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

A Year in Books – January to March

I thought I would give a little update on how I am progressing with the challenge, A Year in Books. As I was displaying some of the books I’ve read for a snap-shot Artie came over to give me his approval.

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It was a slow beginning to the challenge. All I read in January was two books. Since then I have managed to read more frequently, even taking the Kindle with me on the bus to work. Reading while travelling usually tires me, which is why I have only just started up again.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

This novella featured as part of a short Open University course I took last year. David kindly bought it for me for Christmas. The theme is of grief and survival. After a sudden death of a wife and mother, two son’s and a father are visited by a crow (personified from the Ted Hughes book of poems Crow.) The narrative is quite fractured and erratic. The story just features short scenes of the family in states of ‘coping/or not coping’. Crow is depicted as a wild, untamed creature with bad manners and equally bad language. I think I need to read the story again as a lot of the message was lost on me.

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

In Parenthesis – David Jones

David Jones was a survivor of the First World War. I came across his work featured in a documentary on the writers of WW1. In it’s time, In Parenthesis was hailed as a classic, but now sadly seems to have been forgotten. I managed to get a cheapish copy on eBay. The writing can be difficult to understand at times as Jones dips into Welsh and Arthurian legend. The narrative is his own experiences in the British Expeditionary Force and of one attack during the Battle of the Somme, at Mametz Wood. Some of Jones’s writing of trench warfare can only be described as lyrical, even his depictions of disemboweled men and decapitated heads smiling back from the crook of trees like Cheshire Cats is somehow horrifyingly captivating. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history.

H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Yet another book on grief, though totally different in it’s approach to Max Porter’s book. I think this has been one of my favourite reads so far. I thoroughly enjoyed Macdonald’s description of Mable and how her relationship with this wild bird became cathartic to her wound gaping grief at the loss of her father. The chapters featuring her inspiration, T.H.White made me feel a little uneasy in his behaviour to his Goshawk, though he was writing from a different time period, still doesn’t make the reading any the easier.

Under Milk Wood – Dylan Thomas

One of Thomas’s last works, commissioned for BBC radio. This play for voices is a day in the life of a small Welsh village. An omniscient narrator introduces each character and a second narrator tells more about their hidden thoughts and desires. Each character has their own vignette, though written in prose the language is poetic, sometimes lewd, often humorous and occasionally poignant. I found though that my reading lacked the power of a TV or radio production. Perhaps I would benefit from a second read?

The English Girl – Katherine Webb

I reviewed this book in my Sunday Sevens #24.

The Haunting – Alan Titchmarsh

All I know of Alan Titchmarsh is from his gardening programmes and his Saturday show on Classic FM. When I saw one of his books, The Haunting on the shelf in WHSmith I was curious. The story is a dual narrative, historical drama set in 1816 and 2010 respectively with a hint of ghosts and a splash of romance. The book is an easy read but the narrative won’t tax the mind. The story is a little contrived and could have been better but it is what it is. I enjoyed it enough to buy another of his novels. Folly.

The Red Letter (short) – Kate Riordan

If I had known this was only 30 pages long I wouldn’t have bought it, however the writing was good and I enjoyed it. The characters were from a previous novel by Riordan, The Girl in the Photograph. Though reading the novella I couldn’t remember the original novel. I had to read the blurb to get any recall. Set in the 1930’s the story is of Marjorie who finds out her husband is having an affair. During the too few pages Marjorie awakens and becomes self aware. The novella ends with Marjorie riding on her bike with her future stretched out with many possibilities.

Birdcage Walk – Kate Riordan

If I like a book by an author I usually seek out other works by them, this was the case with Birdcage Walk, Riordan’s first published work, and you can tell it is! It’s very different in style to that of her later works, The Girl in the Photograph and The Shadow Hour. The story is based on a true tale of murder, mystery and a possible miscarriage of justice. Sadly, Riordan spends too long setting up the back story. Both protagonists are rather quarrelsome and two dimensional, and I didn’t bond with either of them. The narrative only improved after the subsequent murder and trial. There wasn’t much evidence of a miscarriage of justice, but that’s up to the reader to decide. The inevitable wasn’t much of a surprise when it finally arrived.

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David has chosen the next book for me to read. Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing, I have no expectations on what to expect within it’s pages.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

 

 

30 Days Wild 2016 – Week Two

o0OhgWNNI can’t believe how quickly the first week of 30 Days Wild went and now I am finalising this post at the end of the second week! I am enjoying reading other bloggers’ adventures, and The Wildlife Trusts, 30 Days Wild app, of 101 random acts of wildness, is really inspiring me to learn more about the nature that I see around me.

 

Day Eight: Wednesday.

Wednesday was World Oceans Day. Highlighting the plight of the seas and collaborating for a better future. I was unable to get to the coast but I still managed to celebrate the diversity of the oceans. It was a day of cooking and baking bread. I shaped these granary loaves into sea turtles (recipe here). I’m no artist but I am pretty happy with how they turned out. What do you think?

In the afternoon I opened the app for the Great British Bee Count. I thought with the amount of bees flying about the yarden that I could do a timed count. I set up alongside a popular plant and started the one minute timer. Sadly, all the bees must have known and only one mason bee made an appearance! Typical!

Day Nine: Thursday.

I turned to the wildness cards for inspiration. I downloaded the cards from the email pack The Wildlife Trusts sent when I signed up for 30 Days Wild. (I wish I had asked for a mail pack as they sent a cute little ‘I love wild’ badge! But such is life!)

I picked the sketch up close card. If my sea turtle bread rolls were any indication, then this activity could go horribly wrong, but I had to try. So I grabbed a piece of paper and sharpened a pencil and sat down to draw one of my favourite garden birds. The dunnock.

Some interesting facts on the dunnock (hedge sparrow):

  1. Has a fine bill due to preferring insects and beetles than seeds.
  2. Is a ground feeder.
  3. As their diets are similar to Robins, can come into conflict if food is scarce, usually losing out to the more aggressive Robins.
  4. Their nests are often parasitised by the cuckoo.
  5. Most are polyandrous (female has more than one male mate) or polygynous (males have more than one female mate).

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Day Ten: Friday.

I let David chose today’s ‘wild card’. He chose keep a note of wildlife. List the species that you see from your window. I decided to spend an hour watching the yarden after the evenings dinner. Here’s what I saw.

  1. House Sparrow (x1)
  2. Pigeons (x4)
  3. Bees (many)
  4. Hover flies (many)
  5. Flies (many)
  6. Dunnock (x1)
  7. Goldfinches (x2)
  8. Small white butterfly (x1)
  9. Cinnabar moth (x1)
  10. Spider (garden) (x1)
  11. Snails (x2)
  12. Magpie (x1)
  13. Herring gull (x1)

Day Eleven: Saturday.

During 30 Days Wild, I have also been setting up my camcorder to record for an hour a day. Below is the ‘highlights’ video of the species, mainly birds visiting the yarden.

Day Twelve: Sunday.

With the flowers having fallen, it was time to haul up our potato plants. We have found that it has not been easy to grow our own vegetables. However, David and I were overjoyed that we got some kind of harvest! Below find pictures of us celebrating our maris bard potatoes!

For the evening dinner we boiled some of our harvest and had them with a vegetarian roast. They were delicate and creamy. They tasted all the better for having grown them ourselves.

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Day Thirteen: Monday.

Sadly the weather has taken a turn for the worse, even this poor buff tailed bumblebee was having trouble today. David rescued her/him from the yarden floor and the jaws of Artie and fed it some sugar solution. After a while it perked up and flew away. Later on I saw another bee busily enjoying an oriental poppy.

I also managed to do another bee count, in between the showers. Within a minute I got a tally of three!

Monday was also World Meat Free Day, so I made a Mediterranean flavoured white bean soup with brown rice.

Day Fourteen: Tuesday.

I decided to write a short creative passage around wild swimming. I didn’t intend for it to become so morbid… sorry!

On a frosty winter’s day. Erin dipped her toe into the water and shivered as the delicious cold touched her skin. She often wondered if her sister had felt the same sensation before she slipped eternally into the dark abyss. Perhaps her depression had steeled her against the cold? Either way Erin gasped as she stepped in.

‘What torments brought you to these waters?’ She thought, finding herself waist deep in the lake. ‘If only I could have helped.’ She swam through the icy water towards a small island, a tangle of tree branches and sandy shores.

During the summer holidays, Erin and her younger sister, Elise used to swim out towards the island. The warm waters suspended their sun kissed limbs as they splashed headlong towards an adventure of exploring over rock and under root.

Erin, felt her teeth chatter as she breaststroked through the choppy waters. Erin didn’t mind, she was a strong swimmer. Elise too, but on that fateful day she chose to succumb. ‘It’s very easy to get cramp,’ their swimming instructor had prophesied. ‘If you don’t respect the water or your ability, tragedy can happen.’ Erin swam on until a man’s voice from the lakeside beckoned tensely.

‘What are you doing?’ She turned, noticing her funeral garb heaped on the shingle shore. The waters caressed her breasts, stroked seductively between her legs. She saw Josh standing at the lakeside. In his hand he held the length of his black tie. His shoes discarded.

‘I’m okay!’ Erin called through the drizzle. She looked at Josh as she treaded water. She felt the love Elise had felt for him. Watched as he disregarded his mourning clothes and lunged into the lake. His arms were strong as he crawled towards her, while she felt cradled in the waters embrace.

Erin recalled the last time she and Elise swam together in the lake. Elise had been no older than eleven. They both lay on their backs looking up at the blue cloudless sky. Swallows skirted over the water catching flies, and laughter tinged the air with joyful exuberance. Elise had been so full of life. Her death remained inexplicable. 

‘Come back to shore.’ Erin felt Josh’s arms embrace her. They were becoming shrouded in a mist that rolled down from the mountains. ‘You’ll get hypothermia.’ Josh reached for Erin’s hand. They swam alongside each other back towards the shore.

Erin’s body ached with the cold as she walked out of the water. She looked into Josh’s dark eyes that searched her face for a reason. ‘I just felt like a swim.’

‘In this weather?’ She felt Josh’s warm lips on hers. ‘I don’t want to lose you too.’ He threw his jacket over Erin’s shoulders before hurrying her towards their hotel where Elise’s wake was winding down. With luck, Erin’s disappearance had gone undetected and they could creep inside unseen.

A warm light flooded from the hotel doorway, and bathed their heads in a golden glow. Josh took Erin’s hand in his and they both walked into the light. 

Summary:

I have taken things much slower this week. Perhaps a bit too slow. Most days haven’t been really ‘wild.’ I have enjoyed doing the creative activities, like molding bread into turtles and even drawing the dunnock, I found relaxing.

I wonder what discoveries week three of 30 Days Wild will uncover? At some point, I am hoping to go looking for moths and perhaps a wild swim will feature, who knows? I hope you will join me in my forthcoming adventures…

Christine x