November/December Reads

Hello all. I hope you had a Merry Christmas.

I didn’t do my November round up last month because I am well and truly in a reading slump. It’s definitely hormonal and I’m sure it will pass in a few weeks but right now I am completely and utterly struggling to concentrate on anything. At the end of November I looked back at what I had achieved reading wise and it was utterly minimal. My way round this was to lump Nov and Dec together in the hope that I will have something decent to say about the very few books I have managed to get through. So, here goes….I hoping January brings with it some reading vim and vigour.

  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer.
  • Andrew Sean Greer. Born 5th November 1970.

Arthur Less is a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the post: it is from an ex-boyfriend of nine years who is engaged to someone else. Arthur can’t say yes – it would be too awkward; he can’t say no – it would look like defeat. So, he begins to accept the invitations on his desk to half-baked literary events around the world. 

From France to India, Germany to Japan, Arthur almost falls in love, almost falls to his death, and puts miles between him and the plight he refuses to face. Less is a novel about mishaps, misunderstandings and the depths of the human heart.

Do you believe how much you like a book is directly proportionate to how much time you dedicate to it??? First book fail of the month and itโ€™s not the fault of the book! ๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜”๐Ÿ˜” I have been really busy in work and my head has been everywhere but nowhere near my current read.

Each time I have picked this up I have been asleep by the end of the page. The accolades on the front cover are taunting me. I look at the cover and feel slightly like Arthur falling and trying to regain control. As the Winner of the Pulitzer, I am sure it is wonderful but I sense a slump coming on and I need something that is going to grab me immediately.

I am so sorry Andrew Sean Greer. Itโ€™s most definitely not you. Itโ€™s me. โ˜น๏ธโ˜น๏ธโ˜น๏ธโ˜น๏ธโ˜น๏ธ Also, Happy Birthday for the 5th! ๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‚๐ŸŽ‚

  • Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro. Birthday 8th November.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize

In one of the most acclaimed novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, Never Let Me Godramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

Ishiguro is an incredible writer and this novel is going to stay with me for a really long time. I really regret not choosing it for a book club read as there is so much to discuss.

This novel is a slow burn but the subject matter really does pack a punch. The primary topic is ‘collusion.’ How a society can collude with a regime which is obviously wrong but no one wants to speak against it. How people often feel too hopeless to rally against their own fate . This is not a novel about fighting back in the vein of The Hunger Games or Divergent. I think initially this frustrated me. Why did no one rebel???? But this question is also what makes the novel so interesting. I also think the film which was directed by Mark Romanek was also brilliant.

  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman.
  • Neil Gaiman. Birthday 10th November.

There is something strange about Coraline’s new home. It’s not the mist, or the cat that always seems to be watching her, nor the signs of danger that Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, her new neighbours, read in the tea leaves. It’s the other house – the one behind the old door in the drawing room. Another mother and father with black-button eyes and papery skin are waiting for Coraline to join them there. And they want her to stay with them. For ever. She knows that if she ventures through that door, she may never come back.

Gaiman is an author I only really started to get into last year. The Ocean and the End of the Lane was my favourite book last year. I think Edie is a little young for this (although I did read a review of a 4 year old boy who listened to it on audio and loved it). I think we will try it in a year or two.

Coraline is a great heroine and a great role model for kids…..

โ€œBecause,โ€™ she said, โ€˜when youโ€™re scared but you still do it anyway, thatโ€™s brave.โ€

๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

Coraline is quirky, independent, adventurous, intelligent and curious. Gaiman is a master at writing non-condescending books that appeal to adults as well as children. I also applaud the fact that he doesnโ€™t shy away from the creepy… I often feel that as parents we are so scared of our kids being scared. Edie definitely handles creepy things like a pro. I think as parent I am happy for Edie to read something a little scary as long as there is no gratuitous violence and also makes the point that good can conquer evil. I donโ€™t want her to feel that the horror can continue. In Coraline, Gaiman does just that.

    Us by David Nicholls.
    David Nicholls. Birthday 30th November.

David Nicholls brings to bear all the wit and intelligence that graced ONE DAY in this brilliant, bittersweet novel about love and family, husbands and wives, parents and children. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014.

Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home. 

He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together.

So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.

The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.

What could possibly go wrong?

I really enjoyed this novel. For me it has the perfect ingredients of short chapters, believable characters and humour. I also love a book that looks at relationships in a realistic way. I don’t want to read books about the heady romanticism of young love. I don’t want anything that is going to make me feel nostalgic and misty eyed about my marriage. Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband but we are in the throes of children under 6 and I barely have time to shower let alone plan a romantic evening in. I am confident we will get back to that stage but right now, keeping 2 little humans alive is the priority.

David Nicholls is a master at writing utterly believable characters. Everyone will be able to relate to, or know similar people. As a result, his books are so easily accessible and as humorous as they are, there are often very poignant moments.

  • Emily Dickinson born 10th December 1830.

  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.
  • Shirley Jackson born 14th December 1916.

The best-known of Shirley Jackson’s novels and a major inspiration for writers like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, The Haunting of Hill House is a chilling story of the power of fear.

‘Shirley Jackson’s stories are among the most terrifying ever written’ Donna Tartt, author of The Goldfinch and The Secret History

Four seekers have arrived at the rambling old pile known as Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of psychic phenomena; Theodora, his lovely assistant; Luke, the future inheritor of the estate; and Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman with a dark past. As they begin to cope with horrifying occurrences beyond their control or understanding, they cannot possibly know what lies ahead. For Hill House is gathering its powers – and soon it will choose one of them to make its own. Twice filmed as The Haunting, and the inspiration for a new 10-part Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House is a powerful work of slow-burning psychological horror.

Shirley Jackson was born in California in 1916. When her short story The Lottery was first published in the New Yorker in 1948, readers were so horrified they sent her hate mail; it has since become one of the most iconic American stories of all time. Her first novel, The Road Through the Wall, was published in the same year and was followed by five more: Hangsaman, The Bird’s Nest, The Sundial, The Haunting of Hill Houseand We Have Always Lived in the Castle, widely seen as her masterpiece. Shirley Jackson died in her sleep at the age of 48. 

If you enjoyed The Haunting of Hill House, you might like Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

‘An amazing writer … If you haven’t read her you have missed out on something marvellous’ Neil Gaiman

‘As nearly perfect a haunted-house tale as I have ever read’ Stephen King

‘The world of Shirley Jackson is eerie and unforgettable’ A. M. Homes

‘Shirley Jackson is one of those highly idiosyncratic, inimitable writers…whose work exerts an enduring spell’ Joyce Carol Oates.

Oh Shirley, Shirley. I owe you an apology for reading your book when I wasn’t in the best place. I decided to set this book as a Halloween read for book club. It came at a time when everyone was posting about it all over Instagram, and I think, as is often the case, the book didn’t live up to the hype for me. The anticipation was so great that it fell a little flat for me. I think I will be in the minority who feel that the book picked up a bit when Mrs Montague and Arthur Parker arrived. For me, their arrival injected some much needed tongue in cheek humour. We have always lived in the castle is on my book shelf and I definitely owe it to Shirley to give her another go when I am in a better head space.

  • The Nutcracker by ETA Hoffmann.

The story that inspired the legendary ballet, presented in a beautiful hardcover edition perfect for giving as a gift.

Written in 1816 by the German Romantic E. T. A. Hoffmann for his children, nephews and nieces, The Nutcracker captures better than any other story a child’s wonder at Christmas. Since its publication, it has inspired hundreds of artists and adaptations, most notably the legendary ballet, scored by Russian composer Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Today, the story – and its enchanting images of sugar plums and nutcrackers, mistletoe and the Kingdom of the Dolls – continues to cast its fantastical spell on readers of all ages.

E. T. A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) was one of the major figures of European Romanticism, specializing in tales of the fantastical and uncanny. He was also a music critic, jurist, composer and caricaturist. His Tales of Hoffmann, available in Penguin Classics, includes such masterpieces as ‘Mademoiselle de Scudery’, one of the earliest example of crime fiction, and Hoffmann’s terrifying version of ‘The Sandman’. 

Joachim Neugroschel won three PEN translation awards and the French-American Foundation Translation Prize. He translated Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs, among other works, for Penguin Classics.

I have to say that I am not one for buying beautiful books. Books probably see me coming and cower in the corner. I am a book’s worst nightmare. People choose not to borrow my books. I read them in the bath, they sit in my bag and get covered in whatever delicacy I have forgotten to remove for the bottom corners….usually old raisins. I only use a bookmark if I have a spare photo lurking around, but usually I fold down a corner. I am not a girl who instagrams her beautiful hardback copies of Jane Austen novels. Since having children however, people have bought the girls beautiful copies of books. The Nutcracker has been sat on my shelf for a couple of years and this Penguin Classic copy is absolutely beautiful. Right here comes the shocker….the ballet is tons better!!!! Tons. I persevere but I have to say, as soon as we got to the section about the sausage (!!!) I started skimming. Yup, not a patch on the ballet.

    Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman

In this beautiful book of classic fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman has chosen his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm and presents them in a’clear as water’ retelling, in his unique and brilliant voice. 

From the quests and romance of classics such as ‘Rapunzel’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella’ to the danger and wit of such lesser-known tales as ‘The Three Snake Leaves’, ‘Hans-my-Hedgehog’ and ‘Godfather Death’, Pullman brings the heart of each timeless tale to the fore, following with a brief but fascinating commentary on the story’s background and history. In his introduction, he discusses how these stories have lasted so long, and become part of our collective storytelling imagination. 

These new versions show the adventures at their most lucid and engaging yet. Pullman’s Grimm Talesof wicked wives, brave children and villainous kings will have you reading, reading aloud and rereading them for many years to come.

On 20th December 1812, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first edition of fairy tales. The original edition contained 86 stories. By the time the collection was on its seventh edition in 1857, there were 211 fairy tales.

If like me, you are a book worm who was raised on stories of witches, princes, princesses and elves this is a must read. I loved Pullman’s introduction which discusses how and why these stories have stood the test of time. Also, after each story, Pullman discusses its history and any tweaks he has made.

As a mother of daughters, I was pleasantly surprised by the female characters. I was expecting insipid princesses, pining after their princes. Granted, a lot of women are portrayed as evil, greedy step mothers but there were plenty of courageous girls, and for all the wicked women, at least they are interesting characters.

Anyway, here’s to January. I promise it will be better!!!

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