A Year in Books 2018 – April to June

the-year-in-books

A Year in Books

Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for creating the challenge, The Year in Books.

I was surprised I managed to finish the same amount of books this quarter, as I did last year, all of 13 books. It will be the period between July to September that will be the real challenge. Where I prefer to be outside enjoying nature to being stuck within the pages of a book.

As April began I rushed to finish The Famished Road – Ben Okri.

This book began promising, but soon lost my interest. There is only so many times a spirit child can go wondering off and then witness psychedelic strangeness before one gets bored. There is a second novel which follows Azaro on his adventures but I won’t be picking this one up. Have you read The Famished Road? Did you read its sequel?

Wodwo by Ted Hughes

I was inspired to turn to this collection after reading Mark Haddon’s anthology The Pier Falls. One of Haddon’s more memorable short stories was entitled Wodwo about the beginnings of a wild man but with a twist! I enjoyed Hughes’ short stories in this collection more than his poetry. I particularly liked the play, The Wound, set in the trenches of WW1, the narrative I found was very visual.

Seven Wonders of the Industrial World – Deborah Cadbury

I reviewed this inspiring book in my Sunday Sevens #49.

Playing with Fire – Tess Gerritsen

This one was suggested by my mum. Playing with Fire is a psychological thriller. Julia is a musician who desires to find out why her daughter attacks her whilst a particular piece of music is playing. The trail leads her to Venice and the sad tale of Lorenzo, an Italian Jew living during the turbulent 1930’s. The novel is a quick read, with a twist and one I would recommend. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

Origin – Dan Brown

It seems that Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon novels all seem to have the same plot. They are just set in a different country! If you cut out the tourism jargon, I think this book has to be the weakest of the series. Langdon, who is the main character, didn’t seem to have much influence moving the story forward. I liked the premise of Winston but think the whole plot was far fetched. If you’ve read this book, what were your impressions?

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I would love to see a re-imagining of this poem. I felt that the narrative was very modern, of zombie sailors, reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. At a wedding party, a mariner tells his tale of a disastrous journey where he kills an albatross and of his subsequent guilt. The narrator describes the doldrums, seen as a punishment, where the crew of the ship die, but the narrator doesn’t. The crew then frighteningly become zombies. The narrator is eventually rescued but has to retell his tale to educate others of not to kill an albatross! I particularly enjoyed Orson Wells recital on YouTube.

Have you read this poem? What were your thoughts?

The Women of Heachley Hall – Rachel Walkley

This book is written in the vein of A Parliament of Rooks by Karen Perkins. It could have been so much better if there was less description of every nook and cranny. I like description but too much of it clogs the narrative. I felt this was the case with The Women of Heachley Hall. The narrative was trying too hard to be Gothic and the ghost story was fantastical! It was more a love story than a ghost story. The book did keep me interested, I just wasn’t too enamored on the style of writing.

Stressed, Unstressed – Edited by Bate, Byrne, Ratcliffe and Schuman

After taking the enjoyable Future Learn course, Literature and Mental Health a few years ago. I made a note to purchase this book, which is an accompaniment to the course. An anthology comprising of poems to aid in healing, grief and mindfulness. The book is very accessible and could be picked up if and when required. I don’t know whether it was because I read the book mostly at night, when I was tired, but I did find a lot of the poetry quite depressing. Possibly a book to keep going back to.

Open Water Woman Swims Windermere – Jacqui Hargrave

I didn’t particularly enjoy this book. I discovered whilst reading, that the chapters were really just blog posts stitched together for publication. Being from a blog, the chapters were succinct but lacked detail. There was so many grammatical errors, I wish the author had had the manuscript proof read before publication. I’d keep a wide berth from this book if I was you.

Crow – Ted Hughes

I don’t know if it’s me, or that my education is lacking but I find Ted Hughes’ poetry hard to fathom. I can pick out an undercurrent of threat and violence, a lot of hubris and humour but his poems on crow have been rather lost on me.

Do you like poetry? If so who is your favourite poet?

Birds – Edited by Mavis Pilbeam

It was Sharon from the delightful blog Sunshine and Celandines that suggested this book. I thought I would read it for The Wildlife Trusts30 Days Wild. I enjoyed many of the poems inspired by paintings in the British Museum. Poems by John Clare and Edward Thomas were among the highlights for me.

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

I re-read this book due to being inspired by soprano Charlotte Hoather’s post on her participation in the opera of the same name, at the Royal College of Music. Charlotte sang the role of Governess who is employed by an enigmatic uncle of two young orphans. Everything goes well until Miles, the eldest is expelled from school and returns home with a question mark over his character. Henry James is not a favourite author of mine. I find his style of writing rather long winded. In The Turn of the Screw, James’ writing is even more ambiguous as the Governess narrates her tale of a haunting by two debauched ghosts, trying to steal away her two charges, or is she narrating a tale of her own spiral into madness? It is never certain as to which scenario it is. Have you read this book? Did you think it was a ghost story?

A Cold Death in Amsterdam – Anja de Jager

This is the first book in the Lotte Meerman series. Lotte is quite a complex detective with a lot of background story which comes out slowly within the novel. The stories themselves are also quite complex with many different threads running parallel. I did find it a bit hard going to start off with, knowing which plot-line was which but it all comes together quite well.

Have you read any of these novels?

I ended the quarter by starting Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman, which I am really enjoying at the moment.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

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Sunday Sevens #51

It’s Sunday! Time for a quick Sunday Sevens, devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins.

Mere Sands Wood:

Last Sunday David and I, with Riley tagging along, visited Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve. We spent a leisurely 4.5 mile walk around the reserve, enjoying the birds singing and the lovely warm weather.

Yarden:

In the yarden I’ve noticed this wildflower growing from the Nestlé seeds I planted last year. I wonder what type of wildflower it is?

Book I am reading:

Suggested by a Facebook pal, I bought the debut novel from Rachel Walkley. Her book The Women of Heachley Hall, based around an old country house is ambling along. The premise; an artist is bequeathed a dilapidated house from a relative. The stipulation is to sell at auction or live in the house for a year and a day. The first person narrative is interrupted by ‘spooky’ incidents but nothing exciting as yet.

5 Day Veggie Challenge:

I’ve registered for Jamie Oliver’s 5 Day Veggie Challenge, which begins this Monday. For a small fee you are sent recipes via email along with tips during the week. I look forward to seeing what recipes are available.

Othello:

On Saturday David and I went to see the Everyman Company’s production of Othello. It was three hours well spent. In this modern day production, with mobile phones used as props, Othello was cast as a woman. Golda Rosheuvel played the character with authority and sensitivity. I found some of the diction a bit hard to follow and was glad that the performance was captioned. The lighting and soundtrack added to the growing tension on stage, where we saw Iago spin a web of lies, turning Othello into a mad beast of jealousy. The final scene where Othello murders Desdemona was a feast for the eyes. The bed was surrounded by mesh curtains which created an intimate scenario, however the murder was awful to witness. The finale, emotionally charged.

In act 4, scene 3, Desdamona sings a song called Willow, which my memory brings up every-time I see a willow tree.

DESDEMONA [Singing]

The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,

Sing all a green willow:

Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,

Sing willow, willow, willow:

The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur’d her moans;

Sing willow, willow, willow;

Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones; Lay by these:–

Singing Sing willow, willow, willow;

 

Sing all a green willow must be my garland.

Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve,-

I call’d my love false love; but what said he then?

Sing willow, willow, willow:

If I court moe women, you’ll couch with moe men!

You can read about the origin of the song from the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.

Do you like Shakespeare? Been to any plays recently?

#walk1000miles:

Total miles this week have been 37. Bringing my annual total to 680 miles. 3.6 miles was taken walking Riley around a sunny Sefton Park this morning. 🙂

That was my week, how was yours?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

A Year in Books – April to June

april to juneEven Artie looks shocked at the amount of literature I have devoured this quarter! It has been a very productive period. 13 books I have read between April and June. While sitting on buses during the daily commute I have been able to immerse myself in narratives that have taken me to occupied France, to the inhumanity of Auschwitz and war ravaged Afghanistan.

I have laughed with Maude who was looking for Elizabeth and cried with Conor when his mother faced an incurable illness.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

I think this has to be my favourite read of 2017, so far! I had no expectations when I opened the pages but from the very beginning I was enthralled by the skill of writing and the subject matter. The narrative is slightly fractious due to it being narrated by a woman with dementia, but it is written in such a way that you slip from the present to the 1940’s very easily. Maud is seeking her friend Elizabeth, however underlying her search is a historic case of her missing sister. The first person narrative is funny, poignant and highlights the fear and confusion dementia sufferers have. It’s a very enlightening book, fabulously written. I won’t spoil it for you but the ending is sad yet hopeful too. I’d definitely recommend this book, it is a book I wish I could write!

The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse

I hate to say it, but I am not a lover of Kate Mosse’s writing. I still have to read the last installment of her languedoc trilogy. I don’t know what it is but I just can’t warm to her style of writing. I did think her Mistletoe Bride collection was readable but not memorable. The same could be said about The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Though Mosse can evoke a dreary Gothic atmosphere (i.e. rain and flood waters rising on a Sussex landscape), I just didn’t think her characters were developed enough. Neither character of Connie or Henry were likable enough to care what happened to them. It’s one book I’ll probably forget I’ve read.

Perhaps you have a different interpretation?

To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee

I really didn’t know what I expected from this book, but as I began to read it, it wasn’t what I had imagined it would be. Narrated by six year old Jean Louise it is a fictionalised account of growing up in the American South in the 1930’s. To me it seemed a book of its time as class and race hierarchies were commonplace. Though the main core of the plot is the trial of Tom Robinson accused of raping a white girl, the events leading up to it is seen through the eyes of Jean Louise and so the injustice of the system is even more shocking. I did enjoy the novel and would recommend, but its not one that has stayed with me.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Another of the best reads this year! I reviewed this book in my Sunday Sevens #28.

Folly – Alan Titchmarsh

I read this book on the recommendation of reviews on goodreads. I wish I hadn’t. The narrative was laborious and characters two dimensional. Titchmarsh had researched the area of fine art galleries and auctions indepthly, but just did not create a tale interesting enough to capture the readers imagination.

The book received a higher score on goodreads than The Haunting but I felt the story wasn’t as strong.

Do you have a different opinion?

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

I read this book before seeing the film and I must say the book is by far better than the film! It is a very emotive story. Thirteen year old Conor O’Malley is struggling to accept his mother’s terminal illness. The monster who calls helps Conor come to terms with his emotions. I must admit I was choked when I finished the novel. Though written for the young adult market I think it’s a story that can be read at any age.

The Lonely – Andrew Michael Hurley

This book was a 2015 Costa awards winner for a debut novel. It’s a Gothic tale with most of the action happening on a desolate coastal area in Lancashire. It is narrated by ‘Tonto’ whose brother Hanny is mute. A group of Christians visit the area at Easter hoping for a miracle, what they find is much more darker. The landscape is forbidding, the locals unfriendly and ultimately the miracle is only eluded to. Nothing is spelled out and I think that was the novels downfall. For me I didn’t care about the characters, in fact most annoyed me and at the end I was left feeling I had read a lot of words that didn’t make much sense. If you like vague narratives then this book is for you!

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

This book had been on my Kindle for over a year. While looking for new books to read I remembered the stage play that was in Liverpool and which, I wish I had gone to see as it had rave reviews. Hence why I downloaded the book. So I decided to give it a try. The book lives up to its hype. The tale is of two boys, Amir and his ‘servant’ Hassan. The narrative is from Amir’s point of view, of a young boy growing up in Afghanistan before the Russians arrive and then the Taliban. Always trying to capture the eye of his father, Amir is jealous of Hassan and it is only later that we discover the true relationship between both boys. Amir who comes from a wealthy background managed to flee with his father to the USA, while Hassan stays in Afghanistan.  The story is beautifully written, the language lyrical. The ravages of war is sometimes too hard to read. Hosseini’s book makes you realise what hell it must have been like to live in Afghanistan during those turbulent times. Hosseini has set up a non profit foundation to help refugees returning to their homeland after three decades of war.

The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas – John Boyne

The narrative of this book is so painfully naive as it is written from the viewpoint, of a child called Bruno. The Final Solution is viewed by this nine year old who has accompanied his family from Berlin to ‘Out With.’ The book relies heavily on the readers knowledge of ‘Out With’ (Auschwitz) and who the sad people in the stripped pyjamas behind the fences are. I think the book is more agonisingly sad because of this foreknowledge. Bruno who isn’t happy at Out With, finally befriends a boy from the other side of the fence, Shmuel. I won’t spoil the plot for anyone who hasn’t read it, but the final chapters will leave you sobbing!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

It’s difficult to find the right words this book made me feel. Written in the 1980’s, though it can be applied to today’s world too, more so when news of atrocities to women in Europe, the Middle East and beyond occur daily. Offred is a Handmaid of the dystopian Republic of Gilead, (you don’t find out her real name!) It is a place after a catastrophe. Nuclear war has decimated the world and the human populace (birth rates have plummeted). In it’s place has risen a religious order which has reduced women to property (once again). I find the implications of the book hard to swallow as the unknown leaders have imposed a strict order on the women. Those who are breeders (the Handmaids), those who are not (the Wives) and those who are servants (the Marthas). There are other classes in the Gilead regime like the Aunts (who train the Handmaids), and Commanders (the highest ranking men). Everyone has their place in society, even the poorest of women like the Econowives.

Offred as narrator, I think is quite unreliable as her tale is rather vague. There are flashbacks of her life before the catastrophe. There is a general feeling of threat and violence but it is so muted in the narrative that by the time you come to the truly atrocious scenes you are left feeling numb. I found it hard to like any of the characters. Perhaps my Western upbringing has caused me to react negatively to this book?

As an aside I am currently enjoying the dramatisation on Channel 4, though again some of the episodes have left me reeling.

Have you read the book? Watched the series? What are your thoughts? Do you disagree with my ideas?

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

Much like the Handmaid’s Tale, Hosseini’s second novel, (also based in Afghanistan,) is about the bonds between two women and of their daily struggles during the restricting Taliban regime. Women were among those who were so poorly affected by this regime and Hosseini writes eloquently about the physical and mental abuse of Mariam and Laila. Though I did not enjoy the novel as much as I did the Kite Runner, the narrative does keep you engaged. Like the Kite Runner it is a story of sacrifice and endurance. There is a resolution but like many human stories, it is tinged with sadness.

Finger’s in the Sparkle Jar – Chris Packham

I don’t know why but this book left me feeling sad. Maybe it was because of the curious mix of narratives that sat uneasy with me? Or perhaps it emphasised that however beautiful nature is, it can be brutal! After getting to grips with Packham’s switching from first person narrative to third, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I preferred it when Packham wrote in the first person, his experiences seemed all the more real. The scenes with the fox and kestrel had me close to tears!

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak.

As the end of June was in sight, I hurriedly finished The Book Thief. It was with a tear in my eye that I read the harrowing final parts of the novel. Another book set during World War II. The narrative is told by Death. There is a balanced mix of humour and sadness as Death goes about his job of collecting souls. Though the novel is about Death, the story is a very human one. You quickly grow to like the characters of Liesel, Rudy and Max, and even though Death prepares you for each of their fate, the sadness is still real.

Have read the book? Seen the film? What was your favourite?

41HJJM1VNYLFor July’s first read, I have chosen The Child in Time by Ian McEwan. I don’t know what to expect but hopefully it will be as well written as his Atonement.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations? Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees. for creating the challenge.

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x