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Winter Reading Recommendations

The season is turning; trees are shedding leaves, the temperature is beginning to fall, and the Christmas decorations are already out in the shops.  That can only mean one thing; it’s time to crack out the hot water bottle, vat of hot chocolate, and a stack of suitably wintry books.  Below are eight recommendations which I think will be perfect to curl up with this winter.

1. Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson 9780312625412
‘Everyone knows the Moomins sleep through the winter. But this year, Moomintroll has woken up early. So while the rest of the family slumber, he decides to visit his favorite summer haunts. But all he finds is this strange white stuff. Even the sun is gone! Moomintroll is angry: whoever Winter is, she has some nerve. Determined to discover the truth about this most mysterious of all seasons, Moomintroll goes where no Moomin has gone before.’


2. A Winter Book by Tove Jansson
‘Drawn from youth and older age, and spanning most of the twentieth century, this newly translated selection provides a thrilling showcase of the great Finnish writer’s prose, scattered with insights and home truths. It has been selected and is introduced by Ali Smith. A Winter Book features 13 stories from Tove Jansson’s first book for adults,The Sculptor’s Daughter (1968) plus 7 of her most cherished later stories (from 1971 to 1996), translated into English and published here for the first time.’


97801413894003. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
‘Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a ‘hired girl’, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent.’
4. Ariel by Sylvia Plath
‘The poems in Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, including many of her best-known such as ‘Lady Lazarus’, ‘Daddy’, ‘Edge’ and ‘Paralytic’, were all written between the publication in 1960 of Plath’s first book, The Colossus, and her death in 1963. “If the poems are despairing, vengeful and destructive, they are at the same time tender, open to things, and also unusually clever, sardonic, hardminded …’

5. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
‘Calvino’s masterpiece opens with a scene that’s reassuringly commonplace: apparently. Indeed, it’s taking place now. A reader goes into a bookshop to buy a book: not any book, but the latest Calvino, the book you are holding in your hands. Or is it? Are you the reader? Is this the book? Beware. All assumptions are dangerous on this most bewitching switch-back ride to the heart of storytelling.’

6. The Waves by Virginia Woolf 9780141182711
‘Tracing the lives of a group of friends, The Waves follows their development from childhood to youth and middle age. While social events, individual achievements and disappointments form its narrative, the novel is most remarkable for the rich poetic language that expresses the inner life of its characters: their aspirations, their triumphs and regrets, their awareness of unity and isolation. Separately and together, they query the relationship of past to present, and the meaning of life itself.’

97819060401857. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
‘Rene is the concierge of a grand Parisian apartment building. She maintains a carefully constructed persona as someone uncultivated but reliable, in keeping with what she feels a concierge should be. But beneath this facade lies the real Rene: passionate about culture and the arts, and more knowledgeable in many ways than her employers with their outwardly successful but emotionally void lives. Down in her lodge, apart from weekly visits by her one friend Manuela, Rene lives with only her cat for company. Meanwhile, several floors up, twelve-year-old Paloma Josse is determined to avoid the pampered and vacuous future laid out for her, and decides to end her life on her thirteenth birthday. But unknown to them both, the sudden death of one of their privileged neighbours will dramatically alter their lives forever. By turns moving and hilarious, this unusual novel became the top-selling book in France in 2007.’

8. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (predictable, but I could not resist recommending this beautiful novel!)
‘A bewitching tale of heartbreak and hope set in 1920s Alaska, Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child was a top ten bestseller in hardback and paperback, and went on to be a Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Alaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding: is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her? Written with the clarity and vividness of the Russian fairy tale from which it takes its inspiration, The Snow Child is an instant classic.’

 

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Abandoned Books

Below are several more reviews of the books which I’ve begun but haven’t finished.

Love from Nancy by Nancy Mitford
I had originally intended to read <i>Love from Nancy</i> last December, when Nancy Mitford was my now defunct online book group’s monthly author.  I felt that it was a good volume to begin before I went on holiday, as it could be left whilst I was away and I wouldn’t have to try and remember the story, as it were.  I liked the way in which the book was split into sections, and that each was accompanied by a biographical introduction of sorts.  Despite this positive aspect, however, I was rather disappointed by the entire volume.  I thought that Mitford’s letters would be fascinating, but they all struck the same chord after a while.  Dare I say this?  A lot of the correspondence here was dull and frequently similar, and I believe that all but die-hard enthusiasts of the Mitfords and their lives would find the collection the same.  With regard to other letter collections which I’ve read recently, it lacks the enchantment of Beatrix Potter’s, the vivacity of Sylvia Plath’s, and the wit of Ted Hughes’.

Glimpses of the Moon and The Fruit of the Tree by Edith Wharton
I liked Wharton’s writing and descriptions in both of these books, but I struggle awfully with her characters.  They are so unlikeable, particularly within the situations in which they are thrown together.

The Odd Flamingo by Nina Bawden
I really enjoy Bawden’s writing on the whole, but of late, I have found a couple of her novels rather hit and miss.  This book was certainly a miss for me.  I found the introductory paragraphs relatively interesting, but the characters were stolid and the protagonist very sexist and patronising (although this is perhaps more to do with the time in which The Odd Flamingo was written, rather than what Bawden wished him to be like).  The storyline, on the whole, was rather dull, and Bawden does not present the male first person narrative perspective well in my opinion.

Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
I’ve read in several reviews that Amelia Peabody, the protagonist of this series of Elizabeth Peter’s, is incredibly difficult to like.  She is.  She is stubborn and sexist, and bases her entire life upon a series of ridiculous assumptions – for example, that a girl she comes across who has fainted on the street will be her travelling companion just like that, with no say so on her own part.  The telling of the story reminds one of wading through rather dull treacle, and even though the book is told from the first person perspective, it lacks both personality and empathy.  I am fascinated by Ancient Egypt, but I found this novel made the subject rather boring – something which I didn’t previously believe was possible.  I gave up on the book before I’d even reached the mystery.

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Sunday Snapshot: Five Marvellous Novellas

The following novellas have been wonderful, in terms of their plots, writing and characterisation. If you are a newcomer to the wonder and atmosphere which novellas pack into very few pages, you are sure to find something to delight you here.

1. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Adorable, funny and filled with a marvellous protagonist, Holly Golightly.

2. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Deliciously creepy, and just as wonderful for adults to read as it is for children.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (novella)

3. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Wharton describes the bleakness of Massachusetts in the most stunning manner, and her plot is rather chilling.

4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
A magical and lovely tale, which is sure to fill your head with a wealth of thoughts.

5. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck has created one of the most memorable stories and two of the most memorable characters I have ever come across here.