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 JamesĀ 

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?

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

I know we are in those strange days between Christmas and New Year, when you feel you need to do all the things that you have not done as you have been busy in the Christmas bubble. For me, it is also a time when I need to make sure that I catch up on all those blog posts that I have missed, especially as one of my main focuses has been the chance to read.

So, just before the Christmas craziness began, I read ‘The Girl who Saved Christmas’ by Matt Haig. It was a delight! It was all the things that you want from a Christmas story and was a well-crafted nod to the work of the classic author Charles Dickens; in fact, dare I say that I enjoyed it even more than ‘A Boy called Christmas’, which I have also blogged about this festive season.

Amelia (who you meet at the very end of ‘A Boy called Christmas’) is not in a festive spirit, as she is orphaned at Christmas and is resident at Mr Creeper’s workhouse. Losing her belief in the miracles of Christmas is having a detrimental on the work of Father Christmas, as the magic of Christmas is fading and he is not able to carry out his work. He must find her and restore her faith so that Christmas Day can be saved. It is a classic Christmas adventure involving a whole host of colourful characters who want to save the big day and the faith of Amelia, and restore the magic of Christmas.

To me, this novel is a tribute to Dickens and his work. There are cleverly named characters reflecting their part in the tale, but it is also a comment on the state of Victorian society and, sadly, not that far from the truth for some in modern times.

This is truly a children’s novel that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, so if you want to find or be reminded of your faith in the festive season (and you love ‘A Christmas Carol’ – book or film adaptations), then this is the novel for you – because Amelia Wishart really is the girl who saves Christmas for her and all of us.

 

Crime at Christmas by C H B Kitchin

December means festive reading; however, I have had this title on the shelf for two years and finally picked it up this year. I was drawn to this book because, on the cover, it had the lovely words ‘A Classic Festive Mystery’. I think there is something very romantic about the crime novels of the early 20th century. They are not, necessarily, written to shock but to tell a crime story for the enjoyment of the readers.

This novel did not disappoint. An out-of-town house (not quite country), an unusual collection of house guests for the festive season and cold, dark weather – seriously, what else do you need? Oh, of course, the injured gentleman detective (Mr Warren), just to ensure that a crime really will happen.

Now, I do not write spoilers because I want people to go out and pick the books up themselves. So all I will say is that this is a wonderful classic crime, with different strands running through to keep your brain working. One thing I liked the most about this book was it had the traditional gathering at the end for the big reveal. Although, even that had a mini cliffhanger which made the book so thrilling.

This book was published in 1935 and is still a novel that can be picked up and enjoyed today, especially on these cold winter nights.

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

The festive season is full swing and that has inspired me to pick books with a festive theme. I decided to start with ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ by the very talented Matt Haig. This may be a children’s book but, to be honest, that never puts me off a title; the most important thing is that you enjoy what you are reading – and I certainly enjoyed this book! (Feeling even more festive once I had finished it.)

This novel answers a question I am sure we have all pondered: how did Father Christmas become Father Christmas? (The same question that Matt Haig’s own son had, and which he took on the challenge to answer.) We all follow Nikolas on his childhood adventure to the far North after he decides that he needs to find the father he loves, and his only real family, who has not returned from his own journey there with the hunters.

As we would all expect, it is not a journey without challenges on so many different levels. He is captured by elves, who may not be quite as you expect, and he discovers that his father may not be all the man he thinks he is – until the going gets tough, and love and respect shine through. By the end of the tale, and I never like to write a review with a spoiler, we are all let into the secret of how Father Christmas became Father Christmas.

This novel is an instant Christmas classic, in my humble opinion, because it is full of magic and adventure, hopes and dreams, and a collection of colourful, magical characters – even a mouse that is a little bit of fond of cheese. The theme throughout that really made me smile, and can sometimes be lost in all the festive frenzy, is about how the most important thing in life is those that we have around us, and making the most of what we have and how we can help others. This is a novel that will make you laugh out loud and celebrate the success of goodness over evil – and realise that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.

There is so much festive spirit and cheer in this novel that you can not help but feel ready for some Christmas fun with those that you love by the time you reach the end. (And keen to read ‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’, which also happens to be on my festive to-be-read pile.)

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I picked this up in one of my favourite bookshops ever – it is a little Oxfam Bookshop which always has the most wonderful collection of titles, and you feel like you are doing a little bit of good whenever you donate or purchase from this little establishment.

So, on a very cold November Saturday morning, I popped in and found a bargain unread copy of ‘The Power’ and I could not leave it on the shelf. I had been asked by a few friends if I had read it and I had kept saying no so I thought it was about time I turned that answer to a ‘yes’. I had also spotted that Hayley (Hayley from Home) had picked up a copy, so I felt inspired.

I found the idea of this novel fascinating; from the title to the story, there is so much in this book that I am not sure I can do it justice in a blog post. I am not often stuck for words with a book that I have enjoyed but I feel that this is the sort of book that you need to be able to have a very informed discussion about. So, I am just going to give it my version of a review.

Immediately, I was gripped by the idea of the role-reversal in society and, in fact, what an impact that would have on the world. It is ridiculous to think that women having ‘power’ should be such a dramatic tale as we grow up in the 21st century but, sadly, I think it would be a shock to some of those in the world. In fact, ‘power’ was such a significant word throughout the novel because it took on so many different meanings throughout the book, strength and control being just two of them.

I was fascinated by the way that it addressed the interpretations that people can have of the same information. The religious ideas in the tale suggest that if things had been interpreted differently, would it be a woman that would be found to be central to the beliefs and ideas in the world?

The structure of the tale, looking at how ‘The Power’ impacts a variety of different figures, makes the novel a page-turner, as you are keen to see what awaits each character. I did on occasion find that some of the tale was a little longer and my attention was not always focused, but I was still keen to know what would happen next. I have not read many tales like this one, other than ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (which I read earlier this year), but I am ready to seek out more tales like this one as I find that they really do make you think and challenge the world that we are in. I enjoy being made to think about the world we live in and question what we know as fact.

Have you read ‘The Power’? How did you find it? Any other books you would recommend along these themes?

Paris for One by Jojo Moyes

A friend of mine who loves books as much as I do shared this beautiful book with me. After I insisted that I would enjoy a book of short stories, even though I love Jojo Moyes, she proved me well and truly wrong.

In fact, I finished the book in no time at all. The simple thing that drew me in was the fact that there were so many fabulous females in the stories. It was great to read about ‘normal’ women who carry the same anxieties and guilty secrets many of us do (I do have rather a weak spot for crisps, like one of the heroines).

My favourite stories were both based in Paris. The lovely story that gives the book its title drew me straight in. In fact, it left me with a burning desire to visit Paris. The romance and adventure that the city can offer all those who visit, for whatever reason, is beautifully created in this story. You root for the heroine from the moment you start reading, as a series of unfortunate events leads her on quite an adventure and, ultimately, to a much better happy ending than she may have been due if she did not seize the day.

My second-favourite piqued my interest, as it is a lovely story that flits between the past and present to tell the story of two newlywed women who clearly knew what they wanted and how to ensure that they had it. However, it also suggests that sometimes there needs to be compromise. It also harks back to the romance of Paris in the early 20th century and the artistic lifestyle led by those who wanted to share their passion for art.

However, overall, the whole book is a joy of stories that are page turners. It has certainly made me excited for the publication of Jojo Moyes new book, ‘Still Me’, in January. I also may be less dismissive of short story collections in future, as it is a real talent to be able to tell a story in so few words and pages.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The ever-fabulous and dedicated bookworm Hayley, of Hayley From Home, sent me the novel ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’. She told me that she hoped I would enjoy it because she knew a number of people had not given it the best reviews. So, immediately I knew it had to go to the top of my to-be-read pile, because I was intrigued, as I had only ever heard great things about Patrick Ness novels. I had also been a huge fan of ‘A Monster Calls’ when I had read it a few years back.

Before I started this novel, I did not read anything about it; I had no idea of the genre or the concept of the tale, so I knew I would be reading it without any predefined ideas. As I picked it up and saw that each chapter had quite an introduction, I was curious about the need for it and as I moved through the novel I loved the fact that these introductions were another story, that of the Indie kids, unfolding as we followed the adventures of the main characters. Now, at moments, I was not sure I fully understood the tale; it took me a little while to get my head around the fact that the title actually makes it very clear that we are following those that ‘just live here’, as all sorts of strange goings-on are happening all around them.

The interesting concept for me was the actual desire of the main characters to really want an ‘ordinary’ life; for example, the desire for the main character Mikey to be with the girl he believes he is in love with and make it to his high school graduation, and be able to leave the town for college with his best friend. He does not want any drama to take over and he certainly does not want his high school blown up again. Although, he is also fighting his own demons, even if they are not zombies with blue eyes. However, as the story unfolds, I really enjoyed the exploration of ‘ordinary’ – are any of us ordinary, or are we all on our own extraordinary adventure that is our life?

Something that really struck me with this novel was the care and empathy with which Patrick Ness tackled some very sensitive issues. The one that really struck me was the lead character Mikey and his sister dealing with the idea that they are ‘messed up’ or ‘broken’ by their personal issues and how over-protective that makes them of their ‘normal’ younger sister and, in turn, of each other.

This is a fabulous coming of age novel that really gripped me from the moment I started reading it. I am really keen to find some more Patrick Ness novels to read now, because I have been impressed by this and ‘A Monster Calls’.

Have you read any Patrick Ness novels? Are there any more you would recommend?