How I Live Now

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I narrowed it down to two books I wanted to read next and I chose How I Live Nowbecause I read a snippet of a review online and it mentioned ‘war’ and ‘forbidden love’, so I thought ‘great, it must be about World War Two!’ How wrong I was! On the second page our narrator, Elizabeth, although she prefers to be called Daisy, mentions how she can’t get any signal on her phone and my heart fell a teeny bit. I wanted a nostalgic war story; I didn’t know if I was in the mood for a futuristic war. I persevered anyway and I am so glad I did as this truly is a haunting read.

Fifteen year old Daisy leaves America, her Dad and her evil, pregnant stepmother and travels to an England on the brink of a war that might never happen. At the airport she is greeted by her fourteen year old cousin, Edmond, cigarette hanging out of his mouth and a certain air of mystery surrounding him. At their large country house, Daisy meets her rest of her family; workaholic Aunt Penn; the aloof and slightly older Osbert; Isaac who barely says a word to any human, choosing animals as a more worthwhile audience and Piper, the only girl who appears to be the living embodiment of a fairy/pixie. Soon after Daisy’s arrival Aunt Penn travels to Norway and whilst she is there war breaks out and all British borders are closed, leaving the five children abandoned and left to be self-sufficient as food shortages, rationing and all other hardships of war kick in. At first the children relish in the freedom of a life with no adults, responsibilities, communication to the outside world, and then the war lands on their doorstep, separating them and changing their lives forever.

How I Live Now is certainly a slow burner, to begin with I wasn’t sure if I would even like it, but that might have been because it wasn’t what I was expecting. Luckily for me it is set in a Britain in the not too distant future so it was far from futuristic and sci-fi-esque, so it was easy to relate to and believe in. There are some fantastical elements to the plot, mainly the cousins’ ability to read minds and connect telepathically, however this is cleverly written about and
enhances the plot, rather than seeming like a way of showing just how ‘crazy and futuristic’ life will be in a few years time. It is a tale of war, but it is also the tale of forbidden love between two cousins, a somewhat controversial topic choice, but it is subtly explored and therefore doesn’t seem to be merely a means of shocking the audience but more an integral part of the plot. It provides the means for Daisy to keep going and keep fighting to survive, both during the war and in the immediate aftermath of the war.

Overall I really enjoyed How I Live Now and devoured most of the 200 odd pages yesterday afternoon. It is a young adult book, but I certainly enjoyed it and found it an engaging and haunting read that has left me with a few questions, but not the annoying type of question you can often have after reading a book, more the ‘I wonder why…’ style of question. I am pleased that I kept on reading despite my initial reaction as it was certainly worth it and once again proves that sometimes you do need to persevere with a book as it can be slow burning and then when you least expect it you are sucked in to the narrative and the world of the characters and are somewhat reluctant to leave at the end.

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The Old Curiosity Shop

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I suffer terribly from whattoreadnextitis so events like The Classics Club Spin are fantastic for making the decision for me and also ensuring I regularly read books from my Classics Club list. I find I am also more determined to read/finish the book if I know it is for some type of challenge or if there is a strict (ish) deadline. So the second spin came round and I ended up with Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, so that is two spins in a row where I have ended up with fairly lengthy books, both of which I haven’t read before, but my authors whose other work I have read and studied in the past; my first spin book was Charlotte Bronte’s Vilette.

The Old Curiosity Shop follows the life of Little Nell, forced to flee with her elderly grandfather after he loses all his money (and the shop of the title) to a rather maleficent dwarf by the name of Quilp, we shadow their plight to get as far away from their misfortunes as possible. Along the way Nell has to help her grandfather escape from the evil temptations of gambling their worldly goods away. Fortunately they meet many kindhearted people who are willing to help them, from an old lady who owns a traveling wax work company to a kindly old schoolmaster. Meanwhile back in London (dun, dun, dun) Quilp is terrorising whoever dares cross his path, tormenting his long suffering wife and mother-in-law and framing Nell’s old friend, Kit.

I knew very little about The Old Curiosity Shop before I started reading it, apart from one main plot feature that meant I knew the inevitable outcome of the story, but luckily I wasn’t fazed by this. It is a fairly long read, but with really only a handful of characters (in comparison to some Dickens’ novels) so I was able to easily follow the action and keep up with the narrative between school and reading other books for my enrichment. It was an ok read, but I can’t say it is one I will be returning to or strongly recommending to everyone I meet. I just felt it lacked something; the narrative was good, but it wasn’t really exciting; Quilp was a convincing bad guy, but not quite evil enough; Nell was sweet, but not really memorable in my eyes. In fact my favourite ‘character’ in the whole novel was a pony, which pretty much says it all if you ask me. Admittedly he was a very obstinate and stubborn pony, but surely he shouldn’t be the character I remember the most? I read The Old Curiosity Shop on my Kindle and the only note I made was linked to this pony and the first time we meet him.

The pony ran off at a sharp angle to inspect a lamp-post on the opposite side of the way, and then went off on a tangent to another lamp-post on the other side. Having satisfied himself that they were of the same patterns and materials, he came to a stop apparently absorbed in meditation.

Overall an average read and probably not one I will be rushing to pick up in a few years time, but I am now officially 1/5 of the way through my Classics Club list so yay! Definitely in need of something light hearted and modern for my next read!

Midwinterblood

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And so I have finished the final book on the Carnegie Medal Shortlist!

Midwinterblood is essentially a seven part narrative spanning from a time unknown (before the 10th century) to the near future 2073 with a golden thread running through the novel linking each story together. It focuses on a ritual sacrifice on the island of Blessed in 2073 and works backwards to the sacrifice of a King on the same island ten centuries earlier. On his death the King declares he will love his Queen for seven lives and each part of the novel tells the story of a different reincarnation of Eirikr and Melle, or Eric and Merle as they become known over time, and how they find one another in each life.

I realise I probably make Midwinterblood sound much more confusing than it actually is, but it is a fairly complex, yet enjoyable narrative. I loved how in each section Eric and Merle’s lives and their relationship is slightly different; from sibling relationships, to an old man who is rescued by a young girl to a girl whose family is reunited due to the actions of a man she has never met. Each story shows a new aspect of their relationship and each is heart warming and portrays how love can prevail and appear in the most unlikely of circumstances. Eric and Merle aren’t the only characters who reoccur and it was always interesting to try and work out how and why these other characters reappear. Undoubtedly by favourite part of the story was set in 1944 as it was unexpected and beautifully touching how Eric and Merle were connected.

Now for the most important question; do I think Midwinterblood is a winner? I have now read all eight books on the Carnegie Medal Shortlist and I am pleased that I have completed the Shortlist and all reviews before the winner is announced tomorrow. I still want Code Name Verity to win as it was my personal favourite and I LOVE wartime stories, but I have a feeling it won’t. If it is going to be beaten by any book I hope it is Midwinterblood as it is an original and clever story which held my attention and I just loved how all parts of the story were subtly connected and that each section gave us a deeper insight into the characters and yet the whole truth was not revealed until we had learnt were it all began. However I have a feeling Wonder might just sneak in and win it as it deals with issues that are more relevant to teenagers today. I say this and I could be completely wrong…I will have to wait until tomorrow!

The Weight of Water

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The Weight of Water is told from the perspective of twelve year old Kasienka, a Polish girl who has moved to Britain with her mother in search of her missing father. Her mother is desperate in her quest to find her missing husband and provides little support for Kasienka as she adapts to life in Coventry and the various dramas teenage girls go through at school, from boys to bitchy girls. One of the few things that makes Kasienka’s life bearable is her passion for swimming and this allows her to excel and to find happiness in her new life.

The Weight of Water is the seventh book I have read for the Carnegie Medal Award and I read it in a few hours over the course of this afternoon. There has been one other book on the Shortlist that I have read as quickly (A Boy and a Bear in a Boat),but this one was far easier to read and engage with. Kasienka was an endearing character with a clear narrative voice, therefore it was easy to warm to her from the opening page and this remained throughout the course of the book. Crossan was able to clearly portray the difficulties facing modern teenage girls, such as friendship issues and boys, and capture how these troubles can be multiplied when moving to not only a new school, but a new country.

Overall I would say it was an enjoyable and easy read, but I can’t say it will be one that will stay with me forever as it is very much a teenage book and somewhat simplistic in its narrative. It is interesting in that it offers a perspective on life as a newcomer to Britain and how this can be a trying time for a teenage girl, but it wasn’t stand out for me personally. It was a welcome break from my Classics Club Spin, Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop.

Melting the Snow on Hester Street

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A few weeks ago Dot who blogs at DotScribbles sent out a Twitter plea for help with review copies of novels. I automatically replied with my interest and lucky for me she sent me a copy of Daisy Waugh’s Melting the Snow on Hester Street. So I received the beautiful book related post, then amongst the excitement a teeny bit of doubt settled in; what if I didn’t like it? Can I justify writing a negative book review on someone else’s blog? What if I take FOREVER to read it? Have I taken on a bit more than I can chew? And then I told myself to get a grip, waited for school to finish and the luxury of half term and picked it up from my bedside ‘to be read’ stack.

Melting the Snow on Hester Street tells the story of Hollywood golden couple, Max and Eleanor Beecham; it is October 1929 and America and the Beecham’s are heading for disaster. Both Max and Eleanor are slowly slipping from their pedestal at the top of the film world and yet their minds are focusing on a deep rooted past secret and the heartache it has brought to their lives.

The narrative opens with Max and Eleanor’s glamorous, yet somewhat empty lives in 1929. Despite spending the evening throwing a party for Hollywood Royalty it is clear Max and Eleanor are unhappy and have lost the spark in the marriage and there are subtle clues throughout the opening chapters hinting at what might have caused this. I was enjoying the novel, but I wasn’t overly engrossed in it at this point; yes, there was some mystery, but it was missing a really intriguing hook. And then we were transported to the lives of Matz and Eleana in the poverty stricken slums of New York in 1911 and for me the novel truly came alive. Waugh’s depiction of the lives of immigrants, fresh off the boots, is well described and she paints a perfect picture of how many arrived full of hope of achieving their American Dream and yet were faced with the horrible reality of dirty, cramped, over crowded slums and the unfair and oppressive working conditions. Throughout the rest of the novel the narrative flicks between the two time periods culminating in the mystery of how Matz and Eleana transformed into Max and Eleanor and just what it is that has rocked their marriage.

I preferred the Matz and Eleana element of the novel as it offered a great contrast to the futility of the Hollywood lifestyle and seemed much purer than the 1920s part of the novel. I liked how all Matz and Eleana truly had was their love for one another and how this played out amongst the backdrop of the strikes of fabric workers and an horrific (and true life) factory fire that killed 146 immigrant workers. This part of the novel was well written and had me engrossed from the start; it certainly appealed to the historian in me much more than the 1920s section and without it I don’t think I would have enjoyed the narrative as much.

Overall I am happy I offered to write this review and that Dot chose me. It isn’t a book I would have chosen to read if I had seen it in a bookshop as I tend to read mainly British fiction, but I am glad that I did read it. I haven’t read much fiction based around the turn of the century in America and it was certainly enjoyable finding out more about this particular period of history and especially about the lives of those new to America, still full of their hopes and dreams. In the Author’s Notes Waugh writes about the inspiration for certain events in the novel and it was interesting finding out that certain characters are based on real life people (although I did know that Charlie Chaplin was definitely real) and that tragic events, such as the factory fire, actually happened. I would certainly recommend Melting the Snow on Hester Street, especially with the renewed interest in 1920s America with the release of Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby; it highlights the decadence and futility of life before The Wall Street Crash and arguably the hollowness of The American Dream.

Thank you again to Dot for sending me this book.

The Classics Club June Meme

I don’t often have the time to complete many of the memes hosted by The Classics Club, however I decided to complete the June one as I think it is quite interesting.

The question for this month centres on favourite opening lines and I have chosen two that I knew long before I read either book.

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The first is from Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and is a line I have seen quoted by many so far.

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’.

It is straight to the point and yet it still offers a sense of mystery from the very beginning.

The second line is from L.P.Hartley’s The Go Between.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’

What a perfect, mysterious, nostalgia-filled opening! Like the opening line of Rebecca it offers a sense of intrigue, however it also alludes to feelings of regret which reinforces the main theme of the novel.

I wonder if I will discover some more opening lines that will push me into picking up the novel!

May Round Up

As June begins I have spent my day in the sunshine attempting to tan; sadly I didn’t get a chance to do much reading, it was more gossiping with friends. But I have made a start on my new Classics Club Spin The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens, so all is not lost reading wise. May has been a difficult month work wise due to GCSEs and this being the first time I have put a class through the exams. It has been stressful and trying at times, but as of Tuesday I will be free of it and able to relax/breathe a sigh of relief. I am also very aware of the fact that I am moving into my final term as a NQT, so all of this plus the sunshine is making me a very excited girl. A half term trip to London to catch up with an old friend has also put me in a holiday mood; she mentioned a girls’ holiday for the summer (and bless her she is a tad flighty) so I am going to pin her down soon and organise a trip. I think we both deserve it!

On to the reading (and film watching) for May. This was a better month for me than April in terms of reading and I am pleased with all that I have read and the variety between adult books and those aimed at teenagers.

In May I read:

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton

Melting the Snow in Hester Street by Daisy Waugh (review yet to appear as it was a guest review/read for another blog)

The Island by Victoria Hislop

I read two books for my Carnegie Medal enrichment: Code Name Verity and A Boy and a Bear in a Boat. Code Name Verity was by far my favourite out of the two and I would choose that as my overall Carnegie winner so far.

My favourite read for the month on May was undoubtably The Island. It was amazing and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I also watched the fourth film for my Period Drama Challenge, The Great Gatsby. I wasn’t completely convinced by the film version, but I was certainly glad I went to see it.

Yes, on the whole it was an enjoyable May and I am certainly looking forward to the fictional wonders June brings!