Reading lately – May 2015

I fell off the wagon a bit with reading this month, so just a couple of books to mention. I always struggle to get into the next book after reading one I’ve really enjoyed which is why I stalled in May. But I’ve just started The Flight of the Maidens so hopefully June will go better.

The Well-Versed Family by Caroline Boykin

I heard Caroline speaking on the God Centred Mom podcast and was so inspired I went and bought her book before the episode even finished. Which was a blessing as I’ve already finished it, but also a mistake as they mention at the end of the podcast that the second edition has just come out. If you’re interested you may want to look out for that, but I can say the first edition was great too. It’s practical, inspiring and encouraging. Everything refers back to the Bible, and I’m so excited to start teaching the little one scripture and helping him learn to apply it to life in a year or so.

Disciplines of a Godly Family by Kent and Barbara Hughes

This wasn’t as accessible, but still had a lot of good points and ideas. The authors go into great detail about their own experiences and strategies which I don’t think would work for every family. I found their chapter on praying for your children particularly useful and it’s inspired me to be much more structured, specific and intentional about praying for the little one.

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Reading lately – March/April 2015

IMG_0453I completely missed posting in March so here’s a double batch of my reads from the last couple of months…

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

This is a good and slightly creepy mystery, which was originally published as a young adult novel in Spain. The main characters, a group of sixteen year olds from a Calcutta orphanage are very varied and I’d have loved to have heard more about some of them. The plot centres around one of the group, Ben and his long lost twin sister but I actually found some of the others more intriguing. The twins are stalked by a figure from their past who has vowed revenge – nothing very original but as you’d expect from the author of The Shadow of the Wind, it is well written and held my interest. It is a YA novel so doesn’t have the length or depth that would have made it a really good book but that doesn’t stop it being a fun read and definitely one to recommend to any teenagers you might know.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday

There was a lot I enjoyed about this book. Characters with depth and some that even developed throughout the novel. Some I liked, some who were awful. A wide range of themes were touched on – love, faith, friendship, fishing, engineering, politics, a little about Yemen itself. The story is told through diary entries, letters, interviews, emails and extracts from an autobiography. It progresses at an engaging pace and the constant shifts in narrator and style keep it fresh. I was surprised by the ending and am not sure whether it is satisfying, but it certainly didn’t disappoint. I have already passed this book on so it missed the photo call, and I would suggest giving it a try if you are looking for a new read.

The Uglies series by Scott Westerfield

My sister lent me all four of these and I raced through them in a week of naptimes. They were a fun and quick read, but I never warmed to the main character as she complained for most of the four books. It’s dystopian teen fiction but it’s no The Hunger Games, which pretty much forms my benchmark for the genre.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

I don’t usually read short stories as I like to get absorbed in a book and spend a while with the characters. BUT. This was great and made me think I should try more collections like these. It opened windows into transitional periods of time in the lives of couples, families, communities and individuals and explored all sorts of themes. The people are all Indian emigrants in the US, and the juxtaposition of the two cultures was the best bit about the stories. My favourite was The Third and Final Continent, which followed a man, used to bachelorhood, as he awaits and then adjusts to the arrival of his new wife. Their growing together is painful, sweet, and finally, hopeful.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Despite my enjoyment of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, this was the winner of the stack this time around. It follows Sarah (the daughter of a rich plantation owner in 19th century South Carolina), and Hetty (the 10 year old slave presented to Sarah on her 11th birthday). Sarah has strong anti-slavery views, and Hetty is encouraged by her mother to understand that no one really owns her, so both girls face opposition as they become friends, grow up, grow apart and as the anti-slavery movement grows. It is inspired by the real Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina’s involvement in the abolishionist movement, and also touches on women’s rights, love and desire for parental acceptance. It’s beautifully written with strong voices from both protagonists, and has left me keen to read more of Sue Monk Kidd’s work – particularly The Secret Life of Bees which I’ve heard good things about.

Reading lately – February 2015

My efforts to bring reading back into life have been going well. In the last month I’ve enjoyed…

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I liked this book a lot. The writing is good and doesn’t get in the way of the story. The characters are complicated, their depths explored but never completely opened to the reader. There are secrets, some of which are revealed and others that remain hidden. There are mysteries and twists I saw coming, and some that took me by surprise. The lady who sold me the book in Waterstones gave it a glowing recommendation, and the man next to her behind the counter recommended The Bees so that is next on my wish list.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

This is a beautiful story about a man, a life, his wife, their marriage, friendships long and fleeting, walking, England, acceptance…the list goes on and on. Harold is a wonderful character who goes from passive despair to determined hope. One day he receives a letter telling him that an old friend is dying. He sets out to post his reply and keeps walking. Rachel Joyce has also written a follow up about the woman he walks towards – The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy – so that is also on my list.

imageTooth and Nail by Ian Rankin

I am a big fan of mysteries so enjoyed this book from that point of view. I’d not read any of Rankin’s work before but it was lying around the house so I gave it a go. It’s a bit graphic and dark for my tastes, but it was a good story and a satisfying ending. The detective, Rebus, isn’t perfect but he’s very likeable and Rankin is an engaging writer.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera (translated by Sonia Soto)

I’m undecided about this novel. I’m pretty sure I won’t read it again but I did like it. I just wanted and expected to like it more. For me there wasn’t quite enough action, and a bit too much philosophical discussion – but that is exactly the problem I think the community featured have identified in the modern world. The main character, Miss Prim is supposed to be educated and sensible but seemed to flit around, constantly being unsettled and flustered by the views and ideas of those around her. She takes herself very seriously and while tolerant, seems determined not to be persuaded by any one else’s viewpoint. I think if you enjoyed Sophie’s World this might be something you enjoy, and for that reason I’ll be passing it on to my sister. It’s also worth noting that it has been translated – it’s well done but it also reminded me of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. That too contained a bit too much philosophy and too little action for my liking – but again, if you enjoyed it, maybe it is worth giving The Awakening of Miss Prim a try.

Let me know if you’ve read any of these if you’d like, I’d love to hear another perspective on them.

Books lately – January 2015

IMG_5622One of the things that has fallen by the wayside since becoming a stay at home mother (and giving up the hour long train journey into London and back) has been time to sit and read. This Christmas holiday I have loved getting stuck into a few books and wanted to share some thoughts…

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

It took me ages to pick this up, mainly because I knew from the blurb it would be quite a serious read. I was right, but I’m so glad I got around to it. The writing is beautiful, and I alway love to read about times and places I’m unfamiliar with. This is set in Malaya before, during and after the second world war, as the Japanese prepare to, and then finally invade before being driven out after Pearl Harbour. It follows an English-Chinese boy, Philip. He is torn between his duty to his family, their company, his home of Penang and his duty to and love for his Japanese martial arts master Endo-san.

It is fascinating to see how choices made with the best intentions have devastating results, how cultures collide, and how relationships can be good and also destructive all at once. Philip’s actions and alliances have far bigger implications that he realises. It is very gripping and I’d definitely recommend it. If you’ve already enjoyed it, try The Garden of Evening Mists also by Tan Twan Eng.

The Cookoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

As most people will know, J K Rowling wrote The Cookoo’s Calling under a pseudonym before being outed by the media as it’s author. I enjoyed reading it in the light of this, and wondered whether I’d have spotted the similarity in style which I can now see clearly. This is a fun and gripping murder mystery. It’s not a children’s book (a bit more ‘language’ than in Harry Potter!), but isn’t hard to lose yourself in. Mysteries are one of my favourite genres so I found the ending a little predictable but it was very enjoyable anyway. The biggest draw for me was the two main characters – detective Cormoran Strike and his new receptionist/secretary, Robin. We see the story unfold from both perspectives, which I think adds to the telling. Robin is efficient, keen and observant but doesn’t yet have Strike’s experience. I liked the interplay between the two of them as well – it was good to see their working relationship and friendship developing as both also juggle intrusive personal lives. I’ll look forward to reading more – a follow up book, The Silkworm is out and I’m hopeful there will be more!

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

A really interesting book. There is a basic mystery – when Rosemary was five, she was sent to her grandparents’ house. When she returned home, her sister Fern was gone. The first half of the book leads up to a twist which I won’t reveal. At the time the twist was disappointing – it was not at all what I expected and changed the book completely. After a while I decided I liked the twist – it’s unusal for the premise of the story to be so turned on its head, and as a reader it was challenging to let go of my ideas of what the book was, and to enjoy the reality. It became a story about family relationships, trust, morality and loss. In the end the story it became was even better than the one I’d hoped for. The ending was satisfying, and hopeful. Definitely one I’d recommend. I’ve skirted around the main theme so as not to give away anything important, but let me know if you’ve read it and what you think – I’d love to hear someone else’s perspective!

I was excited to receive a Waterstones gift card for Christmas, and have queued up The Awakening of Miss Prim, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and The Miniaturist to read next. I’ll be back with some more thoughts in a few months…

Ten minute book review: Starter for Ten

Starter for TenAuthor: David Nicholls (Also wrote One Day).

Main character: Brian Jackson, first year university student. Lazy, bad spots, has a habit of making terrible jokes at just the wrong moment.

The story: Starter for Ten follows Brian as he heads off to university where he meets beautiful fellow student Alice. He is determined both to win her love and to appear on University Challenge. The everyday happenings of Brian’s life are nothing out of the ordinary but his internal monologue and uncomfortably accurate awareness of what others think of him (and occasionally, lack of it) are what made this book stand out for me.

In three words: Funny, real, awkward.

Read again: No, but I’d read more of Nicholls’ books.