Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fine just the way it is

Annie Proulx has such a distinct style, and her latest collection of short stories reflects this. Fine Just The Way It Is: Wyoming Stories, tells the stories of the lives of mainly cowboys, although there is one story about indians. She is quite blunt and covers topics including domestic violence and rape. But even when she is writing about these difficult subjects, she adds a strange sort of beauty. Her stories are really poetic and she has such a striking way with words. Even though the subject matter is hard to read about, her words are like a balm and her stories are an absolute pleasure to read.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Italian romance

Maeve Binchy's Evening Class, is set in Dublin and builds on existing characters from her previous books, and introducing new ones. The main character is Signora, a disgraced Irish lady who follows her true love to Italy and then watches him marry someone else. Rather than feeling sorry for herself, she manages to enchant and delight with her simple approach to life and love, and manages to transform the lives of the people around her, both in Italy and Ireland. It is a lovely story with great characters. There is one harsh scene, involving domestic violence, but she handles it well.

So, now all there is left for me to do is to wish you a Merry Christmas. Hope we all get lots of books to read. Let me know your recommendations.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More Debbie Macomber

I am really enjoying reading Debbie Macomber's books. They are heart-warming and have innovative plots, like the one I have just read. 16 Lighthouse Road, one of a series of books set in Cedar Cove, a small town, starts off with a scandal, where a young couple petitioning for a divorce, are refused by the Judge on the grounds that they haven't tried to make their marriage work. I know that sometimes marriages just don't work, but sometimes I do feel that it is too easy to just split up. Anyway, it is a good, easy-to-read story, with romance, sadness (not everyone gets a happy ending) and mystery. Debbie also has her own website where she shares knitting patterns and recipes.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Twenty wishes!!!

I have just finished a lovely story by Debbie Macomber called Twenty Wishes. It's about a group of widows, both young and old who, while 'celebrating' St Valentines Day together, decide to create lists of their twenty wishes - not things they should have or do, but things they have always wanted to have or do. Not only do they create their own lists but they also inspire others - including me - to write theirs. It is a simple story and demonstrates that when you get what you wish for, it might not be in the way that you expected. So my wish list (not necessarily in this order) starts as follows (because you don't have to compile the whole list immediately):
  1. to learn how to make stained glass windows
  2. to go cross-country skiing
  3. to go to the Boon Lotte Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand - you can read the story of how it was created here -truly inspiring
  4. to do something worthwhile
  5. to swim with tropical fish in their natural environment (as long as I am not upsetting them)
  6. to learn to knit properly
  7. to learn falconry (as long as it is not distressing to the birds)
  8. to make cakes
  9. to open a bookshop
  10. to become a photographer
  11. to write a blog about how to find good quality patient information on the Internet

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Christmas spirit

I have just finished Last Christmas by Julia Williams, and it was a great read, especially for Christmas. It is set around a small, rural village in Shropshire, called Hope Christmas, and describes the lives of people living in the village or associated with it. There are stories of highs and lows, and real-life issues are dealt with, including mental health, heartbreak, and redundancy. But thanks to a saintly character called Ralph Nicholas, the world is put to rights. It is a lovely story, which makes you feel good inside.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Christmas is coming...

Well, I finally managed to find a nice, romantic book to read. Fairytale of New York by Miranda Dickinson is a lovely story, set in New York, about a broken-hearted, England-born florist and her friends. Although the main character is a little irritating - she refers to everyone as "mate" which kind of reminds me of Dick Van Dyke doing his cockney impression in Mary Poppins, and also, it is obvious who her true love is - you can't help but envy her life. There are wonderful descriptions of New York and the flower industry, and there are great characters, with some really beautiful, tender love scenes in it, which gave me goosebumps. It is a good book for the holiday period, just right for curling up in front of the firewith a box of chocolates and a glass of wine.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Misleading quotes on book covers!

I have just given up on a book, something I try to avoid. But I just wanted something lighthearted and magical, to get me in the mood for Christmas and this wasn't it. When I saw The Gift by Cecelia Ahern, described as 'A seasonal tale of love and friendship', 'A heavenly gift that speaks to the heart', 'Heart-warming, emotional, funny and filled with unexpected twists', I thought, perfect! I was so wrong. I persevered until page 176 of 305 pages, but I was just getting so irritated with the main character that I just decided I could not read any more. I found the story was so full of anger, betrayal, deceit, sadness, that I was just feeling depressed rather than uplifted. It was very disappointing. It does bother me when the quotes from reviewers on the book covers don't reflect the content of the book. But I guess that is my opinion. Other people might like it. I think, for me, my favourite Christmas book is still A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg. Now that has magic and kindness, and makes me feel good inside.You can read my original review here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Host...a pleasant surprise

Those of you who know me will know that I am a HUGE fan of the Twilight series, written by Stephenie Meyer. Host is written for adults, whereas Twilight was aimed at teenagers, and i think that you can notice a difference. It has taken me a long time to consider reading Host, I guess, because I didn't want to be disappointed. Anyway, I finally succumbed and added it to my 3 for 2 purchases, and well, wow...I was very pleasantly surprised. It is different from the Twilight series and quite sci-fi, which is not my usual genre. However, it does tackle the related issue of inter-species relationships. I found it really thought-provoking and so imaginative as the author describes the populations on different planets, and the differences in emotions of each species. It was also very much a love story, and I really wondered how the author would work it out so that everyone would end up happy. The ending did not disappoint. I really recommend reading Host. It is unusual, a bit slow to start, but completely captivating.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Cook book

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the famous food writer and cook, Prue Leith, writes fictional novels too. Choral Society is about three women in their fifties who are going through different life challenges, and meet at a choir meeting. They are completely different from each other, but become great friends. It is a very empowering story, and good to read a book demonstrating that you don't have to have a man to be successful and that life doesn't end at 30. It was a good, easy read, and really interesting. I learnt so much about food-writing, and food photography. Made me want to have a go. Plus there was the bonus that the book was set in Yorkshire, Cotswolds, London and Cornwall, all wonderful places in England.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Witch trials!

Seemingly appropriate for Halloween, but this was no treat for those involved. I have just finished reading Kathleen Kent's The Heretic's Daughter. I was in two minds when I bought it, because there have been so many stories about the Salem witch. However, this one has been written by a direct descendent of one of the accused. It was brilliantly written; so hard to read in places, because of the treatment of the accused women and men. The bravery of the children - their horrific treatment was so vividly described, I felt in awe of their survival skills. They never gave up, they plead their innocence. You just cannot fathom how human beings can treat each other so cruelly. It was a harsh, but excellent read, and has inspired me to find out more about this tragic event.

Monday, October 26, 2009

New author alert!

I found this book quite by accident, and it turned out to be a three for the price of two, which was even better, and it was two books in one, so absolute bargain! Anyway, Christmas in Seattle by Debbie Macomber, is not an intellectual book, but it was a lovely read; gentle, romantic, and with fun characters. Both books were entirely predictable, and yet surprising. By that I mean, you knew which couples would become romantically involved, but when it happened, it was perfectly timed, and just made you smile. It was a really easy read, and very pleasant.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Historical novels

I have just finished The Memory Garden, by Rachel Hore. It was enjoyable, because it flashed back to the story of an artist in Cornwall in the early 1900s. I became a little frustrated by the main character who seemed so dependent on the male characters. She could have been such a strong character on her own, but I suppose there would not have been the drama. I would have loved to have known how the house and garden would turn out. It was beautifully described and makes me envious of anyone living in Cornwall. So, it has been well-written, and it was easy to read. It is now 9.25pm and the bookshops are closed! What shall I read now?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Vintage style

I have just read A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff, and it was just a perfectly lovely read. My only bugbear is the misleading quotes on the back of the book. From the Express, 'A warm, witty, romantic comedy. Perfect!' Now I suspect this is the fault of the publisher, Harper Collins, who may have used a quote from another of Isabel Wolff's books. This book was not a romantic comedy. It was very touching, and quite sad in places about a woman who has suffered great pain and re-starts her life by opening a vintage dress shop. The book is about the people she meets through her shop, and the magical effect her vintage clothes have on their lives. One of the people she meets has been harbouring a tragic secret since the second world war, and the story, although sad, is beautifully and movingly told. The descriptions of the clothes will make this story of interest to anyone interested in fashion. The history brings life to the characters, and the complicated relationships, add more drama and reality to the story. I really enjoyed it, although it wasn't what I was expecting, having read the reviews on the back cover.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Espionage and mystery!

Well, I finished Elizabeth Edmondson's Voyage of Innocence. I thought it had been written earlier than the others, because it was a slightly harsher style. It was very good, but slightly dark in places as some of the main male characters seemed to struggle with the battle of their sexuality versus their position and status. The story was about a group of students at Oxford who were discovering themselves and dabbling in politics without understanding the whole context, ending in often tragic consequences. The story described the inequities between rich and poor, and the confusion that arose in these youngsters, following them in the events leading up to World War II and ending with a boat journey to India. The story covers mystery, espionage, religion, and romance, and ends surprisingly.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Different styles and new authors

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff was my risk book, the third choice in my three for two purchase. It was really quirky, and entertaining, revolving around a young archaeologist, returning home following a disastrous affair. However, once home, her mother drops a bombshell, and she spends her time discovering the mystery and working out the issues in her life. I really enjoyed this book.

I reverted back to childhood again after reading this book and read Little Grey Rabbit's Second Storybook, which was just lovely; gorgeous pictures by Margaret Tempest, and magical stories by Alison Uttley. Unfortunately, no longer in print, but I managed to get a copy from eBay.

Then, I read another Elizabeth Edmondson book, The Art of Love. This was similar in style to The Villa in Italy, but set in a different country, focusing on a girl about to embark on a marriage that she isn't quite ready for. Again, this book is about a girl who discovers that she isn't who she thought she was and has to find some answers. This was also a really good story, with beautiful descriptions, and interesting characters. I am now reading another book by the same author, although older, so I will let you know what I think in my next blog.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Too many books to remember!

Well, this is going to be a long post, because all I have done this Summer is read, walk, take photos, and embroider patterns. I have had a lovely time after devising a timetable to improve my work-life balance.

Now, I thought I had blogged about the House of Riverton, a book by Kate Morton, that I read before The Forgotten Garden. They are similar styles, flitting between eras, 1920s and the 1990s, tracing the history of a house and the characters that live inside. Absolutely, lovely story, with colourful characters, mystery, and love.

I had five books for my Summer reading, and only one failed. Unfortunately, the sequel to the Friday Night Knitting Club, Knit Two, by Kate Jacobs, was a disappointment, to the extent that I have disposed of it. I loved the first one and also Comfort Food, but this one just did not engage me. I didn't feel anything for the characters and it just felt rushed. Such a shame!

So, after that one, I read the American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld. I had read Prep and thoroughly enjoyed it, but when I read the back cover of this one, it just seemed completely different. Prep was about teenagers and based in a school, where as this is loosely based on the life of Laura Bush. It is a really interesting read, a love story about a couple who cope with life's ups and downs, and support each other right the way to the top! At the start of the book, you really cannot imagine how they might get there. Again, great characters, and a really interesting story about America, and the political system there.

Next I read, The Lost Book of Salem (known as The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, as of April 2010) by Katherine Howe. I thought it would be in the style of Da Vinci Code, eg a typical holiday read, but it was better. It was full of facts about the witch trials in Salem, with links to further information, and there was lots of reference to herbalism, which I found interesting. This book also travelled between time periods, and it was clever the way the author changed the dialects.

Finally, I read The Villa in Italy, by Elizabeth Edmondson, which was fabulous. It is about a group of four strangers who are sent to a beautiful villa in Italy as recipients of a will belonging to someone none of them seem to know. The story unravels as they face their demons, and learn more about themselves, and each other, aswell as the gorgeous location where they are staying. I really enjoyed this book. Such interesting characters, with unexpected sides to them. I am looking forward to reading more of this author.

In between books, I rediscovered a childhood favourite of mine, which unfortunately is no longer available in print - Little Grey Rabbit's Storybook by Alison Uttley. It is such a magical storybook. I love the pictures by Margaret Tempest, and the simplicity of the stories.

So that's it for now...time for another trip to the book shop. Although, with my new timetable, I am trying to do some writing of my own, although a non-fiction book, rather than fiction. I just don't have the imagination as these authors do.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Storytelling at its best!

Once again, I took advantage of the 3 for 2 at Waterstones. I bought Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. I loved The Namesake, and this one is good, although quite sad. It is a compilation of short stories describing the differences in experiences of immigrant parents and their children. They just all seemed to be a bit lost. It was engrossing though and very vivid. I felt that all the characters were so real, and perhaps that is what made me feel quite emotional about it.

The next book I read was, The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I loved this one and became completely lost in the creativity. The story was so clever, jumping through three generations, across two continents, while unravelling a mystery, and changing complete writing style, by including fairy tales, created by a fictional author. It was just fantastic, and the fairy tales, so beautiful. I just couldn't put it down.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Complicated relationships

I picked up Brother of the More Famous Jack, because I had already read, and enjoyed, another book by Barbara Trapido. It took me too attempts to get into it, but once I got going, I couldn't stop. It was quite graphic and harsh in places, about sex and relationships, but was set around the glorious beauty of genuine love. It was a story about a young, innocent girl, and her friendship with her college tutor and his family. There is humour and sadness, decorated with colourful descriptions. It was very enjoyable, although not an easy read in places. But the compassion definitely made you feel good.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Book binge!

I can't believe that it has taken me so long to update this blog, but I guess, there have been holidays and of course loads of work. I had a bit of a Chalet School fest, reading about four books which I bought from eBay, a good source for books that are no longer in print.

I also bought The Third Angel which is just such a beautiful, but tragic love story. Alice Hoffman writes about such sad events, but with such beauty and gentleness. She also tackles the death of a lover which such dignity. It was so moving, but this wasn't the entire focus of the book. This story links a variety of characters over a period of about fifty years, focused around the events in a hotel and two sisters. I just loved it.

And now, I am reading The Glass Painter's Daughter which I am really enjoying. I would love to do a stained glass workshop now. I am learning so much about glass and also choirs, and it is a wonderful story with a mystery based on a historical journal. I am struggling to put it down. But alas, responsibilities beckon...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Amazing imagination!

Kazuo Ishiguro amazes me. His books are so different and so convincing. He must be so intelligent to have gathered such a wealth of experience and knowledge. I have just finished Never Let Me Go. It is a strange topic, which I won't divulge because you really wouldn't guess from the description on the back cover and I wouldn't want to ruin the plot. In honesty, the subject material did make me uncomfortable, but in a good way, because it made me question man's current behaviour. It was so believable, and the characters were endearing. I am just full of awe that someone can come up with a story like this. It is just so different to Remains of the Day, which was equally brilliant. I have read three of his books so far, set in different eras, and about people's lives. Really enjoyable.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Latest readings...

My mother-in-law left a Maeve Binchy for me to read, Quentins. It was a lovely story, set around a restaurant in Dublin and focused on several people. It was quite dramatic in places, with extra-marital affairs, fraud, but also love, friendship, everything required to make al lovely read.

I have also read another of Elinor Lipman's books, Isabel's Bed, which, although it wasn't as good as my favourite, was sufficiently entertaining. It also had my dream job, ghost-writing, by the sea...actually, anything by the sea would be good.

I caught up with The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the fairytale book in Harry Potter, written by JK Rowling. It was very interesting because each story was followed by commentary by Professor Dumbledore. Very inventive.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Final Twilight for now

I have just finished the fourth book in the Twilight saga, Breaking Dawn. This was quite a bit darker towards the start, to the extent that I did worry about younger teenagers reading it. I won't say what it was about because I don't want to spoil the plot. It was entirely compelling, and I really enjoyed it. The end was perfect, and the ideas, and the complexities in the story were fantastic. The author, Stephenie Meyer has started writing another book with the Cullen household, Midnight Sun, which tells the story from Edward's point of view. Unfortunately, it was leaked onto the Internet, and so the author has stopped writing this for now, which is sad. She has however, made Chapter 1 and a partial draft of Midnight Sun officially available on her website. (This material is copyrighted by Stephenie Meyer.)

I did see the film Twilight, and I really enjoyed it. I know it was different to the book, but I think it was really well done. It was quite raw and slow, in a good way. I hope that now they have greater investment, it won't lose those qualities. The effects and the shots were superb. I am disappointed that they are changing directors, but shall wait for New Moon with an open mind.

Okay, while I am still obsessed with the Twilight saga, I am going to read other books now. I started reading The Tales of Beedle the Bard last night, but JK Rowling. She really is incredible the way she comes up with these ideas.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Author websites

Many authors are setting up their own websites now, to support their publications. They often have guidance for authors, book clubs, and additional resources, such as recipes, and information about the history of where the stories are set. These are some of my favourite websites:

I am sure there are many other great author websites. Please let me know of any.

Twilight - saga continues

I can't believe that I only started reading the Twilight saga on the 23rd December! I am now onto the third book. New Moon was brilliant, just as thrilling, romantic, well-written, as the first one. I wasn't sure if the suspense could continue; how the story could continue, but it has, and also into the third, Eclipse. I am going to have to find time for another trip to the bookshop for the next book! I think I am turning into a chain-reader!