Sunday, 29 March 2015

The latest reads

I'm still working my way through the reading challenge and have ticked off a few more books since my last posting.

'The Family Man' by Elinor Lipman ticked off the book 'written by someone with the same initials as yourself'. I've read a few of her novels, but not for some time, so it was good to pick this one off the shelves and give it another read. Henry Archer is a successful lonely who feels something missing from his life. Then into his life comes Thalia, his estranged step-daughter, at a point in her life when a positive male influence is needed. The two coming together brings chaos into Henry's otherwise rather staid life, but can this be a good thing for everyone?

Anne Tyler's 'Celestial Navigation' is a book by one of my favourite authors which I thought I had read,  but hadn't, so that ticked another box. Although I love all her writing, the earlier novels aren't my favourites - this was written in 1974 and I feel her writing has improved so much over the years.  This is the story of Jeremy, a single man who's never left home, living alone with boarders in the house to help pay for the upkeep.  He doesn't work, just spends his time in his own world, making paper sculptures, and then his mother dies, his life changes, and changes even more so when Mary Tell and her daughter enter his life.

'The Restoration of Otto Laird' by Nigel Packer was one of those books reviewed on Laura's blog I think, and the idea behind the story, the cover, both appealed - another box ticked here. In his time Otto Laird was an award winning architect, but these days he is living out his life in Switzerland with his second wife. A quiet life, which suits him, until one day he learns of a campaign to demolish an iconic tower block he designed in London and he feels obliged to get involved in the campaign to save the building. This entails him going to London and staying in one of the flats in the block for a few days, where he is filmed for a documentary about the building, and where he has time to go visiting his old haunts, where not surprisingly, memories of the past and his first wife, come back to him.

As a child growing up, holidays with my parents were always spent in hotels, from Cornwall to the west coast of Scotland, with Wales in between. My father would never have considered going to a holiday camp, and I don't know anyone who has been to one. As someone who is interested in social history, and knowing nothing about holiday camps other than the versions seen on television, this next book appealed to me with it's bright cover, reminding me of growing up near Blackpool in its heyday of the Fifties through to the Seventies, the brashness of it all, the OTT-ness of it all too. 'Wish You Were Here' by Lynn Russell and Neil Hanson tells the real life stories of seven girls who worked as redcoats at the famous Billy Butlins' holiday camps in what has been called their 'Golden Age', the 1950s to the 1970s. Although they all moved on eventually, the friendships formed in those early days, when they were all very young and away from home for the first time in most cases, endure now. As do holiday camps, or holiday parks as they are often known, presumably to give them a more modern image.

Jodi Picoult's latest book, 'Leaving Time' is the story of Jenna, a young girl who was with her mother the night she disappeared, and in the ten years since that time, she has wanted to know if her mother is still alive or is dead, did she want to leave her baby behind or was she somehow forced to? She enlists the help of an ex-cop and a psychic, an unlikely pairing. But there is a tremendous twist to this story, coming right at the end, which surprised me - and I'm not going to tell you!

Debbie Macomber's 'A Mother's Wish' and 'Father's Day' are two novellas in one book, very light reading. But sometimes that's what you need, something that won't take too much concentration, that you can just read as light relief. The endings are rather predictable once you've read the beginnings.... in the first, a teenage daughter decides it's time her divorced, attractive mum begins dating again and so with a friend, she sets up a profile for her on a dating website and then vets the responses. The man she chooses may not be the ideal man after all, or so she is led to believe, but by then her mother has fallen for him, and vice versa. Can he win over the daughter? Course he can..... and in the second novella, a single mum with a ten year old boy who wants a dog but can't have one yet, move next door to a single man with a dog who doesn't much like women or children it seems. Nothing too taxing as I say, but sometimes that's good for a change.

'The Awakening of Miss Prim' by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, one of those books bought because I spotted on someone else's blog, and loved the cover, which is busy, busy, busy with small illustrations - a house, a chair, a pile of books, a pair of gloves, an old gramophone and more besides - and wasn't disappointed. Miss Prim takes up the position of assistant to the Man in the Wingchair, helping catalogue his library, in a small village. Prudencia Prim hoped to find friends in the village, but she found more than that. Is there a happy ending? Read it and see....

Thanks for dropping by and I hope your gardens are full of Spring loveliness like mine.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Working my way through a reading challenge

I like a challenge. I like the idea of perhaps reading books I wouldn't normally read, expanding my horizons you might say, taking myself out of my reading comfort zone. So why are none of the above particularly challenging, or out of my comfort zone I wonder? Well, perhaps The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang wouldn't be my normal choice, but one of the boxed to be ticked on my reading challenge list was 'A book you can finish in a day', and this was it. A charming little story about... well, a hen who dreamed she could fly as it says. The hen is called Sprout, tired of laying eggs that get taken away from her, and just wanting to hatch a chick, be a mum. She escapes from the coop, runs off into the woods and there discovers an unhatched egg, still warm. Nobody arrives to claim it, so she sits on it.... and if you want to know what happens, you'll have to read the book!

Another book ticked off was 'A book with more than 500 pages' and for this I chose 'American Wife' by Curtis Sittenfeld, a novel about an American First Lady. I suppose if you are up on American politics, then you might be able to recognise some of the Administration characters, even the President and his First Lady. I have an idea who it is, but will keep that to myself in case I'm wrong. Alice Blackwell is the fictional First Lady, somewhat against her will and better judgement. She managed life fine as the wife of a State Governor, but when he ran for, and became President, their life changed dramatically, not least because of the security around her which meant leading a 'normal' life was out of the question for her, her husband and their daughter.

I have long been a fan of Carol Shields, so when I saw this book, 'A Celibate Season' written in collaboration with another American writer, I had to read it. Charles and Jocelyn (Chas and Jock) are separated when Jock goes away to work for a year. They continue their relationship by letter, and this is how the novel is made up, letters between them, a rather old-fashioned method of keeping in touch they both agreed on in preference to emails. Their marriage, previously strong, begins to suffer under the strain of separation, she is too far away for frequent trips home, and the few they manage to arrange turn out disastrously for one reason or another. When Jock is given the chance to extend her job, she is tempted, but the chance comes to nothing in the end, but will going back home to the usual routine of married life, help heal the rift?

A couple of other categories have been ticked off this month also with 'The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes' by Anna McPartlin about Rabbit, a woman in her forties, dying from terminal illness and spending her last days in a hospice. Sad at times of course, but also positive on other levels. And Anne Tyler's 'A Spool of Blue Thread' ticked off another. I have all her books and she is one of those writers who for me, never fails to please. This is the story of Abby and Red Whitshank, young lovers now married for several decades, getting older and with a family wondering how best to take care of them in their older age. Abby begins going walkabout, not remembering where she is going, which adds to the families concerns. A story of enduring love.

'Chances' by Freya North is the story of Vita who runs a gift shop, not a very profitable one as her ex-husband Tim, is always too quick to point out. Oliver runs his own tree surgery company, with a secret love life. When he and Vita meet, there is a chance that for both of them, this could be the start of something big, they are being given a chance to make fresh starts, but will they see this?

And Melissa Hill's 'A Gift to Remember' was a cross-over book, almost finished last month end, but not quite, and now done so it appears on two blog posts. About a girl who works in a bookshop, and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I can't resist such a setting for works of fiction and also books of non-fiction. Darcy works in a bookshop, is a keen cyclist, and one day accidentally knocks over a gentleman, who ends up in hospital, with no memory! She has taken charge of the dog that was with him, out of guilt more than concern for the dog initially, and each day visits the hospital, wondering when he will realise that she is the cause of his being there. And when he does, what will happen, because of course, by then, she's rather fallen for the handsome stranger.

Looking forward to sharing this on Laura's blog at

Thanks for reading.