Category Archives: In Praise Of

2 minute review – Jennifer Johnston - The Invisible Worm

they got my hair exactly right…

Recently, I went away for a weeks holiday. For the first time in years, I didn’t bring anything to read with me.

I’ve been in the midst of a reading funk for such a long time now, I’m starting to disbelieve that I ever read for pleasure! In the last few months, I’ve seen it as a victory if I manage to complete my book club choices (there are been some really gripping ones recently, which has made it much easier!) in time for the discussion. The thought of pulling out one of my vast collection of as yet un-read novels has made me feel vaguely anxious – a far cry from a few years ago when choosing the next read produced a sweet thrill of delight with equivalent side effects of a large lump of chocolate.

So going away without bringing a book was probably for the best, at least that was my reasoning. I’d be under no pressure, if I didn’t have one on me. (The counter side was that I also felt faintly like I was giving up; losing a hobby…nay a trait that I really liked about myself. Yes, my brain is enjoying the gymnastics currently.)

Thankfully, my mother keeps a varied and busy book shelf and within half an hour of arriving, I found – to my immense relief – that the siren song of the printed word still enticed me!!Before long, I had selected a slim (not intimidating) book by Jennifer Johnston – an Irish author I have long been aware of but never read.

She is noted for writing with a particular awareness of the Church of Ireland community within modern day Ireland (her own faith) – a perspective that isn’t often found in contemporary Irish fiction. Also, she’s been nominated for (and won loads) tons of literary prizes, so I was curious to see how I’d get on.

The Invisible Worm (BLURB from Amazon)

It starts with a funeral. The great and the good have assembled: the President has sent a representative, and dignitaries are there in force. And Laura remembers those two terrible events. But was the tragedy out at sea an accident? Was the experience in the summerhouse cause rather than effect?
With wonderful delicacy and economy, Jennifer Johnston has stripped bare the lives of a family overwhelmed by more than one of the deadly sins. The Invisible Worm contains greater power and passion than most novels three times its length.

My word – what a book!

The way the Ms Johnston writes is as once minimalist yet descriptive. There isn’t a single wasted word or redundant sentence throughout the book. With a deft hand, she can at once be whimsical and funny, while tackling some very dark themes.

This book focused on a very small group of characters and only one is ever explored in a detailed way; yet all felt fully rounded and realistic. I loved Laura. I’d never act the way that she did, but I felt like I understood her and respected her. There is a beautifully non-judgemental tone to this book that allowed me to relax into it and accept the characters and plot without getting wound up or ‘having opinions’. Reading this was really rather a soothing experience.

I so enjoyed it that I committed that irritating cardinal sin; where I started reading – context free – random lines and passages to my mum (patience of a saint, that one!). It’s an incredibly easy read – not only because it’s a snapshot of an individual and pretty short, but mostly because the language used, the words, the landscape drawn are at once so familiar and yet so foreign that you can’t help but feel connected.

And it’s the first book I’ve read for pure pleasure in fricking ages! So much so, I’ve even blogged about it and it’s been ever longer for that!!!!

Go! Read! Then let me know so that we can just praise it over and over 🙂


In Praise of – Children Reading

A Lament

There have been many times that I have been embarrassed to be caught with a book. Like when I’ve wandered away at a party and became absorbed in something that I found. Or when I’d navigate school hallways eyes firmly stuck on the page, heedless of people jumping out of my way. As a teenager, I went through a phase of only speaking to people in the accent of my favourite character of the moment. That was pretty daft in retrospect. I (probably should) find it humiliating. 

However, I have never been embarrassed by the act of reading itself or of being perceived as a bookie or reader. I consider it a gift that I can immerse myself in a story and lose myself in another world or perspective. Books have always been a social experience for me. After all, stories are designed to be shared with other people.
According to a report in the Telegraph today – article HERE – written by  , the Digital Culture Editor – children are embarrassed to be caught reading. 
In a survey of 21000 children the following statistics were derived:
  • 17% of youngsters would be embarrassed if their friends saw them reading.
  • Three in ten youngsters read daily in their own time, compared with four in ten in 2005.
  • 54% of those questioned said they preferred watching TV to reading.
  • Of those who did read outside class, 47.8% said they read fiction, down from 51.5% in 2005.

It’s not all horrible news and the article does point out that sales of children’s books have actually increased slightly this year on last and that there are a number of book fairs and festivals offering forums for young people to engage with others who also love reading which are being enthusiastically embraced.  

The Telegraph article goes into the pressures on the primary distributors towards children’s literacy – at home, schools and libraries. Suffice to say that I agree that we should seek to encourage children to learn to love learning and reading as early as possible and believe that we should be adding to – not cutting from – these resources. 

However I do think believe that it’s tragic that such a high proportion of young people don’t want to be perceived as readers. With the re-emergence of observably intelligent characters on television – such as Sherlock Holmes; constant adaptations of complicated and involved children’s books into films and an increasingly mainstream Geek (here defined as passionate about being informed on a particular topic) Culture; it seems to me as though it’s cool to embrace the hobbies that you love, be they sports, music, art or literature.
Take that aside; the technology available in this country means that young people in particular can access books in a variety of different mediums – from phones, e-readers, paperbacks and more. An argument can be raised that with text messages, emails and social networking; young people are in fact reading and writing profusely – albeit in non-traditional ways. There are now published works based on text messages – I don’t know if this was taken into account during the original survey but I am confident that children will not be embarrassed to be caught gaming or online. 

Further Praise of L. M. Montgomery

Because I just don’t think my praise for Lucy M Montgomery went far enough – I bring you…more books by the same author that I’m planning on reading in the very soon!

Once I’d started on the first series of Anne of Green Gables, I found I just couldn’t stop. I’ve decided to indulge in my newly rediscovered solace and will be reading more in the extended world, starting with the following books:

Title: Chronicles of Avonlea

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 01
Format: Short Story 
Published Date: 1912
Perspective: Various
Project Gutenberg: Avonlea 01
iTunes: Avonlea 01

Though I remember being very grumpy when I read this originally – Anne being only a peripheral character and all – I’m including it in this re-read as I have a feeling I’ll be more responsive now!

Title: Further Chronicles of Avonlea

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 02
Format: Short Story
Published Date: 1920
Perspective: Various
Project Gutenberg: Avonlea 02
iTunes: Avonlea 02


I don’t remember reading this book at all – though I know I have. Should be fun – I’ve been surprised at how much I remember from the Anne series!

Title:  The Story Girl
Author: L.M. Montgomery 

Series No: 01
Published Date: 1911
Perspective: Sara Stanley; The King Children; Sar Rue;  Beverley and Felix; Peter
Project Gutenberg: The Story Girl 01


I remember these two books being (next to the original three Anne book’s I read in one glorious sunny weekend) my favourite of Montgomery’s books. I look forward to reading them again and seeing if I’m still in love with them all!

Title: The Golden Road

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 02
Published Date: 1913
Perspective: Sara Stanley; The King Children; Sar Rue;  Beverley and Felix; Peter
Project Gutenberg:  The Story Girl 02

I seem to recall that this book made me cry buckets. This whole re-read has convinced me that I’m as big a softie as ever – so I imagine it will probably have as mushy as impact as before!

I’ll update this post once I start reading these and will let you know each time a new one is completed!



In Praise Of: Anne of Ingleside, Prince Edward Island

If you’d like to join my read read of the Green Gables Series, find as many free versions as I could find below!
Part Two – The Ingleside Years

Anne’s all grown up now and raising a family of her own. Though she is a good sixty miles from home, she has never lost the Green Gables convictions and is determined to create a new haven built upon that image with Gilbert to raise her own brood. 

In the following books, there are increasing time leaps throughout. Anne and Gilbert continue to grow as a couple; the children grow older and introduce the reader to their new friends and neighbours. The perspective slowly moves away from Anne and to younger characters. This happens gradually and at least once in every book we have a story focusing on our beautiful heroine. She never ‘merely becomes mum’, she retains her strength of character, gentle manner and dreamy air that appealed to us in the first place. 

Beloved characters do not always survive the time leaps. I was disappointed that Marilla was mentioned in a passing (but very loving) context as now no longer ‘walking the golden road’, I would have liked to have seen her send off. Though I suppose Matthew’s death provides all the template I need. Besides, at this point, Anne is barely the titular character, rather she the bed rock upon which the stories rest. We know her grief – we have seen it before so instead life continues ever on.

By the time the time line becomes more familiar to us, Montgomery begins to touch upon more relevant issues. The depiction of war in Rilla of Ingleside felt tragically and powerfully authentic, despite the setting feeling incongruous with the tone of the series. That Montgomery was able to weave the two together so skillfully demonstrates her writing abilities. I continue to enjoy these books as much as ever, if not slightly more as my perspective changes with time!



Horrid. Mother Anne.

Title: Anne of Ingleside

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 06
Published Date: 1939
Years: 34-40 yrs
Perspective: Anne Blythe
Project Gutenberg: Anne 06

Score: 6/10
First off, let me just say – cover is hideous right? It was possibly the ugliest one on Google – so naturally I had to use it! 

Anne and Gilbert have long settled into their own home, raising their brood – while ever conscious of the one left behind in their ‘house of dreams’. This is the last book to feature Anne as the central character…sob…

Not the best in the series by a long shot though there are still some laugh out loud moments and Anne remains as delightful as ever – even when she temporarily panics that she’s losing Gilbert’s attention!

A light and cheery offering my only real complaint was the over long visit from annoying Aunt Blythe. Though the way she was shifted was very funny and probably needed the contacted frame of reference. Still a bit long. 


Title: Rainbow Valley
Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 07
Published Date: 1919
Years: 41 yrs old
Perspective: Anne Blythe; The Blythe Children; The Meredith Children
Project Gutenberg: Anne 07
iTunes: Anne 07

Score: 5/10
I don’t think I’d ever read this book before this current challenge. At the very least I didn’t remember it at all. 

The Blythe children are off to the side, allowing for the introduction of the Pastor’s family of four. 
While the romps and adventures are all fresh and inventive, the scrapes still cringing and hilarious and the romance sweet and natural, this book definitely lacks something. 
A sobering breeze of reality perhaps; growth through pain rather than good fortune turning the tide.
The first book that I’ve thought ‘only one more till I’m done’. And yet, I didn’t dislike this at all. I think the author might have been trying to reset the clock – to go back to the start, but we have been following Anne for so long, it feels unnatural not to have her feature rather more prominently.   

At least she remains herself, and Gilbert remains her very own. At no point does she ever merely become ‘mum’ either – she encompasses so much more than merely one role. She remains a wife, lover, friend, teacher, parent, nurse and shoulder to lean on. There are references to local women not wanting to gossip in front of her because Anne never joins in. She remains…Anne. 

The Mills and Boon years

Title: Rilla of Ingleside

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 08
Published Date: 1921
Years: 49-53 yrs
Perspective: Anne Shirley; Rilla Blythe
Project Gutenberg: Anne 08
iTunes: Anne 08

Score: 10/10
When I began this book; I was not observably positively disposed – despite having enjoyed the preceding book and looking forward to more of new stories in my haven. 
Rilla – never my favourite of Anne’s children – was to take over my beloved series. 
Set during the first world war and therefore a marginally more familiar time period and all the more grotesque for the brutality of the actions invading my Prince Edward Island. 
In terms of the time line, it’s set over a decade after the previous book – too long a gap, too long!
Then I started reading it.
Though tonally, it is completely in line with the previous in the series, this book somehow manages to speed up the pace and the grittiness – most often referred to in passing earlier throughout the series – here comes to the fore in small and discrete ways. 

The family and their friends all feature here, with the pretty and effervescent Rilla taking main stage. The Blythe children are pairing off quite naturally with the children of characters we have previously had adventures with – a lovely touch maintaining the emotional connection with a true fan of the series (ahem). 

In the background, the politics of the era bubbles away until our favourite sons and daughters of Canada are being called upon to take to arms in defence of liberty. Anne and Gilbert send not one but two sons to war. The sub-plot of the dog waiting at the railway station all those years for his young master to return just ached deep inside of me (for those who watch Futurama – you know what I’m talking about!)  

Rilla and those left to man the home front all grow and develop into young women and men you’d be proud to know. The tragic demise of one of our favourite characters is beautifully captured – poignant and yet with a slice of optimism on the side. 

A beautiful book. I loved it. I’m so pleased to have finally read it.   

I have to admit. I like.

Title: The Blythes are Quoted

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 09 
Published Date: 2009
Perspective: Various

Score: Haven’t read yet.  
Planning to request this book at my local library since I have the others as ebooks (yes I actually have physical copies as well) and this one doesn’t seem to be available as one yet. 
I love the world of Green Gables and Prince Edward Island and long to read every scrap written by the author. 
Apparently in this book, she focuses on some darker more real world events. After the beautiful way she tied the first World War to her created world in Rilla of Ingleside; I look forward to seeing Montgomery’s take on more serious matters. 


In Praise Of: Anne of Green Gables, Avonlea, Prince Edward Island

Some of you will remember that I rather aggressively stated my resolve to stay away from book series this year. 
Too little time…too many book club books to keep up to date with…and now…too little willpower.
I have a really good reason though. Honest!

As most of you probably know, I read We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver recently. I found her perspective of the world to be very bleak and I was being gradually being sucked into the misery.
I knew that I needed to tap into some familiar optimistic and hopeful world for a re-invigoration of the soul(I’m not kidding, I actually do speak that way in my real life). Otherwise the resignation and determinedly negative view of the world would prevail…forever…ever…eva…

Anne of Green Gables leaped to mind. The depiction of Prince Edward Island throughout the series reminds one that the world can still be a small warm and loving place. These books impact on me in the same way that Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (by Fannie Flagg) or the deep south as run by the Ya Ya’s (in the Rebecca Well’s trilogy) does. Determined heroines, big dreams and a strong sense of family – what can I say? I’m just a big softie really. 

Here, children run around outside all summer long; dreams and hopes are only enhanced by the passage of time and love…love rules supreme. To a cynical mind, Avonlea may seem like the most saccharine idealised community in the world. To me however, it is a destination we carry inside our secret heart of hearts and try to re-create for ourselves wherever we may be.

(If you’re wondering; reading these have worked a treat. By pure coincidence I was in the middle of the series right as the sky turned blue and the sun came out to play for the first time this year. I was also listening predominantly to classical music, which in many cases seemed to fit the books perfectly. My mood has changed entirely. Spring has sprung the world anew!)

If you’d like to join me, find below as many free versions as I could find!

Part One – The Avonlea Years
Anne Shirley should never have been sent to meet Matthew Cuthbert of Green Gables. He and his sister Marilla had specifically requested a boy, strong, willing and able to help out on their family farm, in exchange for an education and some rearing. They had not wanted a tiny, thin girl with large grey eyes; an overactive tongue; an IMAGINATION and a tremendous capacity for hope and love. 
Oddly, it is the quiet, shy and unassuming Matthew that first wants her to stay. Within seconds of meeting, he and Anne had discovered that they were ‘kindred spirits’, able to understand each other at a glance and therefore instantly family. The stict and stern Marilla soon comes round to the amazement of her ever-inquisitive and opinionated neighbours – who immediately declare that disaster in is store! 
Anne quickly settles into Green Gables and Avonlea, making a life-long best friend in Diana, a loving family with Matthew and Marilla and even a rival – in the form of the too-smart, too-smooth, too-charming by half Gilbert Blythe. No matter what she tries however, our Annie girl is constantly wrapped up in ‘adventures’, often with disastrous and comical results. 
It’s no secret that I *love* these books fiercely and protectively. Long hours were spent wrapped up in the ever-sunny village of Avonlea. Anne is a great playmate and also a terrific role model. Her heart seems to unerringly point North; though she is impetuous, she is eager to self improve and willingly seeks the lessons learned throughout the books – which are often more gentle and instructive than their real life equivalents!

Title: Anne of Green Gables
Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 01
Published Date: 1908
Years: 11-16 yrs
Perspective: Anne Shirley
Project Gutenberg: Anne 01
iTunes: Anne 01

Score: 10/10
I first read this book at the age of nine and since then have always have a copy close to hand (heck, thanks to my kindle; I can have it with me at all times!). 
Anne was instantly a character I could curl up with and join for days. Independent, resourceful, honest and creative, she’s an easy character to like, however it was Anne’s fearlessness, capacity for empathy and ability to take great change in her stride that made me love and admire her. 
When one of her soul mates dies towards the end of the book; I sobbed as though my heart would break many years ago and have done so with every repetition – last month was no exception. Though it is tragically sad, it’s also a beautiful way to look at Death. A friend who takes the chosen onto their greater reward. Reading this book made me miss my certainties in life. It makes me question the easy acknowledge of reason for events around me, wakening me up to the magic within the most mundane act… (sighs in dreamy haze)

A bit blah to be honest

Title: Anne of Avonlea

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 02
Published Date: 1909
Years: 16-18 yrs
Perspective: Anne Shirley
Project Gutenberg: Anne 02
iTunes: Anne 02

Score: 8/10
Despite my enjoyment of the first Anne book I didn’t get my hands on this one until years later. 
Avonlea was an enchanting as ever, the characters as lovable and annoying as always. Anne grew up a little bit and her adventures expanded slightly too. It didn’t quite grip me as much as the first on this re-read. I think I’m probably spoiled with knowing what’s to come. The developing relationship between Gilbert and Anne seems unnecessarily drawn out. By the time Anne starts to notice him; I’m screaming from the roof tops. 
Yet it seems so romantic, draw out in this way – and is certainly more realistic. She’s only just turned 16!! *more swooning*

Possibly my least favourite cover!

Title: Anne of the Island

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 03
Published Date: 1915
Years: 18-22 yrs
Perspective: Anne Shirley
Project Gutenberg: Anne 03
iTunes: Anne 03

Score: 10/10

This is more like it! 
For the first two thirds of this book, I was in agony. I remembered everything all wrong – despite this being my *favourite* of the series so far!
It all starts off so well. Anne gets to go back to school. Montgomery works in different past events in each book, creating a sense of history within the reader, already familiar with the time line. 
However, I am NOT a fan of Dory and Dora, though I love that Marilla is such a different caretaker with the twins than she ever was with Anne. 
Anne continues to grow. She remains true of heart, if still somewhat stubborn. She has quiet ambitions and continues to inspire trust and faith wherever she goes. 
The whole romance with Roy Gardiner was introduced much earlier than I thought, lasting much longer too. The refusals were initially comical then painful and Anne’s scenes with Gilbert were AWFUL. 
The revelation at the end of the book was as much a relief dramatically as it was emotionally. Happy ever after is beckoning, it’s so lovely to see a treasured friend realise their dreams have taken on a new shape. 

I hope this was a loved book.
It looks like it should have been
a loved book

Title: Anne of Windy Poplars (Windy Willows)

Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 04
Published Date: 1936
Years: 22-25 yrs
Perspective: Anne Shirley
Project Gutenberg: Anne 04

Score: 7/10

Anne and Gilbert are engaged. 
However, Gilbert has to spend two years training so Anne takes on a new challenge – running a school in a different village on the Island. 
Comprising of Anne’s letters to Gilbert over a two year period, this book was written years after the series so far – to tighten the time line and expand the mythology. 
Though Anne was not the authors favoured creation; the appetite of her audience was inexhaustible – over time she would fill in several gaps in terms of years in this way. 
This is very much a filler book; however the new families and background characters are very entertaining and each brings with it their own unique flavour – quiet different to the comforting and warm tone of Green Gables. 
Finally, there is a visit back home – to Marilla and the twins and Green Gables. Though the preceding three books have all featured stories outside of Avonlea, this was the first where I really missed the by-now familiar landscape and features of Green Gables. 

Anne of Green Gable
and the Famous Five…

Title: Anne’s House of Dreams 
Author: L.M. Montgomery

Series No: 05
Published Date: 1917
Years: 25-27 yrs
Perspective: Anne Blythe
Project Gutenberg: Anne 05
iTunes: Anne 05

Score: 9/10

Back to the original follow up to Anne of the Island and the story flows gracefully. Anne and Gilbert are now starting out in married life. In order for Gilbert to set up a surgery; they have to move some sixty miles away from their families. Undaunted, the pair throw themselves into their new home. 
This book features one of the most un-engaging characters Montgomery ever created. 
And one of her best. 
Mrs Cornelia Bryant is a harpy and a shrew. Her repeated phrases did NOT entertain me; they just grated. I cant stand her!
Captain Jim on the other hand was just lovely. Though obviously out of the same mould as Matthew; he is a happy, chatty man – with an optimistic eye and a peace that I adored. Like many of the characters within the story, I was bewitched by this gentle gent – fascinated by his stories and deeply affected by the tragic and doomed love of his past. Each chapter that followed Jim carried with it a sense of family and community – sadly lost to many in this busy age. 
A mixed bag – the Anne stuff I loved. The tragedies that she endures, the love shared between her and Gilbert and her hope and  love of life remain enchanting, though she provides the frame, she is not always the main character. The story of Lesley is frankly ridiculous but I for one was happy to indulgently overlook the more outrageous aspects. 



In Praise Of…Jean Webster

I’m borrowing one of t’Elf’s headers here and celebrating the life and works of Jean Webster.

Alice Jane Chandler Webster (1874-1916) was an American author, specialising in young female protagonists with lively spirits,  kind hearts and a burning desire to change the world!

The author came from a strongly matriarchal background, raised by her mother, grand-mother and great-grand-mother – four generations all living under the same roof.
Her father – who battled mental health issues for much of his life – was a literary man – working at one time with Mark Twain. (The disintegration of this working relationship is believed to have played a part in his subsequent breakdown and eventual suicide)

A womans woman; she enjoyed school and made friendships that lasted throughout her life. Indeed; she fell in love and married the brother of her best friend (having to keep the relationship under wraps for 8 years as he was already unhappily married!). At the early age of 39 years; she died shortly after the birth of her only child – a duaghter named Jean.

An intelligent and passionate woman; her writings demonstrate a sense of humour and love of whimsy; alongside a strong and rational belief system. Jean (as she became known during her school years) argued for female suffrage, campaigned for social reform; socialism and travelled extensively to further improve her mind.

Her writings inspired and delighted me – I have and will continue to recommend her works to women of all ages.

Daddy Long Legs

A book I first encountered many many moons ago.

Judy Abbot is the oldest orphanage in the John Grier Home. Witty and eloquent; she attracts the attention of one of the trustees of the Home with an essay for the local village school.

This trustee – a Mr John Smith – decides that Judy deserves the best education that money can buy and arranges for her to be sent to university – with all expenses paid.
He attaches only two conditions. Judy must write to him every month to encourage her writing talents (he believes that she has the makings of an author). Additionally; Judy can never know who he is.

With the exception of the first chapter; the book comprises of Judy’s letters to this enigmatic man. A person she has only ever caught the briefest of glimpses off – a shadow thrown up against the wall – elongated and resembling nothing so much as…a long legged spider.

I can’t help but love this book in a thousand different ways. Judy is funny, energetic and independent; also feisty, determined and longing so much to fit in the world around her. Before you think of her as a Mary Sue type – she is also quick tempered and stubborn. The best of all possible personality combinations if you ask me!

On Project Gutenberg

On Kindle

On iBooks


Dear Enemy

I only discovered that there WAS a sequel about 2 weeks ago and promptly downloaded it and devoured it.

In this book; Judy’s school friend Sally McBride takes over the management of the John Grier Orphanage while Judy is travelling with her new husband. She writes updates to both Judy and to the attached Doctor – the enemy referred to in the title.

While I did enjoy this book and found it to be as funny and moving in places as the original; its nowhere near as good for two primary reasons.
Firstly the protagonist Sally is a touch grating. She is not half as easy to relate to as Judy was and her self confidence and  ‘outgoing bubbly personality’ can on occasion seem demanding and brass with a side dish of annoying.

Far more difficult to overcome are the societal assumptions prevalent during that time but no longer considered acceptable at all. There’s a particular passage about a third of the way in relation to orphans with learning difficulties that made me wince and shudder and all sorts of bad things all at once. The concept of eugenics raises its head on more than one occasion stated as scientific fact – though the protagonist does eventually decide that children are more impacted upon by a positive home environment than purely genetic defects.

Given that the book was in fact written with the aim of improving awareness; I’m comfortable with making some allowances. I’m glad that I’ve read it, I did enjoy it but the spot that Daddy Long Legs holds in my heart remains secure!

On Project Gutenberg

On Kindle – on Project Gutenberg

On iBooks

Ms Webster’s creativity extended into art
– the illustrations provided in the books are her own.

We’re blushing…Feel free to continue…

LeedsBookClub has been mentioned THREE times on the blogsphere this week!
Feeling all sorts of special and loved! Just in case you missed it please have a look at the following!!
LBC Member @WoodsieGirl blogs about her Reading Resolutions here!!
While fellow member @Wandapops interviewed me here!!
Finally, future(?) member @CultureLeeds plans her twelve for 2012 here!

BookElf Reads 2011

In the tradition of the last two years…

Not published this year, just read this year, savvy?
Discovery of the Year
Ayn Rand/Mary Gaitskill (The Fountainhead/Two Girls, Fat and Thin)
What may initially appear to be an odd choice, seeing as this is also the year I’ve discovered so many amazing books that haven’t made me nearly have a nervous breakdown and doubt my entire life’s purpose, makes more sense when you consider just how much of an impact someone has had on my life by writing a book.
The Fountainhead was the medicine, Two Girls the spoon full of sugar. Only by reading Gaitskill’s beautifully written and hilariously funny (if extremely odd and possibly hugely triggering) critique of objectivism with her Satire of Anna Granite was I able to stop seeing The Fountainhead as this be-all-and-end-all text and start seeing it for the brilliant fiction book it is.
Again, massive thanks to all those who put up with me throughout the blogalong The Fountainhead challenge, and to Lingmops for making me do it!
Series of the Year
A Song Of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Had to be really. I love these books, of which I’ve read the first three (the third being in two parts). Not only is it set in the most complete fantasy world since LOTR, every character is individual, complex and brilliant, and the plot is heart racingly intricate without becoming sloppy or dull… or at least it hasn’t become sloppy and dull yet…This series always wins for how accessible it is. On almost every single commute since the summer I’ve seen someone with one of the books, mostly through scopin’ their kindles. I’ve seen uber nerds and middle aged women (not that middle aged women can’t be uber nerds…) reading them and I’d encourage anyone who loves a good romp to get stuck into Game of Thrones. The TV series was superb as well. Winter is coming, baby, winter is coming.
Up All Night Award

The Cry of the Go Away Bird by Andrea Eames.

Bit of a cheat as I read this in a day, rather than a night, but how could I not mention the gorgeousness that is Andrea Eames? This book, set in Zimbabwe in the early naughties, was both educational and moving, and I could not put it down. Simply but evocatively written the power of the subject matter is not hampered down by the emotions clearly running throughout.
Andrea was lovely enough to let N interview her, which you can read here, and my original review for For Books Sake is here. Her next book, The White Shadow is out in February and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it’s going to be just as good!
Best Debut
Bear Down, Bear North by Melinda Moustakis
Simply one of the best written pieces of fiction I’ve ever help in my hands, and it is criminal how little press these this short story collection has had in this country; The Guardian haven’t even reviewed it for God’s sake! This book makes you feel cold. Every emotion it is possible to feel is there, along with beautiful description of landscape and a perfect sense of place. Melinda was also lovely enough (after I massively fangirled her after reviewing it for ForBooksSake) to do an interview with me, which you can read here. This woman deserves success, and should be forced into writing a full length novel set in Alaska. Buy it! Buy it now!

The I-Know-I-Know-It’s-Brilliant-But-Award

Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Hoeg
My ranging Scando-boner had a bit of cold water thrown on it mid-December when I finally got round to reading this Danish classic and Times book of the year. Didn’t get it. The first 100 pages were brilliant, beautifully written and with and instantly gripping mystery I could sink my teeth into. Then it all turned a bit, you know, wank.

It’s Smilla. She’s a douche. A self obsessed, whiny, ‘look at me, look at me’, wannabe emo immature douche. By page 250 I was screaming ‘YOU ARE 37 GET OVER YOURSELF’ at her. Oh, but her amazing mother left her alooooone and she was forced from Magical Greenland by her daddy and oh isn’t everything just dreadful.
Except, it isn’t. She fucks everything up by being ‘individual’, also know as ‘a knob’. She’s had countless opportunities to have a good life, but instead chooses to fuck about. Also, I DON’T CARE WHAT HAT YOU ARE WEARING SMILLA, NO ONE DOES.

Like Lisbeth Salander, this is a fantasy of a woman, not a real one, and the entire book suffered for it. I left it with 80 pages to go, with Smilla running around a ship, for no apparent reason, with the caveat that I had a brand new copy of Pride and Prejudice looking at me and I could no longer be arsed with this drivel.
Best Recommended Read
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
I loved the TV series, but would never have thought of reading the book, were it not recommended to me by so many people (thank you @Sewhipfolkie for the lend!). A million times better, more in depth and more revealing of a time, with characters that haven’t left me nearly a year later, this very nearly went for Discovery of the Year.
If you love strident female leads, and books set in The Past, read this. Then read Westwood by Stella Gibbons.
Worst Book of the Year
Hothouse Flower by Lucinda Riley.
This is what happens when you try to market Joanna Trollope to Kate Atkinson fans. This book made me gaaaaah at it so many times, and were it not for the one decent part of the back story with Cora in the 1930s and the fact that I was reading it for review I would have thrown it against the wall and had done with it. It is dross, badly written, endless, pointless dross. It also uses a racist paradigm as plot devices which is unforgivable in modern fiction. Thoughtless writing, how the hell this became a best seller is beyond me. Actually, no it isn’t, it’s the cover. Bloody marketing.
Another cracking year for reading, mostly due to the excellent and wonderful discoveries I’ve made through the book swaps and book clubs. Thank you to everyone for recommendations and donations and to lovely publishers and agents for sending me books!
Approximately 100 books read, most of them Not Shite. On to 2012!
Happy Reading
BookElf xxx

In praise of… Sarah Waters

This is a piece I’ve wanted to write for *ages*, but having not finished all her books I always felt it would be wrong to. Now I have, so I can. Hooray!

I loved Tipping the Velvet. Loved it. Every single sentance was like a petal falling off a rose. The evolution of Nan, one of my favourite charactres ever, from seaside town oyster girl to roving Tom in Victorian London giving speaches on human liberty in Hyde Park, via music hall star, rent boy and a whole other world was like watching a sapphic Amber StClare, thrust three hundred years into the future; just as beguiling and just as much fun, though slightly less thick!

Next came the equally bewitching Fingersmith. Again, set in the Victorian criminal underbelly this is the (slightly unbelievable but that doesn’t matter cos its brilliant)story of the adopted daughter of a gang of thieves and forgers living in LahnDahn who is used as part of an intricate plot to steal the fortune of a country lady, who is also an orpahn living with her uncle in a bizarre house in the middle of no where. The plot is full of more twists than a curly wurly, and although just as beautifully written, not half as accassable for me as Tipping the Velvet.

Affinity is probably my least favourite of Waters’ books, in fact I’d go as far to say it bored me stupid and if this was the first of hers I’d read I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the rest. A Victorian gentlewoman spends her time doing ‘good works’ like visting in prisons. She is captivated by the story of one paticular prisoner, the ghostly pyscic Selina. I’ll be honest, I skim read this one. Not even a fifth as good as Tipping the Velvet.

Night Watch, which I have just read, was fantastic. Taking a break from Victoriana Waters uses a lovely device of telling the story backwards, firstly in 1947, then 1944 and 1941. In this way she reveals the character’s raesons for being in certain situations. The book wouldn’t have been half as good without this device as it is deffinatly a character rather than a plot driven piece. Definately a ‘feminist’ writer, this book makes a stronger case for the legalisation of abortion than any other fiction book I’ve read in the past few years. It was also nice to see the difference in societies attitudes to homosexuality; the lesbian couples lived together, though in seppearate rooms whilst in the male prison the effeminate gay proisoners are known by female names and referred to as ‘she’. Waters does seem to recycle her charactres slightly, Kay, for example, was like watching Nan but born 100 years later. I really liked that though, as I have often wondered how different charactre types would ahve reacted to being presnet during different historical periods. I really really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Her final book, that was, like her last three books, nominated for the Booker Prize, is so very very different. Anyone critisising Waters range as being all ‘lesbian gothic’ must have eaten a lot of words upon it’s publication. Narrated by (male and straight) Dr Faraday, this is the story of a aristocratic country family going to the dogs after the end of the second world war. Dr Faraday is one of the most intrigueing characters to be released upon the world and the ending of the book brought a real chill down my spine. Remeniscent of Turn of the Screw, this is a “ghost” story, that is really an exploration as to relationships between people. This is craftsmanship in writing at its very best- unreliable narrating to the point of beauty. Fans of Remains of the Day will love this book, as will fans of Henry James and Wilkie Collins.

I love Sarah Waters, and know I am not alone. As a writer of interesting, varied, sexy fiction that is not afraid to experiment or bend the rules she is up there with the best. Anyone with an interest in historical fiction should definatly seek her out.

Happy Reading!
BookElf xx

In Praise of…Robin Jarvis

Sometimes, when browsing my local crack den, I mean second hand bookshop, certain books just reach out and grab me. ‘Buy me’, they cry helplessly as my fingers caress the unbroken spine (how? How do you do this? Seriously I have been reading paperbacks with spines for about twenty years now and have never managed to keep a single one in tact, what is your secret? Silicon fingers? Cif?) ‘Buy me, and I will be yours…I will never leave you, never deceive you, you can trust me. My name is book’. This happened to me last week in Poverty Aid (possibly the greatest charity shop in the world, on Cardigan Lane in Leeds. Gonna buy all my furniture there when am Big). I walked in with a pound thinking I would treat myself and walked out with five pounds worth of books and random crap paid for on my credit card. And I wonder why I can’t afford real food and have to bulk up my lasagne with stock. Which is delicious, btw, the 70s got that one right.

The two books I bought weren’t even new! They were remnants of my childhood- ‘The Oaken Throne’ and ‘Thomas’, both part of the Deptford Histories by Robin Jarvis. I finished ‘The Oaken Throne’ last night and need to share with you this amazing, and too often neglected, children’s author. Those of you of a certain age may remember his books with fondness, others, I guarantee you will not be disappointed by taking him up.

Jarvis’ first series of fantasy novels aimed at readers from about 8 years old was The Deptford Mice. This is based on a world populated by anthropomorphic mice and other rodents living around London, who worship a system of spirits and gods based on the power of nature and the circle of life. The story centres on one mouse family, the Browns, who throughout the series become entangled in a war against the evil powers of the god Jupiter, who lives in the sewers under London and wishes to cover the world in darkness and prevent the spring. The series is prequelled by another The Deptford Histories, which are, in my opinion, the stronger of the books, each telling the history of a minor character in The Deptford Mice, unrelated to each other and spread across time and place. My favourite book would be ‘The Oaken Throne’, which I have just re-read, about the war between squirrels and bats over the power of a magical portal that controls the coming of spring, the Starglass and manages not only to evoke Shakespeare in its depiction of doomed love and demonstrates to children truthfully, understandably and non-patronisingly the futility of war based on racial hatred, but also has one of the most powerful and sad endings I have ever read in a book, never mind a children’s book.

What I like about the books is just how inventive they are. Anthropomorphism is not a rare occurrence in children’s literature, but combining this with a tangible religious and political system, and stories that include themes such as inter-racial relationships, slavery and exploitation, and, it could be argued, environmentalism, is a rare achievement for books aimed at children younger than ten. Although the writing is not as strong as, say, Phillip Pullman, it is just as inventive and challenging to the reader to grasp this fully formed and realised world
Jarvis, unlike other children’s fantasy writers of the last twenty years who I am not going to mention, is incredibly versatile. By making series of books that conform to the trilogy format he is able to explore a wide range of situations and characters without being caught in a over-long tangent of events and characters that are not well rounded enough to last for more that a couple of books without having by necessity to be killed off, and although both the Deptford Mice and Histories, and the new series The Deptford Mouselets are based in a world of speaking mice and bats and squirrels at war, he is a gift that keeps on giving with other trilogies that are just as inventive and enjoyable to read.

I was first introduced to Jarvis when I was about 8 by the Whitby Witches, a trilogy, surprisingly enough, based in the North East England coastal town of Whitby- famous for it’s beautiful Abbey and connection to Bram Stoker who set part of ‘Dracula’ there. I grew up about ten miles from Whitby and was therefore very much aware of the town’s beauty and spiritual past. The Whitby Witches tells the story of two young orphans, one of whom, Ben, can see not only dead people (including, tragically, his parents), but supernatural beings. When he and his sister Jennet (beautiful name) are adopted by a strange old woman and brought to live in Whitby, it is not overly clear why their lives have brought them to this beautiful, eerie place. However, Ben soon discovers a race of fantasy characters, the Aufwaders, that live along the shore under the cliffs (if you ever visit Whitby, which you will want to do after reading this books walk along the beach and you can almost see the little fisher folk cleaning their nets). The story follows Ben as he tries to help the Aufwaders, who are struck by a curse that was brought on them when their ancestor fell in love with a human, bearing his half-breed child that was subsequently neglected by the rest of the tribe and their gods, the Lords of the Deep who evoke the spirits of the oceans. This leads to the human man’s death, the Aufwader’s suicide, and a curse by the Lords that all Aufwader women will die in childbirth. Pretty adult themes for a book about an 8 year old boy. Makes Harry Potter look almost tame (which it is).

The stories get even more adult in nature in the second book of the series, where the pre-teen Jennet is prayed on by an adult male warlock in order to get closer to the coven of witches to which her foster mother, Alice, belongs. I truly believe that it is important that children talk about things that worry them: instead of merely smothering our children in wii-fit cotton wool, we should openly discuss bad things that happen in the world, this can be facilitated by the reading of excellent literature and A Warlock in Whitby provides that. I would highly recommend this book as invoking pathos, as a way of getting children to talk about abuse, and exploitation. I cannot remember the entire plot, but I can remember the feeling of tingling up my spine when Jennet is persuaded she is in love with Nathanial Crozier, in the modern world of social networking, with grown ups preying on the emotions of children, it is important for people to recognise from an early age that this is wrong.

Jarvis has also written a series based around WWII and ancient Norse mythology crossed with a bit of Greek, set in a modern day museum (starting to tell why I love this guy? I mean, what happened, did he wake up in the morning and go “I wonder what would happen if the Fates in charge of the Yggdrasil actually ran a museum in London that contained a time traveling device in the shape of a stuffed bear” and then just go from there?). I did not enjoy this series as much as the other too (a bit weird for me, probably why its called The Wyrd Museum series), probably because I did not like any of the characters, whilst I loved Alice, Jennet, Ben and the Aufwaders and had a strong liking for the Deptford Mice. The books are also insane, jumping from ancient Viking myth to the history of Glastonbury to the Nazis to the trials single parenthood way to fast- or maybe I’m just getting too old for them!

Occasionally re-reading something from your past can go two ways, either you want to go back in time and rip the book from your tiny-child spine creasing fingers and beat yourself round the head with it for wasting your precious pre-taxpaying time when you could (and should) have been watching The Craft, or make you all warm and soft inside because you know what’s going to happen and you don’t care- as Miley Cyrus once said, it’s the climb. Re-reading Jarvis over the past few days has been a pleasure, and I can’t wait for this week of reading The Damned Utd in preparation for seeing David Peace talk next week at the Headingley Lit Fest on Saturday to be over so I can get stuck into Thomas!

Happy Reading!
BookElf xx

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