Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Micro Review 8

The Cabinet of Calm - Paul Anthony Jones


I love learning new words, dialects, local phrases and their etymology and thus I was always going to love this book.

Although it has a title very reminiscent of the once popular 'little books of calm' (and who can forget how they were lampooned in the comedy Black Books) this book isn't full of inane platitudes and pseudo advice it is a book about words and how if you look hard enough there is a word or phrase for pretty much everything that happens in the world or the emotions events invoke.

In my Twitter biography I call myself a 'candle waster' which is an archaic (and derogatory) term meaning someone who stays up late reading, but through reading this book I found some wonderful new phrases to describe life.

Some of my favourites came in the entry for describing friends - different people mean different things and sometimes 'friend' isn't quite enough to encompass all they mean to you.

There are jolly-dogs (a friend who can always be relied on for a riotously good time, jamb-friends (a friend you can talk the night away with) and then at a time where things are so different there are angel-visits (visits or catchups with good friends that prove all too few and far between). The definition of this last category is expanded in several paragraphs but the idea is that you aren't sad that you can't see your friends but rather you should look forward to the times you will spend together in the future - you are reminding yourself how lucky you are to know them.

I read this book as an advance copy electronic proof which isn't the best way to enjoy the book. It is a volume to have sitting around and when you have a few minutes spare to open and read an entry at random. I know that the physical book will be on my Christmas list later in the year.

(ps don't be put off by the sub-title - this isn't a book rushed out because of the pandemic, the troubled times it refers to are general troubled times - like much the 21st century so far - and not a specific event!)

The Cabinet of Calm is published by the independent publishing company Elliot & Thompson (https://eandtbooks.com/) , and encouraged by the wonderful team behind Ninja Book Box (https://www.ninjabookbox.com/ ) I'm making a conscious effort to celebrate indie publishers by naming them in reviews, much as I always try to name the translator.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Micro Review 7

Persephone Press


I love the books produced by the Persephone Press, at first glance they may seem to be dull and all the same but once you open the tactile grey covers you are greeted with amazing end papers (often reproduced fabrics relevant to the author or book) and bespoke bookmarks for each volume.

I have a full bookshelf dedicated to books from Persephone, as well as piles of volumes that don't fit on these shelves.

The last book I bought in a physical UK bookshop before lockdown was a Persephone book (Expiation by Elizabeth von Armin) and some idle internet browsing meant that a parcel from Persephone was my treat to myself for July.

The books cover all genres and have introduced me to less well known books by favourite authors or books written for adults by primarily children's authors. Some of my favourite volumes are the short story collections from Mollie Panter-Downes and the novels from R C Sheriff (author of one my favourite plays).

I think the thing I like the most about Persephone is that their catalogue and website tells you so much about a book (without giving the entire story away) that when you pick a book you generally know you are going to love it  - as the books aren't the cheapest this is a great thing!

Before Coronavirus I regularly visited second hand bookshops and stalls and only twice in about 10 years have I come across a Persephone title on a shelf - either no one give them away or they are snatched off the shelves as soon as they appear!

If I've made you curious then do investigate their website (I'm not affiliated to them in anyway I just love the books...) now if you'll excuse me I'm off to read another couple of  short stories from Syliva Townsend Warner which came in my parcel the other day!

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Equally (or sequel-ly) brilliant!

Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue - Anna Fargher


Originally due to be published in April I've had an advance copy of this book sitting on my Kindle for many months and it has been burning a hole in my curiosity too! I put off reading it for two reasons. Firstly book one was *so* good I was nervous about the sequel  - could it be as good?

The second reason was more personal, half of the joy from book one was reading it along side my family and the heated texts and messages we shared as we read the book. What with the pandemic we've not been able to really get together much this year and so I wanted the closeness that shared reading brings!

When the copy for Kentishbookboy arrived it just so happened that it was one of the weeks his year group was at school but I'm afraid to say neither his mum nor I could wait any longer and we spent every spare moment over two days reading and messaging.

After the climactic and traumatic ending of the first book we were plunged straight back in to Pip's world and like the first book there were moments of tenderness, fear, and excitement as the adventures across France continued. There were so many historical points covered and coupled with the realistic show of emotions and actions that warfare causes I often forgot that the cast were a mix of animals rather than a group of disparate human resistance fighters!

Being an adult and knowing how the real history of 1944 played out in France meant I was pretty sure how the adventure was going to end but the journey there, through the eyes of a band of animals, was gripping and at times downright scary! And the epilogue was (implausibly) perfect for me - a real pleasure to know that this was a complete story and there wouldn't be dozens of further sequels each becoming more far fetched.

Personally I think that the two Umbrella Mouse books deserve to become as popular as War Horse, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas & Good Night Mr Tom in the way they introduce so many different aspects of war to young readers.

I'm looking forward to hearing what Kentishbookboy and his nan & grandad think when they read the book - hopefully it won't be too long before we can all get together and have a proper book group chat in person.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Micro Review 6

Difficult Women by Helen Lewis



Subtitled A History of Feminism in 11 Fights I found this book to be fascinating. Lewis manages to tell the story of feminism via the stories of11 important women but rather than just talking about their feminist credentials, and why they deserve to be remembered, she also fills in the shadows of these same women. 

She reminds us that very few people are all good and that even those that are remembered and presented as pioneers have another side, and are rounded, often difficult people.

This is a clever book because it utterly champions pioneers of women's rights and women's causes but it does this with humour and reminds us that we have to take all of history not just the bits that appeal to us.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Micro Review 5

One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake



Despite having over flowing bookshelves and a Kindle full of unread books I still found myself with nothing to read a few weeks ago and so started to browse the Library ebook shelves again. I think that the impossibility of travel and the boredom that is meal planning drew me to this book.

Cloake sets off by bike to spend a few weeks cycling around France trying the various local specialties of the regions and also trying to find the best croissant in France.

I don't hugely enjoy cycling, and there are certain foods even I'd never try (andouille sausage I'm looking at you here) but Cloake's enthusiasm is infectious and I now have a list of places as long as my arm that I'd like to visit.

I also liked that often Cloake gets fed up with the weather, camping and cycling and so checks into hotels and uses trains to get from place to place. This made 90% of her trip sound fun rather than a punishment. For me this was ideal lockdown escapism and encouraged me to open some of my recipe books and try some new dishes.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Micro Review 4

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (trans. Philip Gabriel)


This is a whimsical tale of one man and his cat, mostly told from the viewpoint of the incredibly intelligent cat, Nana.

It sounds trite but I was swept away by the writing and the descriptions of Japan through the seasons and by the end was an emotional wreck. This book was a master class in showing how to write/translate a book that appears simple but is in fact profound and deeply moving.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Micro Review 3

The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley  



Cats in Japanese fiction do seem to be a thing and during lockdown I have read two of the genre. This book is written by an Englishman (with Norfolk connections) who lived in Japan for a decade.

The book is effectively a series of short stories all connected by the ways that one cat pops in and out of their lives however obliquely. This device allows the reader to learn about many different areas of Tokyo and also just a little about the culture and structure of Japanese society.

I found it a great read for escaping during the worst of the (initial?) lockdown but came back to reality with a thump at the end of the book as world events even intruded on a book written and published before the pandemic.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Micro Review 2

Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem


Since the whole Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak started the one thing I have discovered about myself is that water and water landscapes are very important to me. The three months of serious lockdown became the longest time I have ever not seen the sea, and I think that I would have gone stark staring mad if we hadn't found some riverside walks close to home.

Similarly a visit to London that doesn't include sight of the Thames also feels wrong to me and I can only image Maiklem's relief at being allowed back on the foreshore again.

This book is split in to sections, generally divided by the bridges and Maiklem talks if her finds and the history of each area specific to the river bank. For a mudlarker there are certain things that are 'holy grail-like' it seems as well as each person having their own special treasures, patches and stories to tell.

At a time that you can't travel this is a wonderful read, and it makes me want to comb the banks of the Thames at low tide next time I am on the Southbank with some time to kill.

When we were younger my sister and I did a little mudlarking of our own when visiting our aunt and uncle who lived by the coast in an area that was once a brickworks. The foreshore there was full of curiosities, pieces of china and glass and when the tide (and mud) were right we would comb the area looking for bottles and the like. This book brought back those happy memories too and so another reason why I see this one ending up in my top reads of the year in a few months time.

As I was writing this post a Tweet scrolled by saying that Mudlarking has won the non-fiction Indie Book Award 2020 a fact that has made me very happy!

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Micro Review 1


Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession



I think that I saw some chat on Twitter about this book and I was intrigued enough to see if it was available from the Norfolk Library service as an ebook to borrow. Luckily for me it was, and amazingly without a wait too!

This book was a wonder, it was deceptively simple and really is just about the friendship of two men who just don't quite fit in to society as is (stereotypically) expected.

The joy for me about this book was that Leonard and Paul's differences were just stated and the story was about a short period of time and how they navigated it. 

Unlike so many books with non-neurotypical characters (I'm looking at you Rosie Project, Eleanor Olliphant and so on) Leonard and Paul didn't change to fit in, they weren't unhappy and needing redemption they were just two, well written, characters living their lives in the way they chose.

For a while I was reading this expecting a huge (or humiliating) plot point to occur and it just didn't, it was a gentle, realistic book that I loved spending time reading.

(ps apologies for the change in layout and other quirks - blogger has changed the interface for creating posts and it is just too hot to fight with it right now!)


Saturday, 13 June 2020

Reading Break


Both the Kentishbookboy and I have lost our reading mojo a little bit right now - partly because of the Coronavirus changing so much of daily life and partly because in May the weather was sooooo glorious we spent as mush time out doors as possible.

In fact in May I only read 7 books which is the lowest figure in years (the months following my SAH not included).

June has started in a better fashion for me, partly because the weather has changed I think but hopefully we'll have more book chat to share soon!

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Following on

The Ratline by Philippe Sands


Back in 2016 I was blown away by Sands' first book East West Street I reviewed it in the middle of the year here and it remained one of my tops books of the year when I came to do my round up.

I was a little concerned about The Ratline for two reasons - 1) it is a second book and they can always be tricky & 2) it is another book about the guilt (or not) felt by survivors of the Holocaust - would it just be too much like the first book?

Happily for me neither of my fears came true and while The Ratline does almost continue from the end of the first book (and definitely from the end of the documentary Sands made) it was completely different and taught me so much about Austria during the Nazi period and also the escape routes used by the Nazis as they tried to flee justice.

Thanks to a lot of the children's literature I've read regarding the Holocaust I was aware of how some of the history played out in Austria before, during and after the Anschluss but this has always been from the Jewish/resistance point of view and so to read about it from the other aide was equally fascinating and horrifying.

While I was aware that some high profile Nazis escaped Europe for a new life in South America I had never given any thoughts to how this happened and so read this part of the tale completely fresh. I knew that there had been complicity in some quarters - but just how much was eye opening.

At the heart of this book is Sands' relationship with the son of  SS Brigadesfuhrer Otto von Wachter as he tries to convince Sands (and the world) that his father wasn't a war criminal responsible for deaths of thousands of people.

Sands manages to tell the tale fairly and with an open mind but at the end you feel you know the truth and Sands' own feelings as well as if he'd been marching up and down in front of you with a banner.

This book has been published at the height of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and so many of the events and publicity you'd have expected to see just haven't happened, although there are some good  online interviews and reviews to hunt out. I hope that this book isn't lost in the chaos and that it wins as many accolades as East West Street. I also hope that when the paperback is released the pandemic is receding and there are some events I can get to!

Thursday, 23 April 2020

World Book Night 2020...

...& Shakespeare's birth/death day


I can't believe that it is World Book Night again, it is trite but I can't believe how fast time is flying.

I've not paid a huge amount of attention to the official selection up until today but taking a look at them now I am really impressed with the mix of books - and extremely pleased to see that there are short stories and Quick Reads on the list.

However 23rd April is also the day taken to be both Shakespeare's birth and death day and so I'm going to talk about a book relating to this...

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell


The publisher website reads:
TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
I will confess to having approached this book with some trepidation, there are so many unknowns in Shakespeare's life that I was worried that the book would be too large in scope and thus lose something.

This book isn't a scholarly or pseudo-scholarly look at Shakespeare's life or work, it isn't even really about him or his plays and writing - it is a story that puts his wife and children front and centre. It brings Stratford-upon-Avon to life and I really felt like I'd managed to travel in time. I do love a book that lets me almost 'smell' the setting.

Hamlet is not one of my favourite plays but having 'watched' it through Agnes' eyes perhaps I can see it a new light too!

Often a novel that is a fictional take on a real person leaves me wondering why the author didn't have more faith in their writing to just write a historical fiction but in this case I do think that the fleshing out of a famous name was a really good thing.

I'm not certain that reading a book about the plague during the current pandemic was the best timing but all in all I liked this book.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Put to shame by Kentishbookboy's reading!

Ooops!

Oh dear, the idea of how great the Coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown will be for catching up on books, films and TV series couldn't be more wrong for me. I am busy than ever at work and working my hours over five days and not three which somehow doesn't leave me as much time or mental space for reading.

The Kentishbookboy is having more luck than me but as the weather recently has been glorious and it was the school Easter 'holiday' he's been doing a lot more outdoor things related to science, nature, technology and inventing.

Also as he'd completed his school reading challenge I think that he enjoyed reading and not having to think about writing it up!

A new review did drop into my inbox recently and he's managed to tick of the 'poetry' square on his bingo card with this great summary:




His enthusiasm for poetry was obviously rekindled by this book as he gave his mum and dad an Easter gift poem, something that he'd composed in secret so really gave them a nice surprise.

I can also say that I am able to tick off the poetry box on my bingo sheet as a friend surprised me by having a copy of White Ink Stains by Eleanor Brown delivered to me and I've had this beside my bed and dipped in and out of an evening before sleep.  I don't think that I am ever going to become a huge poetry fan but in approaching this volume like it was full of short stories and knowing that not all of them were going to be for me, and that it is ok to just read one and then stop was definitely the right approach for this volume.


Here's hoping that work calms down enough that I can find more time and energy for reading and that the nice weather returns so I can sit in the garden with a book...I think that Carrie's War might be next on the agenda as KBB is studying WW2 this half term...

Monday, 30 March 2020

Kentishbookboy and Norfolkbookworm Read - 2020 book 3

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond


As mentioned in the last post Paddington was Kentishbookboy's final read & review for his Year 5 reading challenge and one that I was very pleased to revisit. Treating myself to a chapter a day was also a nice way to spend some time not thinking about the current world situation. I'm about to check my shelves and the library eBook catalogue to see if I have more Paddington books to lose myself in!

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond



Synopsis

Paddington bear had travelled all the way from Darkest Peur when the Browns first met him on Paddington station. SInce then their lives have never been quite the same...for ordinary things become quite extra ordinary when a bear called Paddington is involved.

Paddington has arrived in London completely alone after leaving his home in Peru. Once he is adopted by the Brown family we get to explore the familiar world around us from a bear's point of view as he explore life in the UK.

Dilemma

Paddington comes to England from Darkest Peru where things are very different and he has a lot to learn!
The Browns took a bug risk in taking him home with them as he was a stowaway.

It is hard to actually talk about a dilemma in Paddington as for me it was a purely comfort read, I suppose that the dilemma is of learning an entirely new way of life and coping in an environment that is completely new.

Morals/Themes

Family is a theme that runs through the book too. Paddington was very lucky to be adopted by the Browns.
Paddington always wants to do what is right but it barely goes to plan.
Paddington's friendship with Mr. Gruber helps him adjust to his life in London.

I think the best messages to take from this book are the importance of friends and family, or always trying to do the right things and importantly to always try new things with an open mind, even if they don't got to plan.

Recommendation

Michael Bond is very funny and skilled author.
This book was one of my favourites from the Yr 5 challenge. 5 stars + !!!

I'm pleased we read this one together, I read a new Paddington a few years back and was a little unsure of it as Paddington was doing modern things and for me the books are firmly stuck in that never-never land of the past. Reading the original has restored my love of the accident prone bear.  


I think that one thing struck me, and also Kentishbookboy's mum was just how much of the recent (wonderful) films was actually taken from the books!

Now that the school reading challenge is over we still plan on sharing books together by we might try a different format for the reviews, after all it is only a month until the sequel to the Umbrella Mouse is published.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Kentishbookboy Reads

In which the Kentishbookboy reads on while the Norfolkbookworm flounders!


I've seen so many social media posts go through talking about all of the time people are going to have for reading and catching up with TV series and the like during the current "situation" that I am now convinced that I am doing something wrong - I seem to be busier than ever right now and didn't even manage to keep up with the Kentishbookboy as he read and reviewed another book.

His school is now closed for the foreseeable future but on the very last day he managed to take in his 12th review to his teacher which completed her reading challenge. I'm sure that I'll be publishing that  here as a joint review soon, as it was for the first Paddington book and thanks to Norfolk Library's eBook catalogue I am reacquainting myself with the lovable bear.

Anyhow here are KBB's thoughts on his first Terry Pratchet book:

I always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Pratchett's books so when KBB picks the next one I will have to try harder to read along!

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Kentishbookboy and Norfolkbookworm Read - Book 2 2020

War Horse - by Michael Morpurgo


This was Kentishbookboy's pick for his bingo chart "set before 1950" and I think he made a brilliant choice with this one, and although it is a while since I read it I can definitely add my thoughts to his as it is such a memorable book!


War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Synopsis:

In the deadly chaos of the First World War, one horse witnesses the reality of battle from both sides of the trenches. Joey tells of the truest friendhips surviving in terrible times. He knows the power of war and the beauty of peace. This is his story.

It has been said that the English love animals more than people and perhaps this book is one more example of this as Morpurgo tells the tale of the Great War from a horse's point of view. This unusual narrator does allow us to see the war from both sides and it is remarkable how much of the horror is told in a way that shies away from nothing but is not too horrific.

Dilemma:

Joey has to face his fears and find ways of continuing as his life is constantly changing. From auction house to farm to war and losing his friends.

The dilemma of the book for me was how Joey could survive, and remain himself, while all of life happened around him. Being able to keep going in uncertain times and in situations where Joey has no control over anything are also dilemmas

Morals/Themes:

Firstly, war is a big theme for War Horse. Also, another theme for this book is to never give up. Courage and determination describe this too.

The main themes I take from this book are the futility of war, the importance of friendship (in whatever form it is shown) and the need to remain true to yourself.

Recommendation:

This book is really good yet quite sad in places. Despite this, it is a very thrilling novel and I personally recommend it to people who like history and fiction. Michael Morpurgo is a talented and legendary author. I rate it five stars.

I'm so pleased that Kentishbookboy is enjoying Michael Morpurgo's books as much as he is, I've long been a fan and it is nice to share a love of an author. The book War Horse has become a little overshadowed by the (fantastic) stage show and the (dreadful) film but it is a cracking read and a clever way to tell a traumatic history in a rounded way.
I am hoping that sometime soon there will be another tour of the War Horse show as I think that Kentishbookboy (and his mum) would enjoy it - I know that his nan and his great aunt did when I saw it with them!

As Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have been away for a while I think Kentishbookboy is steaming ahead of me with the reading, and if (as looks likely) schools close I am sure that there will be many more books read/reviewed over the coming weeks - even if the reviews change format for a while!



Monday, 2 March 2020

House!

Book Bingo 2020 Progress

With two months of 2020 already gone Kentishbookboy has sent through his book bingo sheet to show me how he's getting on - and I think that he's already ticked off another box!



Kentishbookboy's reads are:

Set in another country: & on the list from school - Clockwork by Philip Pullman
A book on the list from school - A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
A book with magic in - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling

A book set before 1950 - War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (not crossed off yet)



My reads are:
A book set in another country - The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley (set in Tokyo)
A book on the list from school - Clockwork by Philip Pullman
A book set before 1950 - Mrs Tim Carries On by D E Stevenson
A non fiction book - Difficult Women by Helen Lewis

So we're both ahead in our challenge at the moment...

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Beating the block

A book for every season...

I sound a little bit like a broken record as I keep complaining of reader's block - I do remind myself just how lucky I am that I can still read and that not finding something to sink into is a minor problem.

Deep down I know all of this but it is still frustrating to find yourself stuck at home due to bad weather and not knowing what to read.

I've decided to try proper bibliotherapy to get over this - I think of a topic that I think will take my fancy and then look it up in The Novel Cure! The most useful part so far has been the top 10s at the back of the book and if I am totally honest I've actually spent more time reading this than anything from it but hey - it all counts as reading right?

I am asked by friends if I can think of books about different topics for children of various ages. I've now been out of the frontline of children's books for a decade and while I try to stay current I am sometimes stumped but no longer...there is a Story Cure - an A-Z of books to keep kids happy. healthy and wise and thus my reading for this weekend (yet another windy one) is sorted!

Look out Kentishbookboy - lists of new books will be coming your way very soon!




Monday, 17 February 2020

Reprints and discoveries

Random thoughts about books.


My reading tastes (as well as being eclectic) seem to swerve from books read well in advance of publication to books that are well over 60 years old and both of these can be a problematic.

The books I read in advance often can't be talked about at the time I read them, and by the time they are published I've often forgotten many of the discussion points and no one wants to read a blog full of 'I love this book' with no more depth than that.

The older books are also problematic in that they aren't always easy to find, reasonably priced or read by enough people to discuss them!

The last point I am getting around by loaning some of the books I have to a colleague - it has been a bit hit or miss but it is so much fun to talk about these books with someone else that I'll forgive her for not liking one of my favourites.

The growth in smaller publishers who specialise in bringing former classics back in to print is also helping with the availability issues too.

Back in 2016 I read the wonderful Mrs Tim of the Regiment by D E Stevenson. At this point I knew that there were more books in the series and that I really wanted to read them. However they all came with an exorbitant price tag. Time passed and I'd stopped looking for cheaper copies of these books when I came across the wonderful Furrowed Middle Brow blog which is dedicated to lesser known (female) authors from the first half of the 20th Century.

This site has been very dangerous for my 'to-be-read pile' as there are so many books talked about, and handily categorised in to lists so I can really pick from my favourite genres. The bigger news however is that along with researching and reviewing books they are also reprinting books - including the wonderful Mrs Tim series!

I'm even luckier in that my colleagues in the library service also saw these books and ordered them and so I've spent the last two stormy weekends happily rediscovering the world of Mrs Tim and her friends. I can't explain what draws me to these books, they are predictable (and at times almost cringeworthy) but I do love the time I spend in this world. I have just one left to read now and I am trying to decide whether to save this last book for a special occasion or whether just to dive straight in.


Saturday, 25 January 2020

Kentishbookboy Goes It Alone

A Series Of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket


As I said in my last post I've been reading for various projects recently and so I haven't had time to keep up with the Kentishbookboy, however this year as well as having our book group we also taking part in a family Book Bingo challenge.



This lets chart lets me, KBB, his mum, his nanny and his great aunt all count other reads towards our game - although we are all planning on sharing lots of books too! 


(just one review this time - all from Kentishbookboy)

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning

Synopsis:
Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, through to itchy clothing, a plot to steal the family fortune and cold porridge for breakfast, the children have much to overcome,

Dilemma:
The Baudelaire orphans are sent to live with their distant relative, Count Olaf. From their first day, they experience nothing but non-stop torture. They need to work together and stop Count Olaf from getting hold of the Baudelaire fortune.

Morals/Themes:
There are a few themes for this book. I think cunning, greed, courage, love and family are the main ones. I think courage is one because in chapter 10 the eldest Baudelaire, Violet, tries to save her sister, Sunny, by making a grappling hook to climb up the forbidden tower. She shows courage when she climbed up, she hoped it didn't fall down to the ground.

Recommendation:
This book is an interesting story and it contains from weird bits too. I think Lemony Snicket is a great author and has a talent for writing stories. I would like to read the next book: The Reptile Room and give it four stars.

I'm really glad that Kentishbookboy enjoyed this book - I remember reading both this one and The Reptile Room when they were first published in the UK and quite enjoying them but I don't think I read on past these two. I definitely haven't seen the film or TV series, although I did get to meet Lemony Snicket's alter ego Daniel Handler once...



Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Championing books

Quick Reads Return


Back in 2018 when I was at my poorliest I was kindly gifted some of the wonderful Quick Reads titles (I wrote about them here). After a break of a year, and some funding woes, the scheme is back and this time I get to tell everyone just how special these books are thanks to the Reading Agency featuring my story as part of their promotion of the scheme.

It was pure serendipity that on the day my story was published four of this year's titles came in to the library for me and carried them home with great excitement. I have just spent an intense month dipping into piles of books (fiction and non fiction) for various projects and the chance to relax with some shorter books by fabulous authors was a real treat.

So far I've finished A Fresh Start - which was a wonderful collection of 10 brand new short stories from well known authors, all with the loose theme of 'a fresh start'. Some of the stories were incredibly funny, some poignant but unlike many short story collections I enjoyed them all. They were the perfect length for reading at bedtime - just a few pages each - and all were thoroughly satisfying.

Next up was Notting Hill Carnival by Candice Carty-Williams. This was subtitled A Westside Story and was a contemporary love story using the plot of Romeo & Juliet / Westside Story as a starting point. Again I loved the writing style and I've instantly put a request on Carty-William's full length novel Queenie.

I've now moved on to Milly Johnson's The Little Dreams of Lara Cliffe - and as the characters are taking a trip to Amsterdam, a city that I love visiting, it all bodes well. After this will come Clare Mackintosh's The Donor which looks like a gripping thriller. As After the End by this author made my top reads of 2019 list I'm hoping I like this one as much.

As I say in my piece for the Reading Agency these books really are for everyone - the plots are great and the authors incredibly talented. These aren't just simplified books for new readers they are just gripping shorter reads - and at only £1 (or free from your local library) you really should give them ago.
Another bonus - they are ever so light and compact in size so they'll fit in your bag/pocket easily meaning you're never without a book!

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Kentishbookboy & Norfolkbookworm Read - Book 1, 2020

Clockwork or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman


I'm really pleased that Kentishbookboy wants to continue with our book group in to a new year, reading can be a solitary hobby but the joy of sharing books does turn it in to a social activity.

We've started the year with a new 'book bingo' sheet as well as new reading journals and as well as this our group has attracted a new member with Kentishbookboy's great aunt joining in too.

In a way I've got off to a slow start with sharing books with the family as I have been taking part in two book projects that had stricter reading deadlines that KBB imposes on me. Mind you as you read his review for this book you might think that I should give up the reviewing and turn the blog over to him alone!

Like last year Kentishbookboy's thoughts are in purple and mine in brown.

Clockwork or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman

Synopsis:

Karl's final task as a clockmaker's apprentice is to make a new figure for the great clock of Glokenheim (Germany). He has not made the figure, or got an idea of what it could be - and the unveiling is tomorrow. Fritz is also in the tavern; there to read aloud his new spooky story. Like Karl, he hasn't finished. Well he knows how it starts and he knows it's called Clockwork - so, with the snow swirling down, inside he sets his story going and just hopes that an ending will come to him as he tells it. Suddenly Fritz's story and real life merge in a completely sinister way - and just like clockwork it cannot be stopped...

In this modern fairy tale we join the villagers of Glokenheim in their inn on a cold and snowy night. The next day is one of the biggest in their calendar as it is the unveiling of the new figure on the impressive clock. However the man responsible for this, Karl, has not managed to create his work of art and he is worried that he'll fail his apprenticeship as well as become the laughing stock of the village. Star storyteller Fritz is also in the tavern on this evening and encouraged to tell a new tale. Like Karl he hasn't finished this either, then at a crucial part of the story appears to come true...

Dilemma:

Karl has not made a figure for the great clock yet, nor has Fritz finished his story, and they both have to finish by morning.

Karl and Fritz are very different, but yet still seem to face the same problem, in that they haven't finished their important work and people are dependent on them doing so. There is also the plot thread of how far people will go to get what they want - in this case an heir for a local prince.

Morals/Themes:

The moral and theme of this book is about the importance of hard work and doing things yourself, not just trying to find an easy way out.

Like all good fairy stories there are morals to be found in this tale, and as Kentishbookboy says a prominent one is all about not taking the easy way out. There is also the message that love will won out over ambition and finally I'd also add in that you should be careful what you wish for, and to always read the small print! 

Recommendation:

Personally, I quite enjoyed Clockwork. There were lots of strange parts as well, but I thought the end was a good way to finish the book. I rate it four and a half stars. I would recommend it to people who like mystery.

I've not read any of Pullman's younger fiction before and quite enjoyed this one, although I feel it has more in common with early, moralistic tales than more recent middle grade fiction. For some reason it made me think of Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale set in Russia - I think that this is because of the merging of narrative fiction and fantasy. The boxes of information that sprinkle the text were fun to read - far more noticeable than footnotes.
It may be very shallow but I particularly liked the clockwork image in the corner of the page which was flickbook!






No image of Kentishbookboy with the book this time, Nanny snaffled it so she could read along too - I'm not sure she enjoyed it as much as us - her first thoughts were that it was a little too moralistic.
Kentishbookboy has moved on to Lemony Snickett's Series of Unfortunate Events, now I read the first few of these when they first came out but I don't remember much about them so I'm looking forward to hearing what he thought of them.



Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Books of the Year 2019

My top rated books of 2019.


After the shocking discovery yesterday of just how many books I've read in the past decade it is time to look more closely at the list from 2019 and pick my top reads from this smaller set.

It was an interesting book year, I am by no means back to where I was for reading stamina and plot retention and so to be honest looking over the past 12 months worth of books I was very thankful for the one line synopsis I do write for each one as an aide memoir.

The books on these two lists (fiction and non-fiction) needed no prompts for me to remember how much I enjoyed them!

Fiction (in no particular order)


  • If I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • Those Who are Loved by Victoria Hislop
  • Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain(trans. Jane Aitkin)
  • Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts
  • Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher
  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier
  • The Flat Share by Beth O'Leary
  • Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (trans. Geoffrey Trousselot)
  • After the End by Clare Mackintosh

Nonfiction (in no particular order)

  • The Eastern Most House by Juliet Blaxland
  • Chasing the Sun by Linda Geddes
  • Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
  • The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es
  • Between the Stops by Sandi Toksvig

Somewhat unusually for me I think that the majority of the these books were published (in English at least) during 2019. I know that I read a lot of them through Net Galley or thanks to projects with the Reading Agency or of not that they came from the library.

I read a lot of nature writing books/memoirs in 2019 but it was the Easternmost House that has remained lodged the strongest in my memory - not least for the sad, newsworthy end it had in real life. 

A friend challenged me last night to whittle this list down to just my top books but even though I gave her three titles (kidlit/fiction/non fiction) under 24 hours ago this has already changed and in all honesty I don't think that I can get it any lower than these 15 titles.

Here's to another year/decade of reading pleasure!

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

End of a decade

What a decade!


In shamelessly using a popular music CD series I am cunningly going to talk about the past decade in books. This is of course in no way a distraction so I don't have to decide which were the best books of the past year you understand!

On looking back through my reading journals I have discovered that I have been keeping a pretty thorough record of my reading since 2009, however as this is an end of decade summing up I will only take the books I've read since January 2010. It is my blog after all and no matter the arguments put forward by Mr Norfolkbookworm as to when the decade actually runs I am going with Jan 1st 2010-December 31st 2019.

In that time I have recorded I've read 3103 books 😲 Or 310 books a year 😲😲


When you take into account that I don't think I've included all of the picture books I've read to my nephew in this list, or the day I spent at the Booktrust helping select books for the packs given to pre-school aged children this is staggering, even for me.
It also covers the 3 years I spent studying for an MA and the time since my brain haemorrhage which severely cut back on what I was able to read.

I do include all of my re-reads/comfort reads in my lists so this isn't actually 3103 unique books but regardless this is a vast number that has left me feeling a bit flabbergasted...

I will spend some more time looking at the lists and definitely produce my 'best of 2019' list in the next day or so, but I will also look through the entire list and try and pick my highlights of the decade too.

I think that my reading highlight of this year has been sharing books as a family, especially with Kentishbookboy. In early 2010, before he was even born, I took my sister on a book buying trip to start his library and now it has paid off as we get to share books properly now.




For this year his favourite book we've shared was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (mine and his mum's was The Umbrella Mouse and Mr Norfolkbookworm can't decide between these two!)

As a book memory from the decade it has to be one that Kentishbookboy and I share and that is the wonderful Thud by Nick Butterworth as we've had years of fun acting that out between us.


Wishing all of my readers a very Happy (and book filled) New Year and here's to another decade of good books!
 

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Review Six: book group at a distance

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling


These books have been a huge part of my adult life, I started book selling just after the second book in the series came out, but at that time there wasn't a lot of fuss around the books, I don't recall anyone coming in to the shop asking for them particularly. In a bid to become a specialist Children's Bookseller I was reading as much as possible that was coming out and both Mr Norfolkbookworm and I really enjoyed the first two and I know that I was recommending them long before they were the huge hit they later became.

I was involved in the launch parties for all of the remaining books of the initial series, and I know that I missed my sister's hen night because I was working on the midnight launch of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It has to be said that she was never a fan of the books but I do wonder if this has anything to do with her antipathy...

However this year Kentishbookboy expressed an interest in trying at least the first book in the series and so my poor sister had to grit her teeth and give the book a go.  I'd reread the whole series as a reward for finishing my MA a few years back and Mr Norfolkbookworm also decided that it was a good time for a reread...


As before Kentishbookboy's thoughts are in purple and mine are in brown.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Synopsis
Harry Potter has never event heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry's eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He has to make new friends, as well as learning about his past.

Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin and believes that his parents died in a car crash (that was their fault) and has left him with a distinctive scar - which his family insist remains hidden.  Strange things have often happened around Harry but until his eleventh birthday he had no idea just how magical these things really were.
Once Harry gets to Hogwarts he has to learn about his history whilst making his own way in a new world.

Dilemma
Harry Potter lived a tough life living with his Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon and their son, Dudley. From having to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs, to trying to stay out of the way, life was just too hard. Learning about his past brings lots of danger to him and his friends during their adventures that they must overcome together whilst at Hogwarts.

Harry's main dilemma in this book is learning who he is, who is friends are and what is right and wrong. He also has to learn that even magic can't always give him what he wants the most.

Morals/Themes
Courage, loyalty and friendship are great themes for the book. It symbolises to always have trust in your friends, no matter what.

As this is the first part of a series the morals and themes that feature in this book are all laying the foundation stones for future adventures (which I can see as I have had the pleasure of reading the books before) but learning who to trust, and who your friends are is an important part of this book, as is learning when to follow rules and when to trust your instincts.

Recommendation
This book is a really good adventure story and is really interesting book to read. I think J.K. Rowling is a talented author and turns ideas in to an action packed story! I would highly recommend it and give it five stars.

I agree with the Kentishbookboy, this is a great story and if as an adult I can see where her influences come from it doesn't spoil the story at all - it is a real page turner. I think that I'd give it four stars now but I know that on my first read I thought it was a great new voice/addition to the Kidlt area. I also enjoy a lot of the wordplay and puns.



I know that Mr Norfolkbookworm really enjoyed his reread of the book, and like he said the writing might not have been the greatest but the plot and story are and they are what count.  I think that the biggest surprise is knowing that Kentishbookboy's mum is also intrigued enough to want to know what happens to the characters in book two...

We're hoping to fit in one more non-festive shared book before we pick a Christmas book to enjoy.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

World Reading

Challenging my world views


I love reading books that are set in locations that I've never visited (and probably will never visit) whether the books are fiction or non fiction and regardless as to if they are in translation or not. Just lately two books have really challenged what I thought I knew about two countries.


The first was a non fiction book, called Two Trees Make a Forest.


This is a book that ticked many of my personal interests: travel, nature writing and family history. It was also about Taiwan, a country that I had always thought was a relatively liberal place and a definite alternative to China. I was very surprised to discover that it was subject to martial law for so long, and as repressive as mainland China in its way, just not a communist country.

I think that some of my preconceptions come about because in the time that I've been news/politically aware it has moved away from a one party, repressive system and become more liberal  - unconsciously I had thought that this was always the case.  Always good to learn more and this was a fascinating book about reconnecting with your roots.

The second book that really opened my eyes recently also comes from the far east, as it is set in South Korea, Kim Jeyung, Born 1982 (by Chi Nam-Joo, trans. Jamie Chang)


This is a book that is all about the pressures that South Koreans around my age/my sister's age face in society today, and especially how women are treated. It was truly horrifying and eye-opening, despite nothing truly horrific actually taking place.  The publisher blurb gives a hint of the subject matter:
Kim Jiyoung is a girl born to a mother whose in-laws wanted a boy.
Kim Jiyoung is a sister made to share a room while her brother gets one of his own.
Kim Jiyoung is a female preyed upon by male teachers at school. Kim Jiyoung is a daughter whose father blames her when she is harassed late at night.  
Kim Jiyoung is a good student who doesn’t get put forward for internships. Kim Jiyoung is a model employee but gets overlooked for promotion. Kim Jiyoung is a wife who gives up her career and independence for a life of domesticity.
This doesn't quite warn you just what a punch this book packs, especially at the end. Although fiction all of the statistical claims, figures and news stories are given footnotes that allow you to see that this is real and not exaggerated for a novel.

Again I had the idea that South Korea was a 'good guy' - that it was progressive and to be held up as a beacon for showing how a country can heal from a traumatic recent past.

A film has been made of the book, and it is a best seller in Korea. This translation will be published in February 2020 and I hope that it is as well received in English as it has been in Korean - it is an important read, and always good to remember that there is a lot of work to do world wide on equality.

With thanks to Norfolk Libraries & Net Galley for these two books.