A Year in Books 2019 – January to March

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A Year in Books

Welcome to 2019’s A Year in Books. This is my third year following the initiative run by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees, and I have decided 40 books in a year is achievable for me.

A new year means a new batch of books to read. For the first quarter of 2019 I managed to read a total of eight books.

Here’s my reviews below.

Almanac – Lia Leendertz (January/February/March) ✩✩
I don’t know what I expected from this almanac but some of the content in Lia’s compilation just doesn’t inform me enough. I particularly like the history behind the naming of months, stellar events and information from a bee hive but I feel I want more than what I am reading. Do you know of any better almanacs?

The History of Mary Prince – Mary Prince ✩✩
I don’t even know how this book got on my Kindle! It’s a recount of the life of a slave Mary Prince, in the 1800’s. Some of the accounts of torture are difficult to read. Mary finally escaped her brutal enslavement and took up residence in England. She is the first woman to present an anti slavery petition to parliament.

Into the Water – Paula Hawkins ✩✩✩
From the author who gave us Girl on a Train. Into the Water is billed as yet another thriller but it felt more of a detective novel. Just days before her sister drowned, Jules ignored her call. Now Nel is dead, and Jules must return to her sister’s house to care for her daughter, and to face the mystery of Nel’s death. But Jules is afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of this small town that is drowning in secrecy. From the reviews on Amazon not many people enjoyed this book, but I enjoyed it even though it was hard to get a grip of all the characters (there were a lot of them!)

The Turn of Midnight – Minette Walters ✩✩✩
I quite enjoyed this book. I didn’t rate the first installment of Minette Walter’s historical plague novel but I found that the pace got better in this second book. Character development seemed more progressive and the novel concluded satisfactorily.

Three Things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon ✩✩✩✩
By far the best book I have read this quarter. I found some of the passages were written so profoundly! 84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, she considers the charming new resident who looks exactly like a man she once knew – a man who died sixty years ago. His arrival has stirred distant memories she and Elsie thought they’d laid to rest. Lying prone in the front room, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light … Even though I had second guessed the third thing about Elsie, the narrative and how the story slowly developed had me gripped. The final chapters left me aching with sadness. Have you read a book that left a lasting impression on you?

Still Me – JoJo Moyes ✩✩✩
The third and final installment of the Louisa Clark series. Louisa relocates to New York for a job as a Personal Assistant. During her time in the Big Apple she meets many colorful and zany people. However these people are what save her from disillusionment and a miscarriage of justice. At the end of Still Me, Louisa Clark finds her true self worth and ultimately, happiness. I think this was the second strongest novel of the trilogy after Me Before You. Have you read any of these books or anything by JoJo Moyes?

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris ✩✩✩
I had read good reviews about this book so when I saw it in Asda, I decided to buy it. Though the novel is in third person narrative it is told from the viewpoint of a survivor of the Holocaust. In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a jack-the-lad, it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too. I found the writing style was easy to read but being third person I felt a lot of the descriptions of death were a little matter of fact, but perhaps living so close to extermination on a daily basis made you see death like that? The Tattooist saw a lot of the Nazi’s Final Solution, of the gas chambers and crematorium to the final destruction of records before the Russian’s arrived. In a time of death it was a story of determination and survival.

The Gap of Time – Jeanette Winterson ✩✩
A baby girl is abandoned, banished from London to the storm-ravaged American city of New Bohemia. Her father has been driven mad by jealousy, her mother to exile by grief. Seventeen years later, Perdita doesn’t know a lot about who she is or where she’s come from – but she’s about to find out. Jeanette Winterson’s cover version of The Winter’s Tale vibrates with echoes of Shakespeare’s original and tells a story of hearts broken and hearts healed, a story of revenge and forgiveness, a story that shows that whatever is lost shall be found. I found this modern retelling of one of Shakespeare’s later plays rather hard to digest. I felt the text rather crude and I cared little for the madness of Leo(ontes). The other characters seemed all rather ineffectual to the angst of Leo whose actions shouldn’t have been so easily forgiven. I had waited a few years to read this book. I really wish I hadn’t now.

I’ve felt this first quarter’s reading has been rather mediocre. Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

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A Year in Books 2018 – July to September

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A Year in Books

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

The summer months for me always seem to be the hardest when it comes to reading. Even when we’ve had such a wonderful summer as 2018. This year, I’ve managed to sit in the yarden and sunbathe while delving into a novel or two, but my tally is still low compared to cooler months.

This quarter I have managed to read nine books. Much better than last years quarter but no where near my tally for April to June this year. Here’s what I read this quarter.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

After what seemed like an age, I finally managed to get my hands on this Costa award winning novel and it didn’t take me long to love it! Eleanor is a young woman struggling to cope with a traumatic event from her childhood. She has been mentally and physically scared and her out look on life is shaped by her past. This book is not only about survival but about facing and dealing with daemons. It is funny and sad but ultimately it is about redemption.

What are your thoughts if you’ve read this novel?

Bird Box – Josh Malerman

As a suspense novel, the narrative just didn’t grab me. Perhaps it had a lot to live up to after Eleanor Oliphant? Even so, despite the tension, this Stephen King-esque failed to hit the mark. There were some weird episodes but I couldn’t feel for the characters and was left feeling deflated at the end of the novel. It felt like a poorly written M Night Shyamalan script.

The Ice Twins – S K Tremayne

This was a novel suggested by my mum. The premise was of twin sisters, where one had died. A year on the surviving twin begins to believe she is the dead sister. Did they get the identity of the dead twin wrong? The narrator, Sarah is estranged from her husband and still mourning her daughter. Angus (the husband) inherits a house on a remote island on the west coast of Scotland and moves the family there. This isolation brings the psychological drama to a head. It was a quick read but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Tess Gerritsen’s Playing with Fire.

Animal Farm – George Orwell

Surprisingly I enjoyed this political satire. George Orwell wrote his critique on the Russian Revolution but in theory it could be a reflection of any revolution. The animals of Manor Farm have had enough of being ruled by farmer, Mr Jones and stage their own revolution led by the intellectual pigs. However as time progresses, life under the new regime seems at odds with the origins of the revolution and to stop the dissenting farm stock the pigs unleash a brutal regime which cripples, maims and kills many of the cast. You can’t but be sympathetic to the likes of Boxer and Clover who are ground down by the machine that the pigs enact. The final act of betrayal is when the pigs are seen to walk on two hooves. This can be read that the pigs are just bad as the humans they hoped to replace. It is a piece of writing that makes you think!

Have you read this satire, what were your impressions?

Sarah Millican – How to be Champion

I am not a reader of autobiographies. I only downloaded this book as it was on offer for .99p. It took me a while to get into the narrative but I quite enjoyed it in the end. Sarah isn’t much older than myself and I noticed we did similar things and used the same items when we were both growing up in the 1980’s.

Outlander – Diana Gadaldon

I’m still slogging my way through this tome, and there are several more sequels in the series! Though a good premise, of a woman from the 1940’s travelling back in time to Jacobite Scotland, however I found the narrative boring. I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of the series. Perhaps the TV adaptation is better?

Have you read this book? What were your impressions?

Swim Wild – The Wild Swimming Brothers

I delved into the realm of wild swimming again. This time I quite enjoyed reading about the tales of the three brother’s expeditions, of swimming the entire length of the River Eden and the maelstroms around Norway and Scotland. The narrative is fractured by personal reveries and memories of growing up by the author, Jack Hudson, but I found it a nice book to read none the less.

If you’d like to read more of the Wild Swimming Brother’s adventures, then follow the link to their blog.

Me Before You – JoJo Moyes

I bought this book on the recommendation of comedienne Sarah Millican, from her autobiography (see above). I got into the first person narrative quickly enough and really enjoyed the banter between Louise and Will. Both characters are scared but in different ways. I liked how the writer sculptured their unlikely relationship and the ending had me shedding silent tears. I am a softy sometimes!

If you have read the book? Seen the film? What did you think?

The Girl in the Spider’s Web – David Lagercrantz

I thought I would give this sequel to the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson a go. I really enjoyed The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the other sequels not so. So far it seems a slow burn. I’ll let you know how I go.

Have you read any good books lately, any recommendations?

Thanks for dropping by,

Christine x

A Year in Books – October to December

I can’t quite believe that this year is almost at an end. Where has the time gone? At the beginning of the year I quoted I wanted to read 40 books before the end of 2017, unfortunately I have only managed to read 35! Not a bad attempt! Thanks to Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for creating the challenge. Hopefully the challenge will continue into 2018! I will keep my target at 40 books to be read in 2018! Do you fancy joining in?

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The Diary of Anne Frank – Anne Frank

I’ve seen films and TV productions of the diary, but I have never read the book until this year. The diary is painfully poignant due to the foreknowledge of what happened to Anne and her family and friends who resided in the annex. Only her father survived the holocaust and made it his life’s work to educate people on the horrors of ethnic cleansing. Anne from the pages seems a voracious girl; her humour, angst and love leaps from the pages, overshadowed by the real fear of being discovered. The diary has made me want to visit Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House in future. What were your thoughts on the book? Have you been to Amsterdam?

An Inspector Calls – JB Priestley

I took a leaf from Liesel, The Book Thief in obtaining this book. I didn’t exactly steal it, but I did find it on the pavement as I stood waiting for a bus to work. I did a double take, wondering whether to rescue the book or leave it where it lay, its pages crumpled and sprawled in the mud. I decided to rescue the book and took it home with me. I had already watched the recent BBC adaptation of this play in 2015 with David Thewlis in the leading role, so I knew the synopsis of the play. An inspector interrupts a dinner party to investigate a girl’s suicide, and implicates each of the party-makers in her death. It’s a very supernatural play, full of foreboding of war. I enjoyed reading the play very much.

A Kestrel for a Knave – Barry Hines

I reviewed this painfully sad novel in my Sunday Sevens #37.

The Hiding Places – Katherine Webb

I do enjoy Katherine Webb’s books, though they are not of the caliber of other writers of similar vein. I almost forgot the plot to this story when reviewing it and I only read it a month ago! The story centres around a rural town in Wiltshire, recovering from the effects of The Great War. The plot focuses on three women. Irene has escaped a scandal in London by marrying the local paper mill owner, she meets Pudding, who is a girl groom for Irene’s new family and then there’s Clemmie who is a mute from a farming family. When Irene’s husband Alistair is murdered, she and Pudding endeavour to find out the truth behind his ghastly killing. Though I enjoyed the story of a murder most foul. The ending did confuse me, I wasn’t sure who I was reading about!

Jane Austen at Home – Lucy Worsley

In the bicentenary year of Jane Austen’s death I felt it quite apt that I managed to read Lucy Worsley’s biography. I don’t know what I was expecting from the book, but I had hoped Lucy’s humour from her TV programmes would shine through the narrative. It didn’t. Jane Austen to me still seemed a veiled character and Lucy’s narrative tried too hard to be academic, which it wasn’t. It was easy enough to read but it would make me think twice to read any more of Lucy Worsley’s works.

Persuasion – Jane Austen

Something from Lucy Worsley’s biography must had stayed with me as I decided to dig out my old copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Her last published novel. However I wish I hadn’t. Though I managed to read it within a week, I found it hard going. It made me aware of how much literature and novel writing has developed and changed since the 1800’s! For the better I say! Persuasion is all about second chances, something Jane Austen in her own life never had. It wasn’t what I would call a romantic novel and the actually falling in love of the two protagonists seemed to happen off page. It affirmed my suspicion. Jane Austen is not my favourite novelist.

At the Water’s Edge – Sara Gruen

I loved Sara Gruen’s previous books, Water for Elephants and Ape House and I equally enjoyed At the Water’s Edge. Three Americans, used to the high life try to out run the second world war by travelling to Drumnadrochit, Scotland in search of the Loch Ness Monster, but ultimately the tale is about awakenings and second chances. I couldn’t put the book down!

Parliament of Rooks – Karen Perkins

I don’t really know what I was expecting when I bought this eBook. I knew it was set in Brontë country but other than that I didn’t know the story. I’m seventeen chapters in and it seems to be shaping up to be a ghost story/romance. It’s written well and is keeping my interest though a bit slow going. Have you read this book? What were your thoughts?

I’m always open to recommendations, so if you have read a book you have enjoyed and think I would like it too, then do let me know.

Will you be joining in next year’s challenge?

Thanks for following my year in books 2017. Here’s to many more good reads in 2018!

Christine x

Sunday Sevens #14

Normal Service now resumes… after my foray into The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild.

Though 30 Days Wild may have ended, nature still plays a big role in my daily life. From noticing the birds visiting the feeders, to the plants we have growing in the yarden, there is always something to record. This week my ‘bonus’ plant, the borage has flowered. I call it my ‘bonus’ plant as I did not sow the seeds this year, however their appearance has been most welcome.

I took another walk up the ‘jungle’ that is the alleyway between our houses. I noticed lots of thistles growing, and snapped one happy mason bee enjoying his lunch.

I’d just like to say a big ‘thank you’ to Louise who very kindly sent me a ‘I love wild’ badge from the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, along with some stickers from the 30 Days Wild campaign that I never received due to not ordering a mail pack, (I will next year!) As an aside, there has been so much friendly camaraderie during this years 30 Days Wild, I have come across so many lovely people with insightful blogs. It’s been nice participating.

beware

Let me tell you a story. A few weeks back I was having lunch when I heard a racket at the front door. Someone was trying to push something through the letterbox. I went to open the door and found a red jacketed Royal Mail postman trying to push a thin letter through the door. ‘Having trouble?’ I asked. He then informed me by brandishing his injured thumb, that Artie had sliced him as he delivered the post on a previous occasion. I had hoped it was just a one off event, but then last week, the same happened to another postman! Seeing a pattern develop I hurriedly found a cage protector for the letterbox. I could imagine being put on the Royal Mail’s list of houses to avoid! I do have such a naughty cat!

51PtmxP6VqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This week I finished the Mark Edward’s psychological thriller, Follow you Home. I had not read his work before. I only acquired the download due to an email from Amazon saying as I was been on their mailing list, I was entitled to a free download out of a possible three. Two looked like romance, chick-lit novels so I opted for the gritty thriller! Do you know, for a freebie it wasn’t half bad. The antagonist had superhuman strength for a 70 year old and the protagonist seemed a bit of a wimp, not to mention the stereotypical Hungarians, and feeble women, but I enjoyed it none the less.

David has been preoccupied with the house. We have an issue with damp. So Saturday, he took up one of the floorboards to see what was under the house. Lots of rubble was what we found! I shook my head thinking ‘bloody builders!’ David has hatched a plan on creating ventilation under the front door. I hope it solves the problem!

This time last week I was racked with aching limbs and a fever. I haven’t a clue what brought it on! Thankfully, I have recovered. I am more like my self again. I am writing this post with Classic FM playing. I have been enjoying David Mellor’s Light Music Masters show. I am feeling warm and cosy, have a full tummy and a nice glass of Soave to hand (I thought I would try something different)!

I hope you have a good week ahead,

Christine x

Sunday Sevens was devised by Natalie at Threads and bobbins.

The Daily Post, Daily Prompt – Glass!

Sunday Sevens #13

#13, unlucky for some!

Again, I wasn’t going to write a Sunday Sevens post (devised by Threads and bobbins) but I thought ‘what the heck!’ I may as well document my mundane life.

Benedict-in-fur-large_trans++ZgEkZX3M936N5BQK4Va8Rd1_LE3c4DIRmB2hHE4OOWUI have thoroughly enjoyed the recent, second series of the BBC’s adaptations of the Shakespeare history plays. (The Hollow Crown, The War of the Roses.) Culminating in the final film, Richard III. After watching Henry 6th part two with my hands over my face in horror at Benedict Cumberbatch’s sublime performance as Richard, Duke of Gloucester. I eagerly anticipated his performance in Richard III. It was engaging viewing! At first Richard nicely spun a plot to gain the crown but after being crowned king, his mind soon unraveled. He became paranoid and fearful. Quite rightly so, with the future Henry 7th waiting in the wings in France. The film climaxed with Richard’s death at Bosworth.

Mid week, I made a short visit to Liverpool’s Central Library. I came back with my haul of wild swimming books. I also came back with S J Watson’s second novel, Second Life. It wasn’t a particularly nice book to read. I kept thinking that the main protagonist was rather stupid! She kept saying she had too much to lose, her child and husband and yet she continued with a rather violent affair! It wasn’t my cup of tea. I only read it as I had quite enjoyed his first novel, Before I go to Sleep.

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This week happened to be the fourth anniversary of David and I receiving the keys to our house! I was going to celebrate by baking a cake, but I decided it would be cheaper to buy one already made, so I bought a Victoria sponge!

Thursday poured with rain all day! It was a rather gloomy day. I was in the kitchen, making my lunch of curried red lentils when I noticed a male house sparrow on my feeders. I took a closer look and there was a baby sparrow alongside him. The baby looked quite independent, but kept begging for food off the adult. I got my camcorder out and filmed the below.

I’ll finish today’s roundup with a picture from the yarden, of an aquilegia. This plant has grown readily in the yarden for three summers now. Long may it continue to grow!

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‘Take time to be thankful for everything that you have. You can always have more, but you could also have less.’ Mohd Uved

Christine x

Gaslight by Patrick Hamilton

I discovered in the course of doing some light research into this play, that its title gave rise to the description of a psychological phenomena, gaslighting. Gaslighting is outlined as the systematic manipulation of one person by another. This form of mental assault distorts the victims perception of reality. It is a form of abuse that over time can lead to mental health issues and even suicide.

This short review is based on a viewing of the penultimate performance, the matinee on Saturday 7th November 2015.

Royal and Derngate Theatre entrance

Royal and Derngate Theatre entrance

The Royal and Derngate theatre is a strange mixture, the old juxtaposed with the new. The complex not only features two theatres but also a cinema and spaces for more family orientated workshops.

The Royal is a 130 year old Victorian theatre that can accommodate up to 400+ guests. When you walk into the auditorium you notice the close intimacy of this theatre. The stalls open out in a fan before the stage while the upper galleries circle overhead. The first thing that catches your eye is the elaborately painted safety curtain, Sipario Dipinto as it’s also called. Painted by local artist Henry Bird, it depicts cherubim alongside people connected with the theatre, most notably Errol Flynn. Currently the Royal are running a restoration appeal to raise £30,000 to complete the preservation of this beautiful part of the theatre.

Safety Curtain at the Royal Derngate Theatre

Safety Curtain at the Royal Derngate Theatre

This Made in Northampton production of the 1938 play Gaslight by British writer Patrick Hamilton, was directed by Lucy Bailey with a homely set designed by William Dudley. The performance occurs entirely in a Victorian living room, which in this production made use of a transparent backdrop that was used to good effect. The only thing that didn’t seem to work as good as intended was the use of projections. They did little to enhance the plot and seemed to be a little O.T.T. in their execution. The lighting by Chris Davey however added to the atmosphere of the play. There was a warm glow from the fire and the gaslights as part of the set became almost another character. The light was used effectively to show the shifting of Bella’s psychological state. This medium, used in conjunction with Nell Catchpole’s minimalist soundtrack only added to the tension on stage.

gaslight cast

There was no fault to be found in the casting. Most notable were familiar names, Jonathan Firth and Tara Fitzgerald, both who have had successful television careers as well as on stage. Fitzgerald played the persecuted wife who questioned her own sanity. She looked tortured and tiptoed around the aggressive husband (Firth) who flew into uncontrollable rages. He played the part like Janus, one face was jovial and all toothy smiles and the second showed a more sinister, domineering side. Firth’s body language on stage was that of arms continuously folded as he struggled to contain his anger. Somehow it made the viewer question who the ‘real’ mad character was?

Photo by Donald Cooper

Photo by Donald Cooper

A welcome relief from the angst portrayed by the Victorian couple, Firth and Fitzgerald was Paul Hunter’s Rough. He portrayed a retried detective who had a penchant for the odd dram of whisky or three. His comedy was much needed in a play with such a dark plot. Without his presence the audience would have been lost in Fitzgerald’s madness.

Though the play was billed as a thriller it had all the hallmarks of a detective drama too. It was a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

© Christine Lucas 2015