to see if Pat Barker's next novel will also cover issues surrounding conflict now that she has so comprehensively looked at the impact of the First World War.

The Leopard - Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa

One that had been on my to read list for quite a while and now one of the Waterstones rediscovered classics, so expect bookshop staff to extolling it's virtues throughout September. If they do, then take them up on the chance to read it, because it really does deserve it's classic status. Set in Sicily in the period just after Risorgimento, unification for those of us not up on 19th century Italian history. It focuses on the family of Fabrizio, Prince of Salina who are experiencing the social shifts within the nation. The book captures the sense of a collapsing way of life quite brilliantly, something that is usually found in novels set in the post 1918 world. The scope of the central story is really rather small, the Prince's beloved nephew, Tancredi, falls in love with the daughter if a middle class family and dashes the romantic hopes of his cousin, Fabrizio's daughter Concetta. This intimate story is set in the context of Garibaldi's invasion of Italy and the political changes that occurred afterwards. These momentous changes impact on the main story and add to the poignancy of the final scenes set in 1883 and 1910.
What raises this novel out of the ordinary are the nuanced and totally believably flawed characters each one of which is beautifully written and which are set in a location that is captured to perfection. The underlying theme of collapse and mortality runs throughout the novel with the musings of the Prince on the subject of mortality forming the backdrop to several scenes. Not wanting to spoil the ending I'll just reiterate that I found it to be very poignant and moving. The novel really is a pleasure to read and it just seems a shame that there is so little other writing by Lampedusa available to be enjoyed.

Tuesday 30 June 2015

River of Souls - Kate Rhodes

The fourth book in the Alice Quentin series and Kate Rhodes is properly into her stride. By book four the recurring characters all feel like nicely rounded individuals, with full back-stories and, as with all well written characters, the reader can have a fairly good idea how each one will react under stressful situations.
The story line of this book gets pretty stressful for all involved. One year on from a gruesome and horrific attack on the daughter of a cabinet minister, the family call in Alice Quentin to reexamine aspects of the case that were poorly investigated first time around. The victim's mother is desperate for her daughter's attacker to be found while there is still a chance that Jude, the victim, can know that justice has been served. Alice quickly comes under pressure from government aides keen to keep their up and coming minister's name out of any investigation, as well as having to deal with the trauma of interviewing Jude and confronting her horrific injuries. When other victims, all seemingly linked to the minister's family start to be found the pressure intensifies.
The POV flips between Alice and the unknown attacker, giving the reader some insight into his motivation. Just how far we can trust that he is committing the attacks as a gruesome tribute to the Thames is debatable though. Providing the reader with a wonderfully unreliable narrator is a sure way of drawing the reader in and it works brilliantly here. Certainly I thought that I had a handle on why he was committing the vicious attacks, then slowly some bits of his narrative started to fall outside of what I expected of him. I'm rather proud that I did have strong suspicions about the identity of the murderer quite a while before the big reveal. There were a few interesting red herrings thrown into the mix though that certainly made this a more interesting read. In fact the whole style really works to keep you turning the pages, and make this an exciting and unputdownable read.
Alice is a believable character, she is convincingly rounded and manages to combine empathy and tenderness with the resilience that must be necessary in her chosen profession. My one niggle with the whole book is that I found the writing about her love life to be a little grating after a while. I want her to have a background story, and want her to be a 'real' character with a personal life outside of work, but I did find some of the angst about her relationship with Burns to be a little repetitive and somewhat grating after a while. There were definitely moments where I would have preferred more development of the actual plot instead of further discussion about their abortive relationship. I'll admit that about halfway through the book, I found myself rushing through the 'relationship' bits in order to hurry back to the main story. Overall though this is a minor gripe and I would recommend these books for fans for Martina Cole or Belinda Bauer.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Reunion - Fred Uhlman

One of the most perfect books I have ever had the pleasure to read. This was recommended to me by a customer, and I had to admit that I had never heard of it at all. Being somewhat anal about such things I dislike having such total ignorance of interesting titles, so was sure to get hold of a copy as soon as possible. This is not something that I could ever regret, and I'd like to thank the customer concerned for drawing my attention to this literary gem.
The novel is the story of a brief friendship between two teenage schoolboys in early 1930's Germany. It encapsulates the shifts in this relationship in a pure and perfectly beautiful way, while also reflecting on outside events as they impact upon the two boys. The final chapters are deeply moving, and no matter how much you have read around the subject matter or about the period in question I defy you to remain unmoved by the clear and matter-of-fact way in which the narrative moves forward. As for the final paragraph, I don't know that I can remember the last time that such a simple ending devastated me so deeply. Even now, as I write this I am finding it difficult to remain composed.
This is a very short book, less than a hundred pages, and yet it's impact far outweighs it's length. I often come across people who would baulk at spending £8 on something that is this short, but I can honestly say that it is well worth every single penny and will move all but the most heartless  reader far more deeply than a longer, less perfect book could ever do. Five stars does not even begin to do this book justice.

Friday 29 May 2015

The House at the Edge of the World - Julia Rochester

A surprisingly dark look at the emotional damage that can be caused by family life. This book has some incredibly vivid depictions of teenage life in the West Country, which really draw you into this story. I have to admit that I became so lost in these gorgeous images that I almost didn't see the darker aspects creeping into the story. This story has wonderful characters Matthew is particularly lovely. Growing up in Cornwall I'm pretty sure that I met a fair few of these wonderfully drawn individuals around the village, it is clear from the brilliant detail that the author grew up in the rural west country.
 The most wonderful concept of all is Matthew's map, a painting that charts the local and personal history of Thornton with all it's myths, legends and histories. The idea of this is something like a modern day Mappa Mundi, showing time and place, fact and fiction all layered onto each other. This is an integral part of the plot, providing hidden meanings to events that the twins have lived through. This is an exceptional debut and is a book well worth losing yourself in.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Catherine, Called Birdy - Karen Cushman

When this was first released, back in 1994, I was the same age as the protagonist Catherine. It could have been expected that this would have been the kind of book I'd have jumped at, medieval setting, disgruntled young teen at the heart of it, a little bit of love, a lot of comedy; what wouldn't I have liked. Unfortunately, I missed this one, probably in part due to the fact that at thirteen I considered myself far too much of a grown up to be reading 'kids books', unless I already loved them in any case. I was reading proper adult books by then and would never have given this a chance even if I had been aware of it. Now as a more mature reader (ahem, yeah so that might mean 'damn sight older'), I am loving getting stuck in to some of the great books that are out there for kids of all ages. This really should be considered as one of the great books. I get the impression that in the States this is pretty much a classic, but here in the UK, it really is very little known, and deserves to be more widely read.
OK, so as a criticism historical accuracy is not what this book is about. To a certain extent it is there, people dress in pretty much the correct way (the odd flouting of Sumptuary laws aside), the world revolves around the cycle of church and seasonal tasks etc, however at the same time Catherine is way too kick ass and ready to stand up for herself than you would expect a thirteenth century thirteen year old to be. The fact that her father has every intention and right to marry her off to any man of HIS choosing seems to come as a massive surprise to her. Even Shakespeare had his Juliet acting all shocked when confronted with this age old truth, so we can excuse Cushman for giving her character a bit of a surprise if only to allow the idea to shock modern readers. However, Catherine is not just shocked she is also determined to do something about it. Her attempts at getting out of marriage lead to more physical violence from her father than a lot of contemporary readers would appear to be happy with, but to be honest the level of free will she is willing to show could expect a beating or two at the very least back in 1290.
Catherine really is a great character, despite the anachronistic level of talking back to her father, she really doesn't read as though a modern teen has somehow been dropped in the high middle ages. She knows the stuff she should do (marriage prospects aside that it), she gets bored sitting around doing her sewing and spinning, but wants to alleviate that boredom by working out in the fields like the village children not by doing anything that would seem out of it's time.
I've read a few criticisms that have mentioned the mere fact that this takes the form of a diary as written by a thirteenth century girl as being a reason to dismiss the book. I think these are unfair, for two reasons. Firstly it is a misconception that EVERYONE in the Middle Ages was 100% illiterate, people didn't just wake up some time around the 1700s and all suddenly know how to read and write. In fact some level of literacy was common among a large swathe of the population, from being able to read and write as we would understand it down to having the ability to read and or write individual words or phrases usually from the Bible. So the idea of a girl having the ability to read and to record her thoughts is not that ridiculous. Secondly, she goes to great lengths to explain how her favourite brother, Edward, made a point of teaching her, giving an entirely plausible reason for her to have this ability. Not only this but the story makes it entirely clear that most people won't be able to read her book, giving the ability to her brothers, the Steward and a handful of others only. So I do not think this criticism holds up to much at all.
The style here has been compared to Adrian Mole, and there certainly are some levels where this is fair, overall though it reminded me more of Georgia Nicholson from  Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging the attitude and even the preoccupations seemed similar despite the difference in time period.
This is one of those books that I am really glad to have finally read, I half wish that the thirteen year old me had discovered it twenty one years ago, but at least I've had the pleasure now and can recommend it to as many young teens as possible in the future.