The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E Pendziwol

When a fabulous friend of mine clocked that I wanted to read 52 books in 2018, she thought she would give me a helping hand by lending me two titles. ‘The Lightkeeper’s Daughters’ was the one I decided to try first. I was drawn in by the stunning cover of the hardback edition. I have always loved Lighthouses as they remind me of family holidays to France, so the suggestion that they were central to the story appealed to me (especially as January has been a tough month).

This tale is beautifully crafted for the reader, and you are instantly drawn in as an apparently shipwrecked boat is found on the shores of a great lake. The tale is continued by two unlikely focal protagonists. Elizabeth, an elderly lady who needs to discover the secrets of her past hidden among the pages of her father’s long missing journals. And Morgan, a slightly troubled teenager who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Elizabeth as she reads the journals to her. Although, as the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that they are not, in fact, too different and both desire to know the truth about their past.

This novel is a roller coaster of emotions as you follow both Elizabeth and Morgan on their journey of self-discovery. I found the novel difficult to put down once I started it because I was as keen to know where the characters came from as they were.

I am glad that a friend wanted to support my reading challenge because I have discovered a gem. Have friends helped you find some hidden treasures of the book world?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A friend of mine sent me a message asking me if I had this novel. As I hadn’t, I immediately knew it needed adding to my ‘to-be-read pile’, so after a trip to Liverpool, I found myself a copy and knew I had to give it a go.

This is a ‘wow’ novel – I had no idea what to expect when I started this book but the one word that sprung to mind as I read the final words was ‘wow!’.

This novel is narrated by Eleanor Oliphant, a complex character, it transpires, and rarely have I read a novel that really pulls you into the mind of character. As I read every word, I almost felt like I know Eleanor; well, the Eleanor at that moment, as she is such an intriguing character. As the story unfolds, you realise that maybe Eleanor does not know herself and that we are in fact on her journey of self-discovery with her. Has she really been living life for the last 30 years?

I can not reveal any spoilers because I believe that books are to be read and enjoyed by each reader. However, I will say that this books will stay with you when you finish it, as it has rather an open ending.

This is a debut novel that deserves all the credit it is receiving and I will certainly be recommending it to readers, just as it was recommended to me. Any great books been recommended to you recently?

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

So, if you read the posts regularly, you will know that Hayley (Hayley from Home) rather enjoy sharing books, and ‘Eleanor and Park’ was another gem that she passed my way.

I had no idea what to expect from this book, as it was not one that I had been particular aware of – but that is all part of the fun of sharing books, because it always takes you on a new adventure. This novel was one that I struggled to put down because I just wanted to find out more and more about Eleanor and Park. This is a book where the characters are really the most important aspect, possibly even more important than the tale itself, as they are the tale.

Eleanor is the quirky new girl in town; nothing about her conforms to the teenage ‘norm’, and this brings her to attention of Park, who has also not really been sure if he fits into the ‘norm’ that everyone expects him to. However, there is so much in Eleanor’s life that almost prevents her from being the ‘norm’ even if she wanted to, and creates barriers that she struggles to knock down.

The relationship that blossoms between Eleanor and Park is romantic and grounded in comic books and music – but becomes so much more. I do not like to write posts that are spoilers, and I am not about to change that now, but this book has one of the most wonderful last lines of any novel I have ever read. The fact it is so open to interpretation means that this novel will stay with you long after you have read the final words – as you find yourself trying to create the ending for characters that you wanted, or accepting that maybe it was not meant to be the ending you had always imagined.

This really is a tale about falling in love for the first time – the all-encompassing love that becomes the only thing that really matters, whatever the situation.

I enjoyed the style of this novel as it flitted between the thoughts of our two central characters. This kept the pace of the story going and allowed you to feel like you were really getting to know the characters. I am keen to read more titles by Rainbow Rowell and I am thankful that, through the shared love of reading, another new author has been brought to my attention to be added to the ever-growing ‘to be read’ pile.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein

So, we all know I love the theatre, and musical theatre is always a winner, but when it comes to encouraging Mr BookwormandTheatremouse to enjoy the musicals it can be a challenge. However, as his birthday gift, I got him tickets to see ‘Young Frankenstein’ (there was no thought of me when I picked this gift, promise) because it looked very silly and it starred Ross Noble – I mean, what else do you need?

The show is on at The Garrick in London, which is a theatre that I have not been to before; however, it is just along from the National Portrait Gallery, which is one of my favourite spots in London. The theatre is an absolute delight – although it is fairly small, I suspect that there is not a bad view (we were upper circle), as it is well laid out, so you seem to have a good view from most seats.

Enough about the theatre – let’s talk about the show. I did not know too much about it, other than I was sure it was going to be good fun, as it involves the imagination of Mel Brooks and it was starring Ross Noble (I may have mentioned that already); that was enough to convince me that it was going to be good fun. And, oh my, was it good fun: you sense from the moment that the first note strikes up (which had the lady behind us in the giggles) that it is going to be a show that everyone enjoys, whether they are in it or in the audience.

Everyone on the stage was superb, with true enjoyment of what they were doing and so much natural comic timing you could not help but smile all the way through the production. There is so much cheeky humour, it is like an extended game of innuendo bingo, but it is so cleverly done that you could blink and miss it (other than in the number ‘Roll in the Hay’ – that does not leave much to the imagination), but you will no doubt be rolling in the aisles throughout the jokes.

Mel Brooks certainly has a skill for finding the funny side in the cinema triumphs of the age, so ‘Young Frankenstein’ is a gentle mick-take of the old-fashioned horror films that so many enjoyed in the early days of cinema. You may see some of the gags coming if you have watched any such films, but you still appreciate every moment, and probably laugh even more as you realise how obvious the plots of so many of those films were.

This was another production where there was no star, as every member of the cast (although, I am not going to lie, I did think that Ross Noble’s Igor was very good), orchestra and crew made the show what it was: an absolute triumph. I can understand why so many people have been to see it more than once because I am keen to head back. I am, also, pretty sure that Mr BookwormandTheatremouse would say the same – when he has finished laughing and humming show tunes.

Have you been to see ‘Young Frankenstein’? What did you think?

The Single Girl’s Calendar by Erin Green

I am lucky enough to call the author Erin Green a friend. I have really enjoyed following her journey with her, and when the publication date of her second novel was brought forward to the 1st of January (after the enormous success of her debut novel ‘A Christmas Wish’), I made sure I had a copy.

The Single Girl’s Calendar is a wonderful concept at the centre of this novel. Esmé’s life ends up on a very different path to one that she intended and, to help her with this, the Single Girl’s Calendar gives her a task a day to get back on track. Although, Esmé ends up with another challenge of getting used to her new home: a house share with four of her brother’s friends. I can not reveal any spoilers, as I think everybody should give this bool a go, other that to say you will not want to put this book down and I defy you to not finish with a huge character crush on someone among these pages.

Esmé’s journey of self-discovery makes for a heart-warming read. There is a gentle humour throughout the novel, as well as moments where you can not help but shed a few tears of joy. Her adventures take place in the city of Birmingham too, so if you know the city, you can imagine observing the events as they unfold on the page.

If you want to read a book that leaves you feeling you have made a new friend – then make it your new year’s resolution to read ‘The Single Girl’s Calendar’. You might even find yourself setting a few day-by-day challenges.

Toto – The Dog-gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Oz by Michael Morpurgo

One thing on the New Year’s Honours list was Sir Michael Morpurgo. This is a man who has done so much for Children’s literature, he has brought the love reading and appreciation of History to so many over the years that it was a well-deserved accolade. I still remember that ‘The Wreck of Zanzibar’ was the first Morpurgo book I read, and I have not stopped since.

I admire writers bringing the classics to a new generation or offering a new perspective of a well-loved tale – it is quite a talent. I admit that I have never read the original ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and I do have a little bit of a fear of the original film (although I do love ‘Wicked’) – however, the beautiful illustrations by Emma Chichester-Clark on the cover and the name of Morpurgo attracted me to this book.

The story is told from the perspective of Dorothy’s loyal companion Toto. From my knowledge of the original tale (and the skill of Morpurgo) it is faithful to the original and the characters have the same charm. I enjoyed this book from the word go – drawn in by the skill of the storytelling and the beauty of the illustrations. I am now tempted to finally read the original classic tale to have an even better understanding of the story. However, this book is a lovely way to introduce children to a classic novel.

Have you read any retellings of the classic? Any you would recommend?

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

As soon as I knew that Chris Riddell had added his illustrations to ‘How to Stop Time’, I knew that was the edition that I had to read. I was very lucky that Mr BookwormandTheatreMouse had been listening to this wish and it appeared under the Christmas tree on December 25th. However, I did save reading it until I had finished my festive reads because I wanted to be able to give it my full attention and – oh wow – what a book!

This book is such a wonderful concept for a story, and there are so many thoughtful messages as you read the book that it is more than just a story. Our hero (although I am not sure he would see himself as one) is ageing slowly and has lived through so much history – more than anyone could imagine. This condition causes him to almost become invisible, as he never wants to draw attention to himself to avoid any difficult questions that he can not answer. However, despite all the people he has met and the adventures that he has had, he is lonely, as he has not been able to live a ‘normal’ life – especially as he has been convinced that this is something that will never be possible. In fact, pressure from those around you and society is, for me, one of the biggest thinking points in this novel, as it seems to have had quite an impact on the path or paths that ‘Tom Hazard’ has followed in his over-extended lifetime.

The lessons from history also really struck me in this novel. I have a real passion for history and often wonder what it would be like to have witnessed some of the events and met some of the key figures, and this book does that for you. Although, it does also make you really think about some of the decisions and events that happened and the real impact one person or one event can have on the future. The illustrations from Chris Riddell also really bring that history to life with his drawings of people such as Shakespeare. (And I love that Tom brings history to life for his pupils in the book – something I try to do all the time).

I have no desire to spoil this book for any of you readers, but I do insist that you should read it. You will be left thinking about the past, present and future. You will be left thinking about what is really important to you. You will be left with a desire to be a better and more confident person. You will be left wanting to read more books by Matt Haig.

Mr Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

The very final festive read of the season – I promise, especially as we approach twelfth night.

I picked this book up based on its title; I did not read the blurb or anything because the title had enchanted me enough. I am, as mentioned in a previous post, a huge fan of ‘A Christmas Carol’, so the mere hint of that tale always catches my attention.

This novel is a respectful story about how one of the world’s most famous Christmas tales came to be. It does not attempt to retell the tale; it simply imagines how the book came to be. It is known that, at the time of writing, Charles Dickens had a need for money but that he also made a comment on the social situation of Victorian England. This novel touches on those ideas but it also offers a much more romanticised and sentimental twist on the tale. Although, if this was the truth, it would be another near-perfect festive tale.

There is gentle comedy throughout the novel, but also clear heart-wrenching moments that will bring a tear to your eye. In fact, as I closed the book for the final time, I was shedding a few happy tears because at its conclusion (just like ‘A Christmas Carol’) it restores your faith in human nature.

I may be as bold as to state that, with her debut novel, Samantha Silva has created a modern-day classic and a fabulous little tribute to Mr Dickens and his work.

The Final Festive Read of 2017

Welcome to 2018 – I hope that it is a very happy reading year for you all.

I am starting this year just rounding off the final two festive reads that made it into the end of 2017. (I am still reading a festive-themed book at the moment, but it is not finished, so I can not quite sneak it in there just yet).

The Mistletoe Murders by PD James 

I have not read many PD James novels, but I have listened to radio adaptations and watched TV versions, so I decided that I wanted to give some of her works a go. After enjoying a collection of short stories earlier in the year from Jojo Moyes and being attracted by the festive title, I decided on this one. I do have admiration for authors who can tell a story in such a short space of time, especially a crime story (I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, after all), and PD James does this in these stories in such style. What really impressed me was that they had some dramatic twists in such a short space of time. Those that are big fans of her detective, Dalgliesh, will not be disappointed as he does make an appearance in some of the tales employing his critical thinking skills to find the solution. For a festive read (or at any time of year if you are crime fiction fan), I would certainly recommend this book.

Christmas Pudding (A Novel) by Nancy Mitford

I remember being introduced to the work of Nancy Mitford by my mum in my early teens. I had always been fascinated by the Mitford sisters, as there is so much drama surrounding that name that they engage the imagination of so many of us. Nancy’s novels are so full of social observation and gentle humour that they are simply a joy to read, and this book was no exception. All based around the festive season in the countryside, and all the pomp and ceremony that comes from that, but of course the complex and sometimes ridiculous love lives (or not) of all the characters that are involved. It has you giggling (and even possibly slightly cringing) from the very beginning, and you can not put it down as you are simply too intrigued about what is going to happen to each of the characters. For a full-blown 1920s Christmas experience, this is the book to read.

Any festive read recommendations out there to get me ready for this year?

A Christmas Carol

I am a huge fan of the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ (and I must confess that it is the only Dickens tale that I have read from start to finish), so when I saw that the RSC was going to be doing an adaptation this festive season, I had to get tickets. Then my excitement was heightened when the cast was announced and Phil Davis was to be taking on the role of Scrooge; he has been a family favourite of ours for a long time, especially for shows such as ‘Whitechapel’ and the appearances that he makes in all our favourites.

So, on the 16th December (I know, I am a little behind – blame festivities) we arrived at a very Christmassy Royal Shakespeare Theatre to take our seats for ‘A Christmas Carol’. From the moment the production started, you were transported to Victorian England at Christmas time. The thing I admired the most was that such a simple set transported us to all the favourite destinations in the tale, from Scrooge’s chambers to Fezziwig’s Christmas party, in such simple moves of staging from all of those involved. The other immediate charm was that it was a small cast who took on the mammoth job of bringing this favourite to life, but it was all so cleverly done with subtle links between the characters they took on (I always admire a quick change).

Dickens takes you through the story as the narrator of the tale (although he too must take on other roles as we move through the play, but you almost do not notice, as it is all such a smooth transition). However, what I really admired about the tale having some narration, rather than it just being played out, was the real focus on context that this story was given with this narration. The social and historical context were really key to this production and this in fact probably made the tale even more relevant for the modern audience as, sadly, we are still in a society of clear divisions.

The costumes and the effects throughout the production are absolutely stunning. Every single member of the company appears to thoroughly enjoy themselves from start to finish, and you are entranced from the very beginning. The audience certainly showed a great deal of appreciation for the play.

I am not sure I can ever really say that I have a favourite Scrooge – give me any opportunity to read, see or listen to this story over the festive period and I will take it. However, Phil Davis was a wonderful Scrooge, conveying the small emotional changes you see in the character as the story unfolds before his eyes just as it does for us.

I would highly recommend catching this at the RSC if you can; it is another wonderfully festive interpretation of a much-loved classic and it will keep that festive spirit alive a little longer as we head into 2018!