The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I do my best to try new authors as much as I can and not necessarily rush to read the same authors in quick succession. However, very much like Patrice Lawrence, I discovered the writing of Kiran Millwood Hargrave earlier this year when I read ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’, and when I spotted ‘The Island at the End of Everything’, I knew I had to give it a go.

The attraction of this book is that (very much like her previous book) the adventure takes place on exotic shores, and there is a strong female lead who does not let anything hold her back. In fact, Ami uses her experiences to make her the strong and independent young lady that she is, even though, for many of us, her experience could be beyond our imagination. For me, there was a strong Dickensian feel to this story, as the cruel Mr Zamora arrives and changes her life for ever. Along the bumpy road of life that unfolds, it is love that is central to her motivation and determination. As the reader of the novel, you go through a roller coaster of emotions – always rooting for a happy conclusion.

A very clever feature of the story is the use of the butterfly; to describe this in too much detail could spoil the read for others (similar to oversharing the setting), but it is such a clever link throughout the tale. For me, it is mainly a reminder of the importance of the fragility of life and the sheer beauty that the adventure of life can be.

This is a beautifully written story that will keep you gripped from start to finish – you will not be able to stop yourself from getting drawn in.

Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence

Having read the award-winning ‘Orangeboy’ earlier this year, I was excited when I realised that ‘Indigo Donut’ would be published in mid July.

First of all, how can you not be intrigued by the title? It is a fabulous name for a book and a great way to be introduced to the lead character, ‘Indigo’. She is a fascinating character and, despite all the complex paths she has taken through life, has become a stronger fighter. However, it is the friendship of Bailey that makes her realise her true self-worth. It is a fascinating study of human nature and how we have a desire to know where we come from and what makes us ‘us’.

There is, similar to ‘Orangeboy’, a clever use of music and the love of music (in this case, a lot of Blondie), entwined in the narrative. I certainly need to find a copy of ‘Parallel Lines’ now and blast it out. (I am sure the neighbours wouldn’t mind.)

When, reading this, I laughed, I cried and I reflected on the importance of all the bonds and ties we make through life and how family can mean so many different things to so many different people.

So, go on, give this wonderful book a go.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that I love Shakespeare. I cannot quite quote the Bard, but I am a huge fan of the stories and the characters that he created for us – so, when I found out about the Hogarth Shakespeare project that was opening up the opportunity to give some of his most beloved plays a modern twist, I knew I had to read them.

So, I have started with ‘Vinegar Girl’ by Anne Tyler. This is a modern take on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, and Tyler’s writing certainly keeps the light-hearted charm of the tale. This version is set in America, with the lead character, Kate, doing her best to look after her father and sister, and keep her ‘expressive’ mouth and face under control.

Kate has not quite had the life she may have imagined, but is a little taken aback when her father suggests she should marry his lab assistant, Pytor, in order to secure his green card. There is a clear exploration of the relationships between the characters and how small things can lead to big changes. Image is also central to this story: the image that people try to portray, sometimes even leading to surprising discoveries about the ‘real’ people.

There is a charm to this book that does make it very difficult to put down. You find yourself rooting for almost every character as they almost haphazardly make their way through day-to-day life. And there is a happy ending, even if it is not a fairy tale.

This has certainly inspired me to have a go at all the others – the question, however, is which one?

The Girls by Emma Cline

I was convinced that this book was not for me – I did judge it by its cover, and all the hype over the last 12 months, and was absolutely convinced that it was not a book for me. However, when it came up as the #BookClub140 read on Twitter I thought I had better give it a go and not judge a book by its cover.

As soon as I picked it up, I was hooked. There is something so compelling about this book; I am not sure it is a comfortable read, but it is a book you certainly can not put down. The atmosphere that is conjured up on every page is mesmerizing and really draws you into the story. Told in reflection of a balmy summer in the 1960s, which to most of us would probably be a romantic image, but it holds a dark secret that will haunt Evie for the rest of her life. In fact, it more or less follows her wherever she goes as she gains unintentional fame. There are little hints throughout the story about the events that haunt her and you can not help but turn the pages to find out what exactly took place.

This tale also offers an interesting study of human nature. What exactly makes this collection of ‘misfits’ tick and why is it that they are willing to follow the lead of Russell, even if it has devastating consequences? It strikes a level of fear in you that people can be so vulnerable and so easily led, and that they may not consider the impact of any of their actions outside their inner circle.

This is a book that really makes you think and you may not be sure if you should enjoy it or not, but it is one that I really recommend you should add to your to-be-read pile this summer. You could even join the #BookClub140 chat on twitter at the end of the month.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This is a title that I had spotted in the bookshops many times but had never quite got around to picking up. However, not so long ago, a lovely friend handed it to me and simply said ‘You need to read this, you’ll love it.’ And she was right! (Don’t you love having friends who know you so well they can pick books for you?)

I won’t lie, I was mildly concerned about the length of the novel, as I am not usually one for weighty historical fiction. However, a huge part of the charm of this book is that it is written in short, sharp chapters that allow you to process the story and keep you turning the page.

The two central characters are so wonderful, you fall in love with them as soon as you start seeing their story unfold. Marie-Laure is a wonderfully strong female character. She shows that, against all odds, people find strength to survive and achieve their dreams. Werner, meanwhile, is a boy who clearly finds himself torn between the desire to do the right thing and to grab opportunities that will give him a ‘brighter’ future.

One of the real skills of this storytelling is the clever way that the stories of these two characters cross over. Ultimately, a random series of events but almost shared experience draws Marie-Laure and Werner together. We also see that there is always kindness and the desire to do the right thing, whatever side war may put you on.

The novel certainly has an emotional conclusion, but it is wonderful that it shows the power of happy memories and the kindness of strangers.

Have you read any books that you have found to be a real surprise with how much you loved them?

6 Months Blogging – Happy Half Birthday!

S0, 6 months ago today, Bookworm and Theatre Mouse was born. It was an idea that I had been thinking about for a while but I did not have the confidence to launch it until a good friend, Hayley from Home, encouraged me to give it a go and told me she would read it (so I knew I had one reader if nothing else!). I am so glad I did – and here are 6 reasons why…

  1. A chance to share what I love: Books and theatre are my passion and have been for a long time. It is a joy to be able to share my thoughts with you all about both of these subjects, and hopefully encourage other people to enjoy them too.
  2. The support of people out there: The messages on Instagram and Twitter that let me know that people have liked what I have written and visited my little blog.
  3. Discovering so many fabulous things: It has been a joy to check out other blogs and some great online companies that have a book, paper or theatre focus. There are so many talented people out there. Especially Ashley King for letting me have a sneak peek at his latest project ‘Witch for a Week.’
  4. Trying something new: This blog has encouraged me to look beyond the things I know I love and try new genres and styles. It has been a pleasure to see amazing plays that I wouldn’t have necessarily tried before, and discover brilliant authors and unforgettable books.
  5. A chance to do something different: Hobbies are so important and this is a great one. It also means that I find inspiration from the amazing community out there for my other hobbies (Harry Potter cross stitch is one of the best so far).
  6. Looking to the future: The chance to keep developing this blog is something I look forward to every day, learning new things and adding more little stories – bring on the next 6 months!

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

So, I have finally picked up this book – I know I am very late to the party with ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’.

I have heard so much about this book and Hayley from Home is a huge fan, so she inspired me to finally pick it up and give it a go (as well as it being the title for this month’s #BookClub140). I had a bit of an idea of the plot and, to be honest, I think that put me off for a while as it seemed a little bit depressing. However, I was so wrong; I could not put the book down and it really appealed to the history geek in me.

It is true that it is a rather hard-hitting storyline and there are clearly influences from our history that have helped form the plot, but I actually found it fascinating and thought provoking. It really does make you realise that we take an awful lot of our freedom for granted and that it is a delicate balance that avoids us slipping into such a terrifying reality.

The narrator’s voice is perfect throughout the novel. You empathise with her from the first line and you have a continuing desire to find out what her story is and where it may go; this is certainly what kept me turning the page. The characters were incredibly rounded and fascinating, considering their roles were so carefully defined in society. You do feel resentment towards those characters that appear to be privileged in society but they all, also, have demons that seem to be haunting them. There is the fear of not fulfilling the role you have been placed in, as well as the constant memory of the past and what may have been. The cliffhanger ending really does leave you with your imagination going off in all sorts of directions, never really knowing which are correct.

The final ‘chapter’ that suggests that this society is being studied is something that had really caught my imagination as a teacher. It left me thinking about the way we teach about societies of the past and when we may have been close to similar situations in our past.

I did not find this a difficult or harrowing read, but I am not sure that I am quite prepared for the television adaptation as this is taking the story out of my own safe imagination and possibly bringing it closer to reality.

Have you read any other of Margaret Atwood’s books? If so, where would you recommend me to venture next?

 

 

Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

I saw an article not so long ago that suggested that there were not enough lead female characters in children’s fiction, but yet again I have stumbled across another: Tiffany Aching is one of the most fabulous female lead characters I have encountered.

Tiffany encompasses the idea that girls can be courageous and ambitious and will not let the world that they live in hold them back. In fact, it was interesting at the end of the tale that Pratchett highlighted the fact that successful and heroic females do not always get the recognition that they deserve, but they are confident enough in their own abilities that they do not need public adoration.

As I am sure you can see, I loved reading ‘Wee Free Men’. There was a charm to the book from the moment you picked it up. It was full of Pratchett’s usual wit and humour that works on so many levels (adults can always enjoy his children’s books as much as his target audience) and the voice that he gave the ‘pictsies’ was spot on. I often found myself chuckling as I heard their ‘wee’ Scottish voices throughout the novel.

The foe of Tiffany is the ‘Queen’, who kidnaps her younger brother. With the help of the pictsies and a mildly grumpy toad, Tiffany has to fight the dreams that the Queen creates for her to try and get her brother home. Her inspiration throughout is Granny Aching, who she gets her strength of character from. It is quite an adventure for all involved.

So, I think I may have found one of my new favourite characters, as it is rather a lot of fun to join Tiffany on her adventures.

Letters from the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

I am a huge fan of Michael Morpurgo because he makes history accessible for readers of all ages, and Emma Carroll has done exactly the same with this lovely tale, ‘Letters from the Lighthouse’.

Set in WWII, it follows the adventures of Olive and her younger brother Cliff as they are evacuated from London to the Devonshire coast. Before they leave, their sister disappears during an air raid and the only clue to her disappearance appears to be a coded note and a link to the village the children are evacuated to. I do not like to give the plot away, other than to say this mystery intrigues Olive and Cliff while they embark on Devonshire life and move to the Lighthouse with the mysterious Ephraim.

What really delighted me about this tale is the cleverly interwoven lessons from history (as a history teacher, this is a real joy). Also, reading it this week especially, I found myself reflecting on the way that people will pull together in times of need, whatever their background.

The story is beautifully written with wonderful characters. It is a real page turner as every new question is raised or a new mystery solved. This is a story that will stay with me for a long time and I can not wait to share it with others.

Are you a fan of historical fiction? Any recommendations?

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I have really enjoyed taking part in #BookClub140 from Parker and Me (as always, thanks for the recommendation, Hayley from Home), as it has led me to read books I may not have chosen otherwise.

This is one such title. Obviously, I had heard all the hype about the HBO series but I did not know anything about the story. However, once I started, I could not put this book down; I was eager every day to make some reading time – but we all know that is easier said than done sometimes.

The key with this novel is that there is the mystery within the tale from the moment you read page 1. Now, I do not want to share any spoilers, but never has a title of a book been more apt. It is fascinating to follow the revelations of the big little lies from the 3 central characters: Jane, Celeste and Madeline. As the reader, you understand why some of the lies have been created and some of the secrets kept. It does not take too long to become all too clear the huge impact that some actions can have on so many people, intentionally or otherwise. I was also left thinking about how we never really know the personal battles that people are facing.

There is a clear humour and sensitivity to the writing that adds to the joy of reading this book. The conclusion of the tale, I think, will be considered a happy, or at least potentially positive, one for the characters that you grow to admire – and, possibly, an understandable one for others.

I would like to give some more of Liane Moriarty’s books a go. My Auntie has suggested ‘The Husband’s Secret’ – what do the rest of you think?