A Monster Calls

The fact that this post comes the day after I started this book is a testimony to how gripping a read it is…or it is a comment on the British weather and how the rain has made me a tad housebound.  I like to think it is the former.

A Monster Calls follows Conor as he is coming to terms with his mother’s terminal illness, detailing how he copes and comes to accept the future of his family.  This narrative was made even more poignant by the knowledge that the original idea for this novel came from Siobhan Dowd, who sadly passed away from cancer before getting the chance to see her ideas take shape in a story.  However I truly believe Patrick Ness has done justice to Dowd’s original idea.

A Monster Calls is part tragedy, part dark fairy tale, for want of a better genre comparison. The Monster visits Conor at various points, telling him three stories describing scenarios where there are no opposites.  There is not an obvious good/bad guy, fair/unfair deed or right/wrong answer, portraying the confusion that can arise from the more serious events and circumstances in life.  The Monster teaches Conor so much about life and offers him advice; my favourite piece is that it is ok to be mad, which I feel is so completely true for some situations, not just the death of a loved one.

One of my favourite things about the book are the beautifully haunting illustrations.  They really help to capture the darkness of the narrative and the loneliness of Conor.  They are just so eerie.  Jim Kay has done a fabulous job, creating these masterpieces from all sorts of materials, such as beetles and bread boards.  Art never ceases to amaze me.  Kay is not someone I have come across before, but then my knowledge of artists is somewhat limited, but I will definitely be looking out for his work in the future.

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My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece

The school I am currently placed at are shadowing the Carnegie Medal Award and I have joined them not only because I love book clubs in general and chatting about everyone’s latest read, but because my knowledge of current/popular YA literature desperately needs updating.  My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is the first book from this year’s shortlist that I have picked up and if the rest of the books are as good as this, I will be one happy reader.

The novel is told from the perspective of ten-year old Jamie and focuses on how his family is coping (or should that be failing to cope) with the death of one of his older twin sisters in a terrorist attack five years ago.  Rose is a constant present throughout the book, and as the title suggests her urn is placed on the mantelpiece in their father’s house, however Jamie doesn’t really remember her, so although he realises her death is tragic, he does not appear to understand why his parents are having such difficulty coping with her death years later.  Pitcher is brilliant at creating role reversals between the parents and Jamie and his sister Jasmine; the children are able to cope and carry on with their lives, whereas the parents, especially their father is inconsolable with grief, which is completely understandable given the circumstances of Rose’s death.

The novel deals with several serious issues, from terrorism to racism, to grief, affairs and death and, having quickly got over my initial shock at the variety of challenging topics discussed, I do feel that Pitcher approaches these in a believable and interesting way.  However, I feel let down on one particular subject: that of eating disorders in teenage girls.  It is hinted at throughout the novel that Jasmine (Rose’s twin) is incredibly skinny and doesn’t eat, but our ten-year old narrator does not quite understand the seriousness of this.  At the end of the copy of the novel I was reading there was a short extract from a sequel entitled Jasmine so I am hoping that Pitcher will explore this issue in more depth in this novel.  In hindsight this is probably a better idea, as I can think of many novels where the author has attempted to cram too much in and therefore hasn’t done certain issues the justice they deserve.

Overall I enjoyed this novel.  I cried my eyes out at the end when Jamie begins to understand death and grief – it must be something about animals in books, although poor animals on telly have a similar effect.  I hope the rest of the shortlisted Carnegie books are as good as this one, but hopefully not as sad, although I have just started Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd’s A Monster Calls and I have a feeling it will be just as serious and upsetting…maybe I’ll invest in a large box of tissues ready for the tears!

1984

For years I purposefully avoided George Orwell, having built an image of him as a Dystopian writer with a tad too much futurism and sci-fi-y nonsense in there for my liking.  Who knows where I got this from, probably some passing comment on 1984 many moons ago, but I am almost glad that I waited until now to discover him.  I read Animal Farm over Christmas and absolutely loved it, got to love talking animals, but I was a tad dubious about 1984, because of my dislike of futuristic style literature, but I do like to be proved wrong.  I find Orwell’s writing thought provoking and easy to read; he makes me want to research his novels as well as just reading them.  This has been extra helpful as I am teaching a unit on the ‘Big Brother’ society and wanted to use 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and the thought of teaching books I can’t stand is not the most inspiring, so I will have plenty of opportunities to look at 1984 in more detail and really get to grips with the novel.

1984 follows the life of Winston Smith in a world where there are three superpowers constantly at war with one another and where BIG BROTHER is always watching YOU!  unsurprisingly it is a very bleak world; there is little frivolity, no privacy, and perhaps the worst thing in my opinion, little access to books, and those there are have been rewritten so many times in order to fit the Party’s philosophy that they can hardly be called literature.  Winston attempts to rebel against Big Brother, falling in ‘love’ with Julia and joining the Brotherhood, a group leading a secret revolution.  But this doesn’t last long and he is soon imprisoned, ready to face his fears in the dreaded Room 101.  Sadly not the Room 101 that has been created for BBC; although I did see an episode where Katie Price was put in Room 101 and the thought of bumping in to her in there is pretty terrifying if you ask me.

 

World Book Night 2012

I know that it is technically World Book Night tomorrow, but I have a funny feeling my week is going to get crazy pretty fast (I have started my third and final placement at school…very nearly a teacher!) so I am posting this a tad early.

I am giving away 24 copies of Andrea Levy’s ‘Small Island’, which seems like an almost impossible task when I look at them all stacked up in my bedroom, but I am positive they will all go to worthy homes.

I love the whole ethos behind World Book Night and the idea of giving books to those who perhaps do not read as much as you do, or are looking for a new and exciting change of literary direction.  The selection of books this year is amazing; there is definitely something for everyone, from classics like Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to more modern texts like  Emma Donoghue’s Room.  The school librarian has also collected books to give out and we are holding an event tomorrow lunchtime, with five titles up for grabs, so I am hoping to pick up a new reading treat for myself…because you can never have enough books to read!

As previously mentioned it is back to school for the whole five day working week tomorrow, but luckily I have a new obsession to see me through… a Graze Box!

As the photo shows, I pretty much devoured my Graze box, although I did save the best til last, apple and cinnamon flapjack yummy!  My friend gave me a voucher for a free box, and then when I signed up they said I would get my fifth box free, and I am a sucker for these ‘deals’, yes I use the word lightly as I know they are still getting my money, but I don’t care, they are just too yummy!  There are over 100 snacks to choose from, you select all the ones you might like and then four surprise ones turn up in your Graze box, it is amazing…I think this is my new addiction!

The Report

I chose to read Jessica Francis Kane’s The Report after reading about it on Charlotte Reads Classics and I am incredibly glad I did; I loved this book.  I have a huge interest and love of literature from and centred on the First World War, so I am surprised that I haven’t made as much effort to leap towards literature from/on/around the Second World War.

I seem to remember hearing about the Bethnal Green Tube Station incident somewhere before (perhaps on BBC Radio 4’s A Good Read programme that I can sadly no longer get on iplayer) and the novel centres on this tragedy where 173 people were crushed to death in the stairwell of a tube station shelter.  This harrowing event forms the starting point of the novel and the mystery and uncertainty surrounding it is explored as the novel progresses.  Kane follows the lives of a handful of characters in the aftermath of the tragedy and their personal reactions to what has happened and the part they played either in the actual tube station or in the subsequent inquiry.

Throughout the novel, I felt Kane successfully captured the mood and atmosphere of the East End during the War, particularly the attitude towards refugees, a prejudice that I feel forms the backbone of the novel.  I enoyed the element of mystery and uncertainty surrounding characters and their actions;  I did find this slightly predictable at times, but maybe I was looking for it, although I don’t feel this took anything away from the story and the sheer horror I felt at certain points.  I sometimes feel with historical fiction, you can ‘forget’ that the author is using real life events as inspirations, but I am incredibly glad that Kane did not attempt to glamourise the reality in anyway…although I think that would have made her novel less credible and, arguably less popular.

This is a very muddled response, but I finished it several days ago and so much has happened since then, but at least I know what I mean.  And I would definitely recommend this book, in fact I have already started forcing it on my Mummy and my Grandparents, oh how they must love me!

To Kill A Mockingbird

It has been a long time since I last read ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and despite the fact I am forever seeing it in school, it is not something I have observed being taught or something I have had to teach myself, so I was delighted to read it again without feeling the need to rush through it as school preparation.  In truth, I devoured the novel in a matter of days, becoming fully submerged in the lives of Scout, Jem and Atticus and the unbelievable prejudice of 1930s America.

Atticus Finch is called upon to defend a young black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping a white girl and the novel is told through the eyes of his eight year old daughter, Scout.  It is through her narration of, not only the rape trial but her childhood as a whole, that she explores and discovers the hypocrisy of life, in particular the nature and attitudes of grown ups in her small town in the Deep South.  The way Lee uses a child narrator to explore race, class and prejudice in this novel is fascinating; Scout is able to pinpoint the lack of equality and reasoning behind so many different events that arguably an adult narrator would not have been able to do.  A particular favourite of mine centres on a schoolroom discussion about Adolf Hitler; the teacher is quick to highlight that Hitler is a dictator and a maniac and that his treatment of the Jews is unforgivable.  Scout is quick to spot the hypocrisy in her teacher’s views, asking Jem ‘how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home-?’ 

One aspect of Lee’s novel that I feel rings true to me personally is the behaviour of Boo Radley and how the children react to him.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I know when I was growing up there was always a neighbour on your street or your friend’s street who you were convinced was a witch or a madman.  But maybe my friends and I just had overactive imaginations.  I can vividly remember the women we thought was a witch and I can also remember the games we used to play on long summer’s days centred on this woman and how we were able to identify her as witch and what would happen if she ever caught us.  The fear and curiosity Boo Radley evokes in the children’s minds is something I feel we can all relate to, and we are all at danger of letting our imagination run away with us, especially when we are young, so I find the moment when Scout realises the truth about Boo particularly poignant…even though it has been many years since I stopped believing that woman was a witch!

All in all I loved rereading this classic, and I cannot wait to read some more American Fiction; think I will be delving back through my A Level reading list and all the work I did on twentieth century American literature.

Howards End is on the Landing

I decided to move away from Clarissa for the Easter weekend, and read something slightly less scary, so opted for Susan Hill’s ‘Howards End is on the Landing’, and I am incredibly glad I did.  On a search around the house for an elusive book, Hill discovers many books that had been forgotten about, not read for years, or in the case of some books, and something I completely understand, books that had been bought and NEVER read!  Hill decides to spend the year reading just books she already owns, and ‘Howards End is on the Landing’ follows her journey, from spiritual books to children’s books and beyond.

This book was not quite what I was expecting, and didn’t talk about certain texts in as much detail as I would have liked, but inspite of this Hill raised so many points about reading and books that completely reinforced why I love reading in the first place and why it is so important and something I could not live without.  I can always tell when I haven’t been able to read as much as I would like as my temper flares up much quicker than usual, strange!

One of the most amusing paragraphs for me centred on Hill’s dislike of ereaders, and how much we lose as readers when we are looking at a screen.  This was particularly resonant as I was reading the book on my Kindle, so I almost felt like a small child being told of for talking in the classroom.  And to a certain extent I agree with Hill:

No one will sign an electronic book, no one can annotate in the margin, no one can leave a love letter casually between the leaves.’

I do smile when I open a second hand book and I find something hidden inside, or I pick up one of my own books and a photo/letter fall out (this is especially true for ‘Love Letters of Great Men’, which when last opened enclosed a photo of myself, my old housemate and a half naked Abercrombie model) or I read an inscription from a friend and remember why they gave me a certain book.  However I think you can still capture this magic as long as you buy books as well as using your ‘small, flat, grey, hand-held screen‘.  Besides I have moved 10 times in the past 5 years and although the 300+ books haven’t come on every single move, after last summer’s epic self move and with the 11th move looming in the not so distant future, I think it is safer for my arms and my sanity if I download some books that I am desperate to read.

Clarissa, Serendipity and Book Offer Disappointments!

I have crazily decided to join the Clarissa in April group, although I am currently feeling slightly pessimistic about my chances of completing this gigantic novel in a month, but stranger things have happened.  Due to various financial and timings issues, having only decided to undertake this challenge on April 2nd and Amazon not having the copy I wanted in stock, I have opted to read this on my Kindle, if anything it will be good for my arms and will probably be easier to carry about in my handbag, than the Penguin Classics doorstop.  It also has the advantage of being able to make quick notes on various parts of the text without the need of a pen, thus enabling me to keep track of my thoughts and the plot as whole.

I have just reached Letter 32 of ???? (I haven’t been able to discover how many letters are in this book, so if anyone would like to help me out I would appreciate it) and I am already beginning to hate certain characters and wonder how Clarissa will get out of her particular predicament.  Clarissa is currently in isolation, her family having essentially locked her away, banning all communications with the outside world simply because she is refusing to marry Mr Solmes, a man has only been chosen by her controlling brother and sister as a means of getting Clarissa out of the way.  Don’t fear though, as she is smuggling letters out to Miss Anna Howe through a loose floor board in a chicken coop, so all is not lost.

Now the villain of the novel is quite clearly Mr Lovelace, and I know this because of ‘Faulks on Fiction’, the main reason I wanted to read Clarissa in the first place, but until I read Letter 31 (which is from Lovelace to a friend) he had been a background character, more of a reason that Clarissa was in isolation than a truly terrible villain; that role is currently reserved for Clarissa’s brother.  Ironically it is Clarissa who is first to sum up Lovelace’s character, stating ‘I fancy it is many, many years ago since he was bashful,’ whilst her family are busy singing his praises, thinking Clarissa is capable of turning Lovelace into a reformed character.  They then undergo a HUGE u-turn, accusing Clarissa of encouraging his feelings and being a disobedient and unworthy child.  All in all it is a tad confusing, but beginning to unravel, so I am a happy reader!

The beauty of reading this novel as a 21st century reader, and possibly the downfall as well, is that you are always acutely aware of the archaic attitude to women and the power any man in the family, not only your father, but brothers and uncles, had over a woman.  Clarissa’s mother sums it up perfectly; ‘Ah, girl, never say your heart is free!  You deceive yourself if you think it is.’  Highlighting the difficulties Clarissa, and all women of the 1700s faced.  On the whole I am enjoying the novel so far, and blocking out the sheet enormity of the challenge so as not to scare myself.

I did take a break from reading to venture to a local town, and to a beautiful shop called Serendipity, where I was able to purchase a fantastically huge Cath Kidston mug, for all that tea to keep me going through my reading sessions, a lovely coaster (is that’s how you spell it?!?) and an adorable card for my friend’s birthday, so I am beautifying this post with pictures of these, as a photo of my Kindle as a book representative is dull.

My shopping trip was not a complete success.  I though I had found a book buying bargain, regarding Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Lady of the Rivers’ and Elizabeth Speller’s ‘The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton’, both books I have been anxious to read for a while, being a huge Philippa Gregory fan and having devoured Speller’s first novel last summer.  Sadly on getting to the till, I found out those pesky retailers had fooled me, and so I practised some self-control and did not buy the books.  This was probably a wise decision as I have an ever growing pile of books I own but have yet to read and the Kindle and reading other blogs has not helped this addiction in the slightest.  Andrew Miller’s ‘Pure’ and Jessica Frances Kane’s ‘The Report’ have become new editions to the ‘to read’ list thanks to Charlotte Reads Classics and her reviews on both books.  I think this is going to be a tough month for self control!

The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous

Jilly Cooper books are my guilty pleasure! Everyone has one, and they come in all shapes and sizes, mine just happens to be in the form of these incredibly enjoyable and amusing books.  I know they aren’t literary classics, but I LOVE them, and as far as I’m concerned any book that makes me laugh and cry as much as all of Jilly Cooper’s has got to be a winner.  And ‘The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous’ is without a doubt my favourite, so it was just the thing to help me relax after a stressful/emotional six weeks on placement.

This was the first Jilly Cooper book I ever read.  I discovered it sitting on the bookcase in my Grandparents’ spare room when I was about 15/16, surprising really as I can’t remember either of my Grandparents ever reading a book, so who knows how it got there.  It is hard to tell what first drew me to the book, sadly their copy did not have the alluring cover displayed in the photo, but perhaps my teenage self just knew it would be a gripping read.

The book centres on Lysander Hawkley and his ‘career’ as a man who makes husbands jealous, sounds dubious I know, but I think Cooper is just amazing at depicting a world of glamorous romantic heroes and fabulously bitchy women, with old favourites (such as the devastatingly attractive Rupert Campbell-Black) making a return.  And she paints a beautiful image of the English countryside, when I was in my late teens I would have given anything to move to the Cotswolds…oh the power of reading!

The book probably should come with a parental guidance sticker, but it is not solely about sex; there are moments in nearly all of Cooper’s books where I have to wipe away the tears, from laughing as well as crying.  You could argue, and I am sure many people do, that her books are just about posh people, horses and sex, but I think there is so much more to them, not only have I learnt bits and pieces about polo, opera, classical music and poetry through my avid reading of anything Jilly Cooper has ever written, but I have also extended my vocabulary, yes I am not afraid to admit that before Cooper I had no idea what ‘fatuous’, ‘philistine’ and about a million other words meant, so I like to think I have been educated along the way.  I don’t care if I am the only one who believes it, or if my family laugh at me about my obsession for the rest of my life, I think the books are amazing and I don’t think my love for them will ever change.

As this is increasingly becoming a rant about my love for Jilly Cooper in general I think I will leave it there.  Don’t worry though, I am off to tackle Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa now on the advice of Jillian, and as part of the Clarissa in April groupread, so I do read some serious literature as well.