Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A long overdue post, with lots of book reviews!

I always have such good intentions to write a post as soon as I have finished a book, but it just isn't happening. Since my last post, I have read four books.....gosh, at sounds like I am in a confessional! But seriously, I have, and today, as I finish a fifth book, I realise I must write a post, just in case the books I read are of interest to you. Moreover, I have just bought another two books from one of my favourite book shops, the St Ives Bookseller. Therefore, I pledge before I start my lovely, new purchases, to write a new post.

If you read this blog and my earlier blog, Bibliolic, you will know that I am a huge fan of Alice Hoffman. Her books have such magic and eloquence, but recently, I have struggled with her books as she tackles more realistic topics. However, her latest one reminds of my old favourites, The Probable Future, Blackbird House, The River King, Seventh Heaven, etc. Nightbird is about a family, where the eldest male in the family is cursed with big, black wings. He is hidden away, and the rest of the family live a reclusive life, mingling with the community where necessary, but keeping themselves to themselves the rest of the time. Things change when a friendly family move next the cursed family, and the youngest daughters become friends and confide each other, deciding to resolve the curse. It is beautifully written. Gorgeous descriptions, and full of love, friendship, compassion, and of course magic!

Anne Tyler is another of my favourite authors, so when her latest book was published, A Spool of Blue Thread, I grabbed it immediately. Her books are usually set in Baltimore, in America, and focus on generations of family life. This tale is no exception, and focuses on one family who keep aspiring to fit in with the rest of the community. No matter how hard they work, or whatever tactics they apply, they never feel as though they reach acceptance or get what they want. On the outside, it feels to me as though they do, but in the story there is a lot of dissatisfaction, which made me a bit sad. It is a really good story, very well-written, which is why I could sense the unhappiness, but my favourite of her books is still A Redbird Christmas.

Asterix and Obelix......I have grown up with these two Gaulish characters, and have read their books in a variety of languages. It never fails to amaze me, how well they translate in to different tongues. They are so clever, and I could read their tales over and over again, and I do. However, when Rene Goscinny passed away, I thought these stories would come to an end. But no...Albert Uderzo continued to produce these wonderful adventures, in the same creative style. However, the latest one, Asterix and the Picts has been written and illustrated by two new people, with the blessing of Uderzo, Goscinny's daughter. I had my doubts, but they have so been put to rest. This comic book is just as good as the original creators. I loved it, and I am so delighted that they are going to carry on. I am really impressed with the way they have maintained the integrity of the original characters, while injecting new adventures and comedy. Really fantastic, and so talented!

Have you ever read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende? The film is well-known, but the book is wonderful, and goes much further than the book. I highly recommend it. I hadn't realised that he had written another book, called Momo, and it is just delightful, although quite daunting in places. It is about a little girl who appears in a town, with no sign of a family. She takes up residence in the amphitheatre, and the townsfolk all decide to take care of her, making sure she is safe and has food, and in return she helps them resolve any issues and keeps the children entertained with creative games. But a shadow falls on the town, and everyone seems to be running out of time. It seems that some evil men in grey suits are stealing time, and only Momo can save them all, together with her new friends, Professor Hora, and his tortoise. This is such a lovely story, creative and magical and suitable for all ages.

I found my fifth book in a charity shop, and it is called Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery. It starts with a fantastic introduction by the great man himself, and then presents eleven short stories by different authors. They are supposed to be ghostly, but some are magical. I only recognise two of the authors. They are all really good, but I especially like "The Truth About Pyecraft", "The Waxwork" and "The Upper Berth". I don't like explicitly, gory horror stories, but these are more suggestive, and really great tales.

Right then...now for my next book experiences! Happy reading!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Summer reading in Cornwall

Well, this Summer has been busy enjoying our new life in Cornwall, hence the lack of posts. We still have no plans to open the bookshop, but we still have a passion for books. And, we have been reading, and re-reading old favourites. More recently, I have been reading books for older children, particularly those set in Cornwall. We had bought a few like this for Pilchard Books, so now I am gradually easing through our stock.

The first one I read was "Callum Fox and the Mousehole Ghost", a story about a boy (Callum), who is sent to Cornwall to spend the Summer with his grandparents. There he makes friends with a child-ghost (Jim), who turns out to have been a childhood friend of his grumpy grandfather. As the story progresses, it turns out that this ghost isn't the only one that Callum can see. He sees a whole range of ghosts, all of whom need his help to move on, away from their ghost status. Jim also needs Callum's help, because until his grandfather is happy and knows the truth about something that happened to them both, during the Second World War, he can't move on from being a ghost. This is such an interesting story. The descriptions of Mousehole, and it's history, the stories of evacuees during the war, and the detailed descriptions of tin mines, in particular Geevor Tin Mine. It is thoroughly
entertaining, and well-written.

The second book I read was called "Girl in the Attic", and again, it was set in Cornwall, this time in St Ives. It tells the story of Nathan, a thirteen-year old boy who is forced to move to Cornwall, leaving all his friends in London, when his parents decide to separate. Initially, he is just supposed to go for Christmas, but then he is told that he will move there permanently with his mother. He is really angry, but then sees a girl in the attic of a lovely house, which is up for sale. He becomes friends with the girl, who also has a sad life, and together they solve the family secrets that haunt her life. There are lovely descriptions of St Ives, in particular, Tregenna Castle. It is a good story, looking at how life can be difficult for young adults, dealing with issues beyond their control.

Finally, I read "Twilight Ghost", a lovely ghost story, focusing on a young girl, who is unhappy because her family has had to move in with her grandmother, while her father works in Hong Kong to raise money for their own house. They have an Irish governess who tells them stories about twilight ghosts, who mean no harm, but exist because they are unable to move on until issues are resolved. Carrie was named Edwina Caroline, by her grandfather, who she never knew, but whose house it was
originally. She feels sad in the house, and feels there is something/someone in the attic. One day she goes up there, and discovers an old nursery, filled with old toys, and a diary, and there she learns what happened in he past, and understands why she has a twilight ghost. I like this story because it has wonderful descriptions of life in the early 1900s, particularly for children, both rich and poor. It was lovely the way the story unfolded, and I really enjoyed reading it.

I have just ordered two new books from Hive, a great online bookshop, where they give some of the commission to local book shops of your choice.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

I have just read the most amazing, inspiring book. In my last Pilchards Books blog, I talked about The Grand Budapest Hotel, inspired by the author Stefan Zweig and directed by Wes Anderson. I have just finished Stefan Zweig's novella, Chess. It is a masterpiece. The emotions, the history, the narrative, are so gripping! I wish everyone would read this book! I wish it was an exam text! It is about chess, but the game is applied in a way, I had never imagined, as a coping mechanism in the time of World War Two, an avoidance to mental torture. It isn't an easy tale, but it is just so thought provoking, describing the power of the mind when dealing with dreadful circumstances. Not only the power of the mind, but the importance of books as a means of mental stimulation. Imagine being locked in a room, day in, day out, with no books, paper, or pens,  no view, no conversation...nothing to stimulate the mind. This book makes you realise how terrible this really is, and how lucky we are.

Fascinating fact! Anthea Bell is the translator for Stefan Zweig's books and my beloved Asterix and Obelix comic book collection! What a discovery!!!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A quintet of books

I have been chain-reading, hence my lack of blogging, but I thought it was high time I wrote about what I have been reading. I think you will find it an eclectic mix, and I cannot see a common theme, but feel free to correct me. Four are by women, and five are by my favourite authors. It's funny, but when I was younger, I only read books written by men, and now I am older, I seem to focus on female authors, with the exception of Michael Crichton, and we will come to him later.

So, the first was Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen. I have been a fan since her first book, Garden Spells, which I still love. Her books are gentle, romantic, and magical, similar to Alice Hoffman, but less harsh. This book is about two family members, estranged due to circumstances beyond their control, but in need of each other. It is set in a holiday camp by a lake, and tells a lovely story about love, friendship, and working together to make something happen. The women in all her books are really strong, and usually have a special sense, which makes the tale even more enchanting.

The next book I read was so inspiring. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion, by Fannie Flagg, who wrote Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, which is just fantastic! Anyway, this latest book was about a couple who emigrated from Poland to America, and opened a filling station in a small town, in the 1920s. They had several daughters, and each was taught how to manage the filling station, including basic mechanics, so they could do emergency repairs where necessary. They could all drive, and then one learned to fly, and as the war started, they all learned, and helped the war effort by delivering planes to where they were needed. This is such an amazing story! Talk about total girl power! I hadn't heard about what women did during the war in America, and it is just so impressive. This isn't just about flying and mechanics. There is romance, which leads to an unexpected twist, and brings the story to modern times. These women did so much during the war, and when it was over, their roles were taken over by soldiers returning from the frontline, and they were just expected to stop flying planes and return to their kitchens with no recognition. What a shock that must have been!

So, next I read Adriana Trigiani's book, The Supreme Macaroni Company. Again, her books are about strong female immigrants, this time from Italy. I love her books because they go into so much detail about Italian culture, food, and with this one, making quality, leather shoes. It makes me want to be an Italian living in America, returning home on a regular basis. My one criticism is that in all her books, the woman sounds a pain in the neck to be married to. That sounds harsh, but they seem very needy and confused when it comes to the men they love, and don't always treat them nicely. Despite that, I really enjoyed the book and look forward to more.

Now, on to the men. I have loved most of Michael Crichton's books. I don't like his more recent ones, like Rising Sun, Disclosure, Prey, and I think it is because they are too realistic. Jurassic Park (so much better than the film), Congo, Sphere, could all possibly happen, but probably not. Anyway, he started writing to make money while he was a medical student, and he wrote under another name, John Lange, which I have only recently discovered. These books are brilliant, quite sexist, due to the time they were written, but great. I have just read The Venom Business about a man who smuggles ancient artefacts, by hiding them among venomous snakes as a distraction. It is an action adventure thriller, with twists throughout, and it is very creative. I can't compare him with anyone because he has such a unique style. Might not suit everyone, because there is a lot of machismo, but it is very entertaining and well-written.

So finally, my wildcard. I love the film Grand Budapest Hotel. Total genius, and I discovered that it was based on the writings of Stefan Zweig, an intriguing author whose books were banned by the Nazis, and who fled with his wife to Brazil, where they killed themselves. I wanted to read his books, and randomly chose Beware of Pity. It was a wonderful, albeit frenetic surprise! Set in the Austria-Hungary, just before the start of World War I, it tells the story of Lieutenant Anton Hoffmuller, who takes pity on the crippled daughter of a wealthy business man, who is delighted with the friendship. It is a wonderful yet tragic story about friendship, misunderstanding, and pity. I really enjoyed it, although I found the emotional feelings both exhausting and engaging. Usually you read about the hysterical emotional female, so it was interesting to read about the Lieutenant's conflicting emotions and how he deals with them. It is told in the first person of Lieutenant Hoffmuller, so you really feel the roller coaster of emotions that he goes through, it is a superb piece of writing, and well done to Wes Anderson, director of Grand Budapest Hotel, for perfectly translating the style and characters so accurately. While the film isn't about this book, I could definitely recognise similarities between the style and the characters.

So that's that. Now I can feel less guilty about starting my next book. I hope I have given you some books for thought. Remember to share your recommendations too!