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April Books

Not surprising at all really that I have only read two books this month.

Kate Chopin- The Awakening- Recognised now as an early feminist novel , according to the blurb on the back. Not sure I agree, unless you only focus on sexuality and desire. It was published in 1899, and is set in New Orleans. Edna is the daughter of a plantation owner, wife of a financier and has two small boys. The family holidays one summer at Grand Isle. Here she learns to swim and begins to fall for an engaging young man Robert, who by all account has worked his charms on most of the married ladies. However Robert is attracted to Edna and realising things can not go further takes himself off to Mexico. The family returns home and Edna begins to paint. She stops doing her ” at homes”.  The children go to stay with their grandparents on the plantation and her husband goes to New York, to wheel and deal. Edna spends a great deal of time with a well-known “rake”, before moving out of the family home and into the “pigeon-house”.  Robert returns to town and both realise their attraction to each other. Robert being a gentleman removes himself and Edna returns to the Grand Isle, where the book ends. I won’t say exactly how.

Now I will be up front here. this book took me a fortnight to read, which is not like me. Mostly a couple of pages a  night and in hospital corridors where I did a lot of hanging about. Not the best way to read a book. I was disappointed. Sometimes I wonder if critics have read any of the classics like Jane Eyre or Middlemarch. Plenty of repressed sensuality there! I know others have read this book already, and some for A levels. What did you make of it? It’s certainly not the revolutionary tract on feminism I was expecting. I really thought Edna was going plough her own furrow with her own house and her painting, but no.

Melvyn Bragg- The Soldier’s Return- I was drawn to this book, partly because of the Sawdust hearts which admittedly are WW1, and the return in this book is from WW2, but the war in Burma against the Japanese, which is where my own Dad was.  Sam returns home to Cumbria, somewhat traumatized in 1946, to find the euphoria and bunting from VE day has long since gone and post war austerity with rationing and housing/ unemployment problems besetting his little family. His wife and son who is now 6 years are close to each other and to the other people in the lodging house they now live. Sam feels very much an outsider and a stranger to his family. His son is frightened of him and does not like being evicted from his Mum’s bed. Sam considers him a Mummy’s Boy.

The book is well written and the descriptions of post war life in a rural/ small town setting  believable. I especially liked the chapter with the town carnival which Sam and family throw themselves into. Then Sam attends a reunion in which one of his comrades waxes lyrical about Australia. Sam feels very hemmed in after the war and decides to go. His wife however wants to stay in the town where she feels safe.

I won’t spoil the ending, it was quite satisfactory. You do find out in one chapter what Sam and his comrades witnessed and it is extremely shocking. My Dad wrote an account of his time in India nad Burma and I am pleased that he did not have such a horrific experience.

I enjoyed the book, both for its personal link to my Dad, the descriptions of Cumbria, I love that people collected rose hips and the like and could actually sell them, the reality of the promised land fit for heroes and the austerity and poverty of the post war years. I am a fifties baby boomer, and I can recall bomb sites when we visited my Grandad in Liverpool, and how carefully Mum eeked out some food stuffs. A good read.

So what next? These two.

Have you read any good books this month? Love to know.

 

 

 

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February Books, 2018.

I have had a lot of reading time this month and read all these ones I had from the library.

David Hanson- Children of the Mill- this book was written to accompany the TV programme The Mill based on the true stories of the children who worked in The Quarry Bank Mill at Styall. The book compares the real stories to the ones that were changed for the purposes of a good drama. It was a fascinating yet easy book to read. I really enjoyed it.

David Ebershoff- The 19th Wife- A story of two 19th wives. Ann Eliza Young trapped in an unhappy polygamous marriage to the Prophet Brigham Young, escapes and helps end the practice of polygamy within the Mormon religion. The second modern 19th wife is accused of the muder of her husband, they are part of a breakaway religion from the Mormons known as the Firsts. Her son sets about finding the truth. This was a jolly good read. Now I read this in quite a short space of time over several afternoons.  There are a lot of characters each telling their bit of two stories, and the two parts are interlinked throughout. So choose a time when you can settle down to just reading. Perfect holiday reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I agree with one of the reviews on the back “A big book, in every sense of the word…it does that thing, all good novels do: it entertains us”. Los Angles Times.

Toni Morrison- God Help the Child- how do you prepare a child for life’s slings and arrows? How can an adult overcome emotional abuse experienced as a child? How can children cope with bereavement? How do children survive sexual and physical abuse? What happens to the adults? God Help the Child indeed. Well written, thought provoking, distressing in places. Not for those in want of a fluffy read.

Ian McEwan- The Comfort of Strangers- or adults should think stranger danger too. Set in Venice, probably we are never told, a couple meet a local couple and are befriended. Enough said. There is such a feel of menace in this book, it draws you in and you race to the end. Absolotuely not for the faint hearted.

Kate Hamer- The Girl in the Red Coat- now did someone recommend this to me or did I hear about it on the radio, I don’t know. But by golly it grips you. Every parents nightmare, child disappears at a story telling festival. A very, very good thriller. Oh perfect holiday  reading , you are gripped. I read pretty much non stop to find out what happens. Go on, treat yourself to a good read, you know you want to….

Joanna Trollope-Second Honeymoon- as always a plot in step with our times. Edie is distraught when her youngest child, aged 22 moves out of the family home. She lacks purpose and mourns the empty nest. Russell her husband hopes they will return to the feeling of newly weds. Edie auditons for a part in Ibsen’s Ghost, and much to her surprise is offered a role. One of her co stars,  fresh out of drama school, becomes their lodger. Then her children’s lives fall apart and one by one they all return home. But having six adults under one roof does not equal happiness and a return to how life used to be. In the course of the novel everything is resolved through new jobs, new relationships, babies and greater understanding of what it means to be independent. Not a bad depiction of empty nest syndrome, and how life just goes its messy way on.

And for March I have these from the library

Now in case you think you have never heard of the book called Paul Clifford, I bet anything you have heard the opening line. What do you think it might be… honest you know it. I believe I may not actually get to the end of this one, I gather I will be in for some purple prose.

Any got any books they read this month to recommend?

 

Yarn Along!

So glad Yarn Along is back.

I am really enjoying The 19th Wife. I will do a review at the end of the month. Having finished the dragon I am now knitting some small squares to make a cushion. I am trying different patterns so it a kind of a sampler cushion, and using cotton yarn which is not my favourite but maybe I will get used to it.

To see what others are knitting and reading have a look at Small Things.

Big day tomorrow with Mr E’s Op, hopefully I will have good news for my next Knit and Natter. Take care,xx

December books

I have read four books this month which gives a total of 63 books consumed in 2017. Clearly I am a Lady of Leisure.

Robert Harris- An Officer and a Spy- Robert Harris is a favourite author of mine, and this book came recommended to me by Jane who blogs at Rainbow Junkie Corner, here.   The story based on a true case,is  set in France and concerns the Dreyfus Affair, in which an innocent man is framed by the army. The Army persists in covering up their role and it takes a brave officer to help uncover the truth. As always Harris tells a good story. I was gripped very early on in the book and spent two afternoons reading it whilst indulging a head cold! A jolly good read.

Qui Xiaolong-Death of a Red Heroine- ostensibly a murder detective story, but really that is a peg to hang other things on. I was initially frustrated by the very slow pace of the tale, till I relaxed into it and stopped looking for detective bits of the plot and allowed the whole narrative to pull me in. The book is really about life in China, Shanghai in the 1990s, the political undertones and faint menace of life, food, there is a lot of food and Chinese mythology and poetry. I really enjoyed the book. It was recommended to me when I was reading my way through an alphabet of authors and had got unstuck on X. I rather suspect that the last name is really what we in the West would call the first name, so should really be Q, but it’s as close to X for an author as I think I can get, unless you know an author whose family name begins with an X. I am calling that particular challenge to myself, complete.

Margaret Foster- How to Measure a Cow- a woman released from prison tries to make a new life for herself with a new identity. But she is thwarted by the interest of three former friends and the lady who lives opposite her. The book is OK. It started off very well and had my interest quite quickly, but it is another book where I feel the author didn’t know how to draw it to a conclusion. But you do learn briefly how to measure and cow, and more importantly why. I’ve been reflecting on this book further. The plot was not the point of this book. The story was a peg to be hung on, when am I going to learn to look beyond the story line. It is an exploration of self, can you re-invent yourself to be someone completely different, or rather do you come to terms with past events and become a better you. A better book than I first thought, give it a go and let me know what you think please.

Jane Gardam- Old Filth. This author had come highly recommended to me this year, but the two books I read I didn’t enjoy.Then the BBC world book club choose Old Filth and I liked what I heard. So it came home with me for Christmas reading and did not disappoint. Sir Edward Feathers, Teddy, Eddie or Fevvers to his friends, aka Old Filth (acronym for Failed in London try Hong Kong) was born in Malay and sent back to the UK aged five for his health, fostered out to a couple in Wales along with two distant cousins and another boy. Not a very nice couple it transpires. Onto schools, Oxford, the Bar and finally Hong Kong where he is highly successful. A fascinating read which has left me wanting to read the other two books in this trilogy, and to find out more about the Raj orphans.  A good book to finished the year on.

I shall do a pick of my top five books I read in 2017 sometime next week. Next year I hope to join in with Circle of Pines, details here a blog for sharing books each month. Here’s a preview of the books I shall try to read in January.

You can tell I was shelving the B’s last time I was volunteering in the Library. The How to Read like a Professor is my own book and one day when I have absorbed it all, you will be bowled over by my erudite book reviews!!

November Books!

Some more wonderful books this month.  Love to hear what you have read recently, I really enjoy your recommendations.

June Emerson- Albania-the search for the Eagle’s song. Not only is June an artist, a practising musician in her 80s, still working in the sheet music company which bears her name and inspiration and organiser of the Repair Cafe, she is also a bit of a travel writer. There is no end to her talents. In the late 80s on almost a whim she spotted an advert for a guided tour in Albania. Thus began a love affair with the country, the music and the people, and in due course two booklets. A Fascinating read. This lady really is my role model.

Ian McEwan-Nutshell- unborn babe with amazing thinking skills over hears his mother and her lover planning the murder of his father. The book struck me as odd and thought-provoking, until page 124. How could I be so dense? I had my “Reading like a Professor” lightbulb moment. Then all of a sudden the book was clever, sheer genius and brilliant! Loved it. If anyone is looking for a book for Book Club, this has got to be one, so much to get your teeth into, don’t let people give up, See how long it takes for their light bulb moment. Even the names of the characters should have told me. As I said , just dense.

Kate Atkinson- A God in Ruins- a stand alone follow on from Life after Life. The main protagonist is Teddy Todd, RAF fighter pilot in the Second World War. There are a lot of chapters about this part of  his life as well as about his family. It’s a good read, but the chapters are each very long, too long to read one at bedtime, at least for me. They also dot around a lot from one time period to another , which is confusing to me as I couldn’t always recall who the secondary characters were from one chapter to when they appeared again. Also I got bored with them all, the book is just too long for me, which is what I thought about Life after Life. Love to know if anyone else has read this one and what you thought.

Joanne Harris- Blackberry Wine- I have waited ages for this one to appear in the library. It’s a lovely book, if you enjoyed Chocolat , you will enjoy this too. Young boy befriends old man who is a whizz of a gardener and herbalist. Later on young boy as young man writes a best seller based on the character of the gardener, then moves to France where the magic begins.I was reminded of the message from Joni Mitchell about the pink paradise putting up a parking lot, the sentiment fitting in with our discussion in my York City Wallls post on tourism. One of my favourite book this year.

Samuel Beckett- Waiting for Godot- re-read of a loved play, prior to seeing in performed at the Stephen Joseph theatre in Scarborough.. It’s like marmite you love or loathe it. A play in which nothing happens while waiting for Godot. Bit like life!

Emma Healey -Elizabeth is Missing- this one was recommended to me by Simply Hooked in the October books comments. A woman in her late 70s in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, worries why she can’t find her friend Elizabeth and why no-one listens to her concerns. This story is entwined with her earlier life and her missing sister. A good read and especially good for highlighting the symptoms of this terrible condition, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as one after another of my own Mum’s peccadillos, as we thought them at the time, were mentioned. Especially poignant were the endless notes and the most irritating reading out loud of street signs. A well observed book, and I would sincerely recommend everyone reads this, because it may save you months of misery whilst you try to cope in these early days should your friend or relative fall victim to this illness.

Have you read and enjoyed or not enjoyed any of these? Has anyone been to Albania? I spent a long time reading about the country after reading June’s book on t’internet, fasicanting country and the folk costumes looked so Greek to me. And please do give me your recomnedations. Rainbow Junkie, I am reading yours right now An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris.

September Books

Last month I drew up a list of 93 authors to take with me to the library to help me choose what to read next. Thanks to everyone who helped get this list up to well over a 100. Finding something to read is easier with so much choice. All authors come from this list unless otherwise stated- there will always be a title or cover that intrigues me.

Tracy Chevalier- At the Edge of the Orchard- one of my favourite authors and this book as good as her others. Set in America between 1838 and 1856, we have mud,swamps,futility, apple trees, quilts, bad relationships, death, flight, survival, adventure, misadventure, gold prospecting, Redwood trees, birth and a happy ending.

Jo Baker- A Country Road,  A Tree- The course by Future Learn, How to Read a Novel,  used examples from four novels that Edinburgh University short listed for the James Tait prize. The only one that really interested me was this one. I sometimes struggle with books that win literary prizes, finding the style, language or plot, let us say – hard to appreciate. I had better hopes of this one.

Back in the day when I was a young and noisy teenager I attended a week-long residential course on drama in Chester, staying in what was then a teacher training college. but is probably now a university. We studied Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and being a young and noisy teenager, myself and a fellow participant, one Lyn Edwards from Birmingham ( and if anyone knows a Lyn Edwards from Birmingham how marvellous that would be, we kept in touch for a couple of years , but pre Facebook this involved snail mail, so fizzled out).  I digress, both Lyn Edwards and I were most taken with Waiting for Godot, and began an impromptu play reading in the college grounds,to great applause, and being young and noisy teenagers, so taken with ourselves were we that we took to being strolling players and walked the city walls whilst we proclaiming the Wait. So I have a great fondness for dear old Godot.

If you don’t know the play, two chaps at a roadside wait for Godot who does not come. A play in which nothing happens, a bit like the novel The Crowded Room by Winifred Holtby which I read last month about a young woman who waits for her life to begin. So to Jo Bakers novel about Samuel Beckett and his mistress during the second world war which they spent in France, trying to keep out of harms way, write and help the resistance movement. They  have to keep moving and that involves a lot of walking along country roads and waiting for people to help them along the way, and quite a bit of nothing happening,thus providing the inspiration for Waiting for Godot.

I will be honest, I struggled with the book for the first 60 or so pages, style, language etc which seemed to be a bit flowery and a bit arty farty, pretentious maybe. But then something happened, either I got over the language style or it improves or it suddenly seemed to be right for the disjointed existence of the characters. The hand to mouth lifestyle of a country invaded by another nation. There is a sense of life seeming to go on, but not going on, of fear but of social gatherings, holidays, wine, but careful what you say, and who sees you, and of what happens to your communist and jewish friends.

Then the war ends, and Beckett goes home to  Eire alone, to his Mum and her new bungalow. His teeth are fixed having suffered from malnutrition they were in a bad state. But he knows he can’t stay there, he can’t write in the comfort that is home. The only way back to France is to accept a job to set up a hospital in France, which he does before returning to Paris, His mistress and his writing, which has changed forever.

I enjoyed the book, and if you like a book with a bit of a challenge then go for it. I think that one of the marks of a good book is when you start to google things as a follow-up, which I did, and I know that Beckett married the mistress, which is nice after all they went through together, and she does get a bit fed up with him and the danger he puts them in, and the writing.

This is Jo Bakers second novel, the first one is called Longbourne, I have bought it for my Kindle, for reading when I am not at home. It is the story of Pride and Prejudice from the viewpoint of the servants, shortly to be a film. Sounds promising.

I very nearly made this number 44 in my top  one hundred books. I really liked the centre section of the book, but not the start or end, and the middle bit not enough!. Let me know if you have read this, I would love to know your thoughts.

Graeme Macrae Burnett- His Bloody Project- this one was mentioned on the course as a good example of setting a story in context. For example, Bridget Jones’s diary the story is told through the medium of a diary. This novel is told through some “found papers” in the course of some family history research. I was apprehensive at first as I discovered from the cover of the book that it had been long listed for the Man Booker prize in 2016. I need not have been. The book is an enjoyable and accessible book. The first parts are some witness statements to a crime. The next the accused gives his account, which he is writing it at the behest of his council. At no time does he deny that he committed the crime he was charged with. Then comes the examination by a doctor, and then an account of the trial. It is very cleverly constructed, and the language is sufficiently archaic so that I had no trouble believing I was reading a historic document. The setting is a Scottish crofting community in the 19th century. It’s a good book and I suspect if I had Scottish roots it would make own top 100. A jolly good read. Look out for it.

Jessie Burton- The Miniaturist- not one from my 100 authors list, but found on the library shelves at the same time as the previous two books. It sounded familiar, on the front cover it says The Sunday Times Number One Best Seller. Maybe someone mentioned it, maybe it was reviewed on the Radio. An interesting book, set in Amsterdam in the 17 th century. Young girl from the country is married to an older rich merchant and travels to join his household in Amsterdam. In the house a sister who runs the household, a man-servant who may be a slave or a freeman, and a female servant from an orphanage.  The new wife is given a miniature house, resembling the one she has just moved into , as a wedding present. She sources a miniaturist to help her furnish it, but soon parcels she didn’t order begin to arrive, can this miniaturist foretell the future? Tragedy follows, there is love and death. It’s a strange book by no mistake, but not a bad read. Is that the same as a good read? No. Quirky, that’s the word I am looking for. For the first time I found myself able to stop reading and think, now why is the author doing this, what is the intention of this event or that. I am beginning to read a little like a Professor!

Donna Leon-Falling in Love- Opera singer in Venice has a scary stalker, friendly detective saves the day. A pleasant read.

Some good and interesting books this month. And by sheer coincidence I see that the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough is staging a production of Waiting for Godot. Perfect or what?

Love to know what others have read recently. Anything to recommend to me please? If you have written about books this month I would be thrilled if you left a link in the comments.

Now where is my book…

 

August Books!

 I volunteer at the local library one morning a week. It means I get to see books that are available by all my favourite authors whilst I do the shelving. This month in one morning I found five books. I borrowed the lot! Here’s what I have been reading in August, in the order I read them.

Susan Hill- The Pure in Heart- After a bit of a wobbly first chapter this turned into a jolly good detective story featuring DCI Simon Serrailler. The familiar themes from Susan Hill came through even in a different genre, love, life grief, relationships. An entertaining read.

Winifred Holtby- The Crowded Street- an interesting read which I think would be a good choice for a book club to read. Life for middle class women before, during and after the First World War, the birth of feminism. If the author sounds familiar she wrote South Riding and was friends with Vera Brittain ( who is the inspiration for one of the characters). Vera Brittain is Shirley Williams mother and wrote Testament of Youth. One of my favourite books this year.

Joanne Harris- Gentlemen & Players- the middle book of a trilogy, but the third one I read. Fortunately the books work well as stand alone novels. The plots are all revealed in a similar way and in this third book I saw the big twist by page 96 of 507 pages. To begin with I thought this would spoil my enjoyment. However there was a different enjoyment to be had, first was I right and secondly and more interesting to see how the characters were being duped, and hence how the readers were being sent off in the wrong discription.The story is set in St Oswald’s School for boys and has two narrators, one who focuses on events of 15 years ago and one on the here and now. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Ann Cleeves- The Glass Room-another Vera book. The setting is an authors retreat. I was well and truly hoodwinked till the final scenes! Good detective story.

Marina Lewycka- The Lubetkin Legacy. There is love and government corruption in this tale of an iconic social housing flat designed by Berthold Lubetkin. The tenant dies and her son fears losing the right to succeed in the tenancy and smuggles in an old lady to act as his mother, for the housing officers investigations. A good read. I spent a happy evening afterwards researching the real life architect Lubetkin, surely a mark of a good book. Can’t say I liked the buildings I saw, but then I don’t like concrete much!

You may recall that last month I was taking an online course called How to read novel, through Future Learn. I completed it with great enjoyment, it may be repeated next year but there is still a week that you can access it for. I thought about paying for the upgrade but decided against it, instead taking up Kerry’s suggestion, I bought this book.

It’s very readable and very good.Thanks for heads up on this one Kerry. I started to read it whilst reading the last book, and he’s right , the author is frequently quoting Shakespeare!

Have you read any good books lately?

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