Katie Fforde has long been one of the authors I rely on for a cheerful easy read that makes me feel good. I bought my first book of hers, The Rose Revived, when I was at college and it has remained one of fail-safe favourites through the years. Up until a few years ago, I read each one as it came out and always enjoyed them; then there was a period of time when her heroines became women ahead of me in their time line and I couldn’t relate and a couple of novels where perhaps I had read too many by one person and they lost their magic. On reflection, I think that says more about where I was at the time and how my reading changed; I wanted to be surprised more and stretched more and perhaps you shouldn’t look for that in books which are unashamedly chick lit
Katie is a friendly soul on Twitter and I’ve been enjoying chatting to her, which motivated me to download some of her back catalogue on to my Kindle. A Perfect Proposal is a return to her ‘young slip of a thing’ characters and, with daughters growing up around me, they are somehow appealing again. It feels like the days of working in cafes might be behind me, but they probably aren’t far off becoming part of household life again and Sophie was believable, if something of a cautionary tale in how not to become a pushover. The story had a flavour of American, New York life to it, reminiscent of some of Jane Green’s novels, which made for a change of scene that was fun and if the love story twists didn’t stun me into gobsmacked silence, there was plenty of familiar ‘oh god, will this work out… is he a rat or a duck?’ to it. The two older members of the cast, around whom the plot revolves to a greater extent, were lovely – I wanted to go and meet them – and I was giggling at the description of a really hideous element to Sophie’s family, who made a cameo appearance
What I missed for a while in her stories was some of the “let’s do the show right here!” immediacy; I loved the way her original books focused on detail down to ‘clean the boat, make the tea, what the hell am I doing on this side of town with no money?’ – it always feels like I am right in the book when a story is like that, the nitty gritty of problem solving and life all laid out to sink right into. A Perfect Proposal had more of that again and I enjoyed it more for the descriptions of train journeys and trying to find places to stay for the night.
I’m back to enjoying her books again and am now rightly pleased to have several more that I can wile away the Summer on – hurrah for Kindles and Katie Fforde!!!
Learning By Heart was another library pick, another one I was pleased to bring home and discover is written by someone, Elizabeth McGregor, who has consistently good reviews on Amazon.
This is the book that referred to glass blowers in Murano, is set half in Italy, has two time lines and is about love affairs and lost children across the years. It has also, just for the record, a family with four sisters and a younger brother, marriages in jeopardy and is in fact threaded with a theme of synchronicity, of people just happening to meet people and be in places at the right moment Oh, and it has a couple with a young son and infertility to go along with it. Oh yes, and it starts with a mourning parade on Good Friday. You have to laugh.
So, you know
I was surprised by how much I was drawn in to this; although it is essentially a book with 2 female characters at the centre, they are relatively hard to know; the book captures both at a ‘moment’ in their life and both are a little adrift in a mess of life and emotions. The story is told more by the 3 men who love them, two husbands and a lover. The plot unravels more of their lives - infidelity, infertility, loss and grief, love and rejection – than it does of the women. It is quite refreshing in a way (and I recognised something of one of them too, which made it all the more compelling) and certainly a different take on a well established format. It was subtly done and all the people and places felt very real, even if it was just a snapshot of lives.
The book is, essentially, the story of Cora and Zeph, at turning points in their life. It follows Cora through her first move from home, the shocking reality of being a single young woman in London and then the change that a safe and ordinary marriage brings. Half of the book is the journal of a man who loved her and the descriptions of Sicily really made me want to pack up and go immediately. I’ve got a feeling Italy is telling me I need to visit. For Zepf, the book is about finding her courage when her marriage fails and finding out more about her mother and everything that was hidden from view in her life.
I’d give this 8/10. I’m not sure I would need to read it again, or own it, but I’ll certainly read more by the author and I don’t hesitate to recommend. A very enjoyable read.
The synchronicity in book reading is amazing; co-incidence and books that you happen to pick up and which just hit the moment, or smash glaringly into the moment in the wrong way. Perhaps it happens all the time, perhaps it is ‘meant to be’ – perhaps I just notice when I’m extra sensitive.
The Glassblower of Murano is a story told across two time lines; it follows the story of a Venetian glass blower from the time when Venice was a principality and the glass blowers were virtual prisoners of the city, the prized possession of a city state run by “The Ten” who rule and police the city. Corradino is a talented glass blower who risks the wrath of the city to follow a dream and seek happiness. The story is told in tandem with that of his descendant, Leonora, who follows her heart to find work in Venice following the end of her marriage and finds out not only more than she expected about her famous ancestor, but also a whole new life.
It isn’t a plot with masses of surprises, in fact, a little like The Pull of the Moon, some of it is told from the very beginning, but the writing is elegant and enjoyable and the characters believable and easy to like. None of them are too perfect or too horrid, the nature of ‘The Ten’ fits well enough into the understanding of some governments now to make them a threatening shade and introduce a dimension of tension to the plot and the love affair that begins somehow fits comfortably into the main plot as to not take it over, while still managing to be difficult to gauge how it will end. It is a book with strength in how it is balanced and real colour and atmosphere in the prose and I found it a pleasure to read.
One of the elements I enjoyed was that, although the plot starts with a marriage break up and infertility as a theme, the main character, Leonora, has moved on. She’s still healing, but it isn’t one of the endless ‘hurt, moves to pastures new, meets a man, happy ending’ types of books. Sure, that is sort of what happens, but something in the way the character is drawn means that you aren’t forced to go through it with her – and that appeals to me, because I’ve got all of that type of stuff I can take! The chick lit element of the book occupies perhaps a quarter of it, the rest, historical, literary fiction, mystery, is all there and adds masses of meat to the bones of an already enticing story. I learned something new reading it too, about a place and a time and a people – and that ticks lots of boxes for me.
For the record, this isn’t a book for the most sensitive of my babyloss mother blog friends either. Infertility, child loss, birth and babies all feature. (Yes, I picked another book with all those in it!) But I’d give The Glassblower of Murano a resounding 9/10 – I’m sure I will read it again.
After that, I moved on to another that was recommended to me; I’ve put it on indefinite hold for now though, because it starts with someone in very raw grief over a miscarriage and… well, I’m not ready. I wanted to like it very much, but I was a bit unnerved by a character turning, in a blink of an eye, from likeable to hideous and had to stop. I suspect that says more about me than the book, but the speed of the change felt a little unreal. Still, the book gets good reviews and I’ll give it another go in a few months and report back So that made three books with babies in it out of 3 in the last week!
And then I moved on to Learning By Heart which I picked up at the library and needs reading quickly! I think I’ll like this even if it does start with marriage break up, a little boy and a whole lot of loss. It also has a plot run on two time lines, is set in Italy and within the first 3 chapters, mentions the glass blowers of Murano.
Honestly, if you tried to do it on purpose, you couldn’t!
The Pull of The Moon is probably the perfect example of why a Kindle has been good for my reading habits; I really don’t think I would have come across this had it not been for having my Kindle and it isn’t a genre of novel I tend to go for either. One of the habits I’m getting into, especially in the ‘late at night, can’t sleep, can’t quite be bothered to read’ bits of time, is to comb through the best seller lists on there, the recommendations and the new books that have been released too. Quite often, there are temporary free books within those lists and I’ve taken to hoarding them when I see them; I’m not averse to spending a little if I see something on a big discount too and there are plenty that fall into that category if you keep an eye out. I do have a rule that new authors need at least 6 reviews and at least 4 starts though, to avoid buying stuff I don’t have much chance of enjoying. It would be easy to spend a LOT on a Kindle without thinking anything of it, so I’m being strict
I’m still struggling to pigeon hole The Pull of the Moon. It is written by someone who also does historical murder mysteries, so I guess it lends itself to that, for one; it isn’t chick lit, though it does centre around a girl and a relationship, it is psychological thrillerÂ but it isn’t gut clenching stuff because it is narrated by the main character as a retrospective narrative. In fact, the anxiety is taken out of it by knowing from the start by knowing what happens to nearly all of the main protagonists. That doesn’t detract from the story though and there are a good number of plot layers, cleverly done and all intriguing; even with my nose on full alert for potential wail inducing plot lines, the final one wasn’t obvious enough to be a cliché.
Naturally, as all random books do, it had at least 3 spectacular babyloss mum triggers in it, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone in that category unless forewarned is forearmed enough. I’m not really giving any plots away with that, as it isn’t what you’d expect – and it didn’t make me cry, so that was good
The end point of a review is probably “would I read it again”, would I look for more by the same author and in my case, would I actively recommend it to my friend Alison – and yes, it would get yes’s in all those cases – so a definite thumbs up.
As an aside – the little book plug-in on the side of the blog is great – I recommend that too
I picked this up in my library as part of a random assault on the shelves to find people I hadn’t read before. (So far, a rule of thumb seems to be ‘shelves fine, ignore stand on the way in, ignore all free standing round things, round things at end of shelves good, shelf on way out also good. On no account get anything where there are more than 6 things by the same author in one place. This may be another prejudice but I’m still in library rehab, so let me be).
I was quite pleased that coming home all 4 of the authors had 4 or 5 stars on Amazon and at least a couple available on Kindle and at the library, should I like them. However, given I only really want to read on my Kindle now and old fashioned books feel a bit last year (and I can’t knit while I read them!) this book took a little longer than it ought to have done. Amy Tan was further improved in theÂ worth reading standing stakes though, when I found a couple of her books on Helen’s shelves.
The length of time it took me to read Saving Fish From Drowning in no way reflects on how much I enjoyed it. It is another book though where I struggle to think exactly why. The story, narrated by a recently deceased friend and leader of the group, tells the story of a rather naive group of people who take a ‘cultural’ trip to China and Burma and their experiences as the trip teeters precariously around the edges of going very wrong. Perhaps that is a good sentence to sum up the book in fact; it teeters around the edges of exploring the characters, including the life of the narrator, dips its toe into the politics of the regimes in Burma and China, paddles along the edges of rebel causes and the unreality that perhaps builds up in the minds of the desperate and sprinkles flavoursome herbs of understanding about those countries too.
That’s not a bad thing. I’m not desperate to be preached at about the miseries of life elsewhere when I’m ready for bed and this book created an inclination to know more, while a more heavy handed approach might have made me shut the book and shut my mind because I don’t want to know about more awful things. There were some eloquent blendings of beliefs, some clever characters and all the people in the group and the wider world of the book felt real and knowable. I’ll definitely read more Amy Tan; I don’t know if I’d read this one again but I’d certainly add it to my list of ‘things I’m better for having read’.
I love it when I get completely blown away by my own prejudices A prejudice I had no idea I had was that all books in ‘Penguin Classic Yellow edged cover with dark picture’ books are…. boring.
I wonder where I got that from. Actually I know. I was given Hard Times to read as part of S Level preparation; I didn’t like the first chapter (actually, I didn’t like the TV adaptation either) and a assigned all books with that style of cover to the *Boring Book Archive*
Sometimes I wonder when exactly I am going to get over my school created, small minded Merry, issues. I shall link to a copy with a different cover, so I don’t pass my prejudices on Washington Square (Wordsworth Classics)
This book was the local library reading club book for the month; I ended up not being able to go but I’m so glad I got to read the book and feeling I really had to give it a good try was a great motivation for that. What seemed at first to be a story that tripped dangerously close to the life in a different continent of Fanny from Mansfield Park, turned into something quite different. The book focuses on the ill-advised love affair of a young American woman and a cad; honestly, my head drew a picture of “The Rake” in old fashioned Happy Family packs and that was exactly what he was like. The aunt, a meddlesome woman who really needed a war to fold bandages for, was a perfect mixture of far too many relatives I can think of from my own and other peoples families (I wanted to reach through the pages and shake her) while the Father was, I think, just exactly how parents can too easily be and a cautionary tale for it.
Catherine, the main character, is quietly revealed. She’s not what you think, nor is she quite what she thinks and most importantly, she is not the person her aunt and father think. It is an odd story, because how it turns out is both sad and positive, an illustration of women who chose their path in the days that were one step behind emancipation. All of them are a joy to be in the company of and the elegance of the description of life in New York when Fifth Avenue was just a fairly nice road, is stunning.
Now I’ve got Henry James and James Joyce sorted out, and discovered that boring covers do not equal boring reads on all occasions, I’m going to push at my boundaries and find a few more quiet classics. It was most definitely time with a book well spent and I’m still blushing at having wrinkled my nose when I first thought about reading it.
I thought I would join in with the Friday Club Carnival this week.
I’ve got so very many favourite books that I hardly would even begin to know where to start. There are books I loved as a child (Narnia, the Chalet School series and Cherry Ames) and ones I love as an adult because the stretch me and inform me and transport me to places I can’t go myself (Elizabeth Chadwick books, Philippa Gregory and the Daughter of the Empire series.) I love historical factual books nearly as much (Alison Weir is wonderful) and have adored Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl and His Dark Materials in equal measure as an adult, even if they were written with children in mind. Lord of the Rings will always be special and there are entire series’ on Boudica and Julius Caesar I have devoured.
In my bedroom though, I have a set of shelves and on those shelves are complete collections of books that I will always have and which I have turned to more times than I can remember. Seven authors are encased on the shelves and I have all of most of them; only one has let me down at all in that time but I still treasure her older writing. It is these books that I go to when the chips are down and times are tough, when I need safety and nurturing and to know that nothing I read will hurt me.
I’ve pulled one of each from the shelf.
I bought The Rose Revived when I was at college, from a WHSmith opposite the Swiss Cottage. I seem to remember buying with one other, now forgotten but kept for years, book and a Chalet School story. I must have been in that half confused stage of still being small and also being big. It is a typical ‘girl has a tough time, meets a cad, starts a business, cad turns out good’ type story but it is also of friendship and pulling together and I still love it. Katie Fforde at her best.
The next is Bookends and it is another story of friendship, love and tragedy all mixed into the heady reality of youth becoming adult life. When I read it, it reminded me powerfully of a group of friends I had not long left, most particularly of one of them and all that I feared for and missed about those friends. It still makes me nostalgic for them now. I’m not sure if any other of Jane Green’s books haul me so close, especially now her focus has moved to America, but I still enjoy them all.
I think I also bought The Morning Gift from the Swiss Cottage shop. Eva Ibbotson remains one of my most favourite authors; her writing is magical, beautiful, nostalgic and captivating. She weaves fairytale and brutal reality together with a charm and joy that would seem impossible to achieve and yet she does. The Morning Gift tells the story of a girl escaping Vienna at the time of Nazi occupation and all she encounters as she moves to London and falls in love. It is funny, clever and magical.
Consider the Lily is one of three books by Elizabeth Buchan I have kept; I’m not a fan of her relationship books but this is the story of 1920′s-30′s England and the fading rose of aristocratic life. It tells the love story of Daisy, Kit and Matty through the eyes of another person and the themes of love, loss, wanting and passion are quite searing, though somehow conveyed through English demure and stoicism. I think it is masterful.
Freya North remains an all time favourite. She is one of the only authors I like for this type of fiction who has entirely failed to throw up a weaker book (the others being Eva Ibbotson and Victoria Clayton). It is hard to pick a favourite but perhaps it is Chloe and perhaps the reason I like it is that Chloe is sent on a journey of discovery by a loving elder at a crux time in her life and the journey brings her home. There is something comforting about a theme which manages to twist together age bringing wisdom and the people who love you wanting to allow you the freedom to discover what is right for yourself. She is eminently likeable too and there is a recurring theme through the books of each character popping up at the end of the next one, so that you see how it worked out.
Victoria Clayton employs the same technique and, having always been someone who loves a series, perhaps that is why I like her books. Again it is hard to pick a favourite but Running Wild has always been special for the bohemian and slightly scatty but endearing nature of the artist heroine and her journey to self discovery. Unfortuately her name is Freddie (short for Elfrida) and she plays a large part in the subsequent book. I think it will be a long time before I can read it again.
Last but not least, a book Max bought me, with astonishing vision, when we had not really been together long, becasue he heard a review of it and thought I would like it. He was right. Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson is an inspiration and a triumph, the sort of book I would love to write, a mastery of story telling, whimsy and word craft. It is simply a remarkable tale of a girl, a family, lives and the tangled twists of family history. I love it for it’s ramble and the imperfect ending which is nonetheless how life is. I was reading it before I had Freddie and just after and it was extraordinarily appropriate and oddly comforting.
There are certainly common themes in these books; friendship, finding love, finding courage, loss, finding self, melancholy and hope. I suppose they are the themes of life for much of the time; certainly of my life. Perhaps that is why I love them.
on favourite books.
Not a sponsored post – just me enjoying books and birthday presents
I’m an avid Elizabeth Chadwick fan; I don’t think I have yet read one that didn’t feel completely satisfying from start to finish – and she’s got a fair old number of them (and I’ve read them all) so that’s a reasonable achievement. She covers a part of history that was immortalised in my A Level history lesson on the very first morning. “The time up until the Wars of the Roses was thrilling ,exciting and interesting. We’re going to begin just after that, at the Tudors.” Well done Mrs Armstrong. Killed it stone dead Chadwick’s books range from the time of the Norman Conquest up to and beyond the reign of King John (now THERE is a Bad King if ever I saw one!) and really add some fire and colour to a time that otherwise gets too ignored in my opinion.
Book #2 of the year is The Leopard Unleashed is a re-release, with some overhauling, of one of her earliest novels, from the time when she wrote of fictional characters within accurate historical periods of time. As such, her prefaces suggest she feels slightly embarrassed by these now, having moved on to real people from history but actually, so long as you remember hey are not as factual as others, they make a cracking read and are full enough of life, love, detail and colour to be a truly enjoyable way to spend a day. This one is the last part of a trilogy and concludes a story about a family living on the English edges of Wales. The strength is in the description of the life the ex-Normans had as they strove to be in charge and curtail the indignation of the English and Welsh, fighting for a place on the land while embroiled in their own internal court struggles. Does make you realise why we’re all so mixed up
Book #3 is To Defy a King which, had I not had a Kindle, I would have had to wait for as I hate hardbacks and it isn’t out in paperback yet. This is the story of Mahelt Marshall, also known as Matilda among other things, daughter of William Marshall whose story is told inThe Greatest Knight: The Story of William Marshal which was the first of the book I read by Chadwick. It’s effectively the other side of the story to the second book about him The Scarlet Lion, with Mahelt married into the Bigod family (who lived at Framlingham). That’s a blog worth looking at btw, although googling for that particular entry last week, to check a pronunciation managed to be ‘one of those moments’ as it was written the day Freddie died.
With the emphasis being on the role of women in the major houses and how they were both vital for marriage and domestic running of castles but also almost helplessly buffeted by the forces of politics, it’s a book well worth reading. It’ll be a little while before they get handed on to Fran as they have some mild sex scenes which I don’t think she’d cope with yet but as living history, i really think both books are well worth a read.
Which leads me on to what I think of my Kindle.
Now obviously I expected to like it, or I wouldn’t have asked for one, but I’ve been really surprised by HOW MUCH I like it. I honestly, HONESTLY, can’t find a single thing about it that I don’t love. The most annoying thing about Amazon, really, is they never ever get it wrong
The reading is perfect, just exactly like reading a book that magically turned into a glorified etch-a-sketch. The usability is effortless, certainly no damn harder than reading and holding a book. The 3G is quick, the Kindle shop is slick and easy to use. The buttons all make sense and the browser they have added is remarkably decent for something experimental. The feel is light and pleasant, the ability to change text size and font, line spacing and more is perfect for reading in different circumstances. The text to speech is quirky but would have uses, adding Audible to it is seamless and helpful. The ability to sort and organise is clever and makes sense.
And you will just keep looking at it and going “It’s just so… so… oooooh…. so weird but so… wow. I want one.”
I have nothing bad to say about it. Nothing at all. It’s beautiful and I love it. And I can read and knit. (Did I mention that already? ) I don’t even mind if it replaces books
Max got me a Kindle Lighted Leather Cover too – it makes it a bit more book-like, which I like, and has a light, so you can read in bed – and that works very well. Very clever.
As an extra, one thing you can do is subscribe to blogs on it, for a fee. Now, I can’t see why anyone would do this (it’s about the only ‘eh?’ moment about Kindle I have had, but just for fun I added PoP to it, mainly as it made the girls laugh to see us for sale. If anyone fancied reviewing us, we’d really like it
As is customary in the Puddle household, last week we took ourselves off to Centerparcs. It’s always a good way for us to have a low maintenance wind down holiday after the busy Xmas period and one of those holidays which, being a large-ish family, has not too much effort attached. In fact, it’s easy, get up, lounge, swim, lounge, eat, lounge, play badminton, swim, eat, lounge. This year was even easier as the kidlets are largely self-sufficient, can go shopping, pack their swimming stuff reliably*, go swimming ahead of us, help to tidy, pack, organise, entertain themselves etc.
I was worried I’d have horrible flashbacky ‘last year we were pregnant moments but actually most of the last few years of CPing have had baby sadness in them and I was immune; we went to a different one last year anyway and I pro-actively booked a different style lodge to try and minimise the feeling. But we’ve been so often that last year was not really my most coherent memory anyway. So in point of fact, to get it out of the way and pat myself firmly on the back, I had a really good week, the closest thing to a break from grief that I’ve had yet. I made myself do it and succeeded, which is an achievement I think. Max fretted a bit but I wanted them to have a good week, so I made sure I did and apart from a slightly*shriek* moment when I gave myself a birthpool flashback and the inevitable pain of a little cerebral palsy boy who was so beautiful and happy, I did really well.
(New style villa; very different, but we liked it. Might even redo our floor downstairs having lived with boards for a week.)
The kids had a lot of fun; Fran did get her nose out of Inkheart occasionally, but was mostly immersed and we played a great game of Ticket to Ride Europe one night, but mostly we just swam endlessly and flumped in between times.
The blackboard on the wall in the villa was a big hit, particularly as we’d decreed a no ds holiday thanks to last years crime outbreak at that particular resort. That meant a lot of reading, drawing, card playing etc went on, which was great. This is Maddy’s version of a Gogo, something which is inexplicably popular in this house
We also had friends there; we didn’t see much of them as we felt a bit of a need to hunker (as we often do :/ ) but meeting up at swimming was great. At least this year I could go on the slides anyway. I will find positives.
On the last day I got to go to the spa, which was great. I thought, made some plans, didn’t cry and got to stick my hand in a tank of the fish that eat your feet. They felt very, very weird, but I might have a go another time.
Good holiday. It felt like I might never have another one, but I did. We all did.
*apart from Amelie who arrived without a costume on one occasion.