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The Book Trail: Christmas Edition

First published in 2018.

Here is a lovely festive edition of The Book Trail.  Whilst this is not a traditional edition of the series, in that I have not used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads in order to generate this list, it showcases eight fantastic Christmas books which I would highly recommend.  Have you read any of these?  Which is your favourite Christmas book?

295026051. Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson
‘For years Jeanette Winterson has loved writing a new story at Christmas time and here she brings together twelve of her brilliantly imaginative, funny and bold tales. For the Twelve Days of Christmas—a time of celebration, sharing, and giving—she offers these twelve plus one: a personal story of her own Christmas memories. These tales give the reader a portal into the spirit of the season, where time slows down and magic starts to happen. From trees with mysterious powers to a tinsel baby that talks, philosophical fairies to flying dogs, a haunted house and a disappearing train, Winterson’s innovative stories encompass the childlike and spooky wonder of Christmas. Perfect for reading by the fire with loved ones, or while traveling home for the holidays. Enjoy the season of peace and goodwill, mystery, and a little bit of magic courtesy of one of our most fearless and accomplished writers.’

 

2. The Orange Girl by Jostein Gaarder
‘To Georg Røed, his father is no more than a shadow, a distant memory. But then one day his grandmother discovers some pages stuffed into the lining of an old red pushchair. The pages are a letter to Georg, written just before his father died, and a story, ‘The Orange Girl’.  But ‘The Orange Girl’ is no ordinary story – it is a riddle from the past and centres around an incident in his father’s youth. One day he boarded a tram and was captivated by a beautiful girl standing in the aisle, clutching a huge paper bag of luscious-looking oranges. Suddenly the tram gave a jolt and he stumbled forward, sending the oranges flying in all directions. The girl simply hopped off the tram leaving Georg’s father with arms full of oranges. Now, from beyond the grave, he is asking his son to help him finally solve the puzzle of her identity.’

 

3. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien 7331
‘Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting and a beautiful colored drawing or some sketches.  The letters were from Father Christmas.  They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole: how the reindeer got loose and scattered presents everywhere; how the accident-prone North Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house; how he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden; how there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house.  Sometimes the Polar Bear would scrawl a note, and sometimes Ilbereth the Elf would write in his elegant flowing script, adding yet more life and humor to the stories.

 

4. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
‘Originally emerging from a piece written for radio, the poem was recorded by Thomas in 1952. The story is an anecdotal retelling of a Christmas from the view of a young child and is a romanticised version of Christmases past, portraying a nostalgic and simpler time. It is one of Thomas’ most popular works.’

 

99195. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
‘First published in 1956, this much sought-after autobiographical recollection of Truman Capote’s rural Alabama boyhood has become a modern-day classic. We are proud to be reprinting this warm and delicately illustrated edition of A Christmas Memory–“a tiny gem of a holiday story” (School Library Journal, starred review). Seven-year-old Buddy inaugurates the Christmas season by crying out to his cousin, Miss Sook Falk: “It’s fruitcake weather!” Thus begins an unforgettable portrait of an odd but enduring friendship between two innocent souls–one young and one old–and the memories they share of beloved holiday rituals.’

 

6. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
‘One of Andersen’s best-beloved tales, The Snow Queen is a story about the strength and endurance of childhood friendship. Gerda’s search for her playmate Kay–who was abducted by the Snow Queen and taken to her frozen palace–is brought to life in delicate and evocative illustrations.’

 

7. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame 5659
‘Meet little Mole, willful Ratty, Badger the perennial bachelor, and petulant Toad. Over one hundred years since their first appearance in 1908, they’ve become emblematic archetypes of eccentricity, folly, and friendship. And their misadventures-in gypsy caravans, stolen sports cars, and their Wild Wood-continue to capture readers’ imaginations and warm their hearts long after they grow up. Begun as a series of letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son, The Wind in the Willows is a timeless tale of animal cunning and human camaraderie. This Penguin Classics edition features an appendix of the letters in which Grahame first related the exploits of Toad.’

 

8. Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson
‘Moomins always sleep through the winter – or they did until the year Moomintroll woke up and went exploring in the silent, snow-covered valley where the river used to scuttle along and all his friends were so busy in summer.’

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Two Novels: ‘The Surface Breaks’ and ‘The Householder’

The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill *** 9781407185538
I have read a couple of Louise O’Neill’s to date, and really enjoy her writing style. She tackles a lot of important topics, particularly with regard to young women. I thought, on the surface of it, that The Surface Breaks would be rather different; it is, after all, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s beguiling fairytale ‘The Little Mermaid’. However, O’Neill has managed to suffuse it with a lot of affecting issues.

Whilst I found this, and the way in which she tackled the story, interesting, I found that there was no subtlety whatsoever to it. From the first, feminism and the way in which the mermaid protagonist of her story is so oppressed, is explicitly mentioned; this continues throughout the book, and becomes a little repetitive at times. The narrator constantly questions herself, often asking herself the same things over and over again. As I read further on, the cliched characters and roles began to grate on me somewhat.

Elements of the original story were well interpreted and incorporated, but I found parts of it were executed far better than others. The Surface Breaks feels rather drawn out; there was perhaps a little too much build-up to the time at which she gains legs and loses her voice, which could have been edited for greater effect. O’Neill, whilst retaining the core ideas of Andersen’s stories, does manage to bring the story up to date. However, the novel is not quite as good as I felt it could have been.

 

9780393008517The Householder by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala ***
The Sunday Times calls Ruth Prawer Jhabvala ‘a writer of genius…  a writer of world class – a master story teller.’  Seeing that she has been on my radar for years, and I have read such praise as the above on many an occasion, it seems odd that it has taken me such a long time to get around to actually reading her work.  Whilst I didn’t love The Householder I’m so pleased I finally have an idea of her themes and writing style.

First published in 1960, The Householder is an ‘appealing story of a young schoolteacher trying to come to terms with marriage and maturity’, which is ‘much more than a highly comic vignette of a particular society – it is also a reflection of a universal experience.’  Prem is our protagonist, a young man who is ‘not too good at enforcing discipline’ in his role as Hindi teacher in a boy’s college.  He has recently married a woman named Indu, in a relationship arranged by his parents; he barely knows her, and feels adrift in their new home in Delhi.  Indu is also pregnant, something which is ‘a terrible embarrassment for him.  Now everybody would know what he did with her at night in the dark…’.

Prem is almost constantly at odds with himself; his life is not shaping up to be following the same course which he had imagined so vividly, and try as he might, he is unable to change it.  He cannot connect with his wife, no matter how hard he tries: ‘He felt so alone and lonely, shut up in this small ugly flat with Indu who cried by herself in the sitting-room while he had to lie and cry by himself in the bedroom.’  Prem is, essentially, at a point of crisis in his life.  Whilst I did not find him a believable protagonist, he is both believable and understandable in his thoughts and actions.

The way in which Jhabvala writes about Indian society is fascinating, particularly with regard to Prem; despite having little disposable income, he feels that he has to keep a servant-boy to maintain his public appearance.   Jhabvala deftly sets scenes, and gives one a feel for each of her characters in just a couple of sentences.  Her prose has a wonderful ease to it.  As a character study, The Householder is fascinating, but I did find that due to its rendering into the form of a novella, some important themes remained relatively unexplored.  From the outset, I thought that this would be a four-star read, but the ending does feel a little too rushed to fit with the quiet patience which the rest of the story has.  The Householder is unarguably transporting, however, and I look forward to visiting India again with Jhabvala very soon.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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The Book Trail: Christmas Edition

Here is a lovely festive edition of The Book Trail.  Whilst this is not a traditional edition of the series, in that I have not used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed’ tool on Goodreads in order to generate this list, it showcases eight fantastic Christmas books which I would highly recommend.  Have you read any of these?  Which is your favourite Christmas book?

 

295026051. Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson
‘For years Jeanette Winterson has loved writing a new story at Christmas time and here she brings together twelve of her brilliantly imaginative, funny and bold tales. For the Twelve Days of Christmas—a time of celebration, sharing, and giving—she offers these twelve plus one: a personal story of her own Christmas memories. These tales give the reader a portal into the spirit of the season, where time slows down and magic starts to happen. From trees with mysterious powers to a tinsel baby that talks, philosophical fairies to flying dogs, a haunted house and a disappearing train, Winterson’s innovative stories encompass the childlike and spooky wonder of Christmas. Perfect for reading by the fire with loved ones, or while traveling home for the holidays. Enjoy the season of peace and goodwill, mystery, and a little bit of magic courtesy of one of our most fearless and accomplished writers.’

 

2. The Orange Girl by Jostein Gaarder
‘To Georg Røed, his father is no more than a shadow, a distant memory. But then one day his grandmother discovers some pages stuffed into the lining of an old red pushchair. The pages are a letter to Georg, written just before his father died, and a story, ‘The Orange Girl’.  But ‘The Orange Girl’ is no ordinary story – it is a riddle from the past and centres around an incident in his father’s youth. One day he boarded a tram and was captivated by a beautiful girl standing in the aisle, clutching a huge paper bag of luscious-looking oranges. Suddenly the tram gave a jolt and he stumbled forward, sending the oranges flying in all directions. The girl simply hopped off the tram leaving Georg’s father with arms full of oranges. Now, from beyond the grave, he is asking his son to help him finally solve the puzzle of her identity.’

 

3. Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien 7331
‘Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J.R.R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange, spidery handwriting and a beautiful colored drawing or some sketches.  The letters were from Father Christmas.  They told wonderful tales of life at the North Pole: how the reindeer got loose and scattered presents everywhere; how the accident-prone North Polar Bear climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of Father Christmas’s house; how he broke the Moon into four pieces and made the Man in it fall into the back garden; how there were wars with the troublesome horde of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house.  Sometimes the Polar Bear would scrawl a note, and sometimes Ilbereth the Elf would write in his elegant flowing script, adding yet more life and humor to the stories.

 

4. A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
‘Originally emerging from a piece written for radio, the poem was recorded by Thomas in 1952. The story is an anecdotal retelling of a Christmas from the view of a young child and is a romanticised version of Christmases past, portraying a nostalgic and simpler time. It is one of Thomas’ most popular works.’

 

99195. A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote
‘First published in 1956, this much sought-after autobiographical recollection of Truman Capote’s rural Alabama boyhood has become a modern-day classic. We are proud to be reprinting this warm and delicately illustrated edition of A Christmas Memory–“a tiny gem of a holiday story” (School Library Journal, starred review). Seven-year-old Buddy inaugurates the Christmas season by crying out to his cousin, Miss Sook Falk: “It’s fruitcake weather!” Thus begins an unforgettable portrait of an odd but enduring friendship between two innocent souls–one young and one old–and the memories they share of beloved holiday rituals.’

 

6. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
‘One of Andersen’s best-beloved tales, The Snow Queen is a story about the strength and endurance of childhood friendship. Gerda’s search for her playmate Kay–who was abducted by the Snow Queen and taken to her frozen palace–is brought to life in delicate and evocative illustrations.’

 

7. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame 5659
‘Meet little Mole, willful Ratty, Badger the perennial bachelor, and petulant Toad. Over one hundred years since their first appearance in 1908, they’ve become emblematic archetypes of eccentricity, folly, and friendship. And their misadventures-in gypsy caravans, stolen sports cars, and their Wild Wood-continue to capture readers’ imaginations and warm their hearts long after they grow up. Begun as a series of letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son, The Wind in the Willows is a timeless tale of animal cunning and human camaraderie. This Penguin Classics edition features an appendix of the letters in which Grahame first related the exploits of Toad.’

 

8. Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson
‘Moomins always sleep through the winter – or they did until the year Moomintroll woke up and went exploring in the silent, snow-covered valley where the river used to scuttle along and all his friends were so busy in summer.’

Purchase from The Book Depository

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Penguin Little Black Classics

I tend not to read many Penguin publications – not due to poor quality, but because I find the spelling rules which they adhere to a little irritating (both -our and -ize endings are utilised, which does not make a great deal of sense to this former proofreader).  I do, however, find myself growing increasingly fond of their Little Black Classics list.  I had read several from the list before they were published, and have since acquired rather a few, either as gifts, to make up the money so that I could get a stamp on my Waterstone’s card (shameless behaviour, I know), or just to try something a little different.

little-black-classics-960

Blackwell

If you are not familiar with them – which I am sure the majority of you will be – the Little Black Classics are a range of eighty short books (each of around sixty pages), published to coincide with the eightieth anniversary of Penguin.  They are inexpensive; their corresponding price of eighty pence means that the entire collection is relatively cheap to amass, and will certainly provide some food for thought.

Rather than write reviews of each of the books which I have read from the list to date, I thought it might be a nice idea to focus upon several of the books, along with an enlightening Guardian article about them.  The list which follows is as diverse as Penguin’s publishing list, and I feel as though each and every one of them would serve as a great introduction to the series.

3. The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue
Anonymous Icelandic sagas are wonderful.  I first read this in a collection some years ago, and revisited it last year thanks to the wonderful Poetic Edda.  Written towards the end of the 13th century, the saga is comprised of 25 verses, and is of great importance in both Icelandic and Norwegian history.  It tells of two Icelandic poets, who duel over their shared love for Helga the Fair.

eve_of_st_agnes

‘Madeleine undressing’ by John Everett Millais; inspired by Keats’ The Eve of St Agnes

13. The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats
One cannot go wrong with Keats.  He is one of my absolute favourite poets, and sitting down with his work is about the most relaxing thing which one can do.  He wrote beautifully, and The Eve of St Agnes is no exception.  His depiction of nature and the countryside, and his evocation of the cold, is utterly sublime.

23. The Tinder Box by Hans Christian Andersen
I am sure that most are familiar with Andersen’s fairytales, and this one is one of the more  well-known.  It perhaps needs no introduction, but the very idea of it is inventive.  A soldier acquires a magical tinder box which is capable of summoning three dogs to do his bidding.  It sounds strange, but the story is sure to delight (and possibly frighten!) children and adults alike.

42. The Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
First published in 1892, Gilman presents an incredibly important early feminist tract, revolving around the female protagonist’s rest cure.  I won’t say too much about this before you embark; just know that it is both wonderful and semi-autobiographical.

50. Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen
I absolutely adore war poetry, and Wilfred Owen is another of my favourite poets.  He wrote so strikingly about his own experience during the First World War, in which he was killed just a week before Armistice.  I am unsure as to which poems this collection includes, but I imagine his most well-known works will be included.

katherine-mansfield-007

Katherine Mansfield

72. Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield
I would be doing myself an injustice if I didn’t include Katherine Mansfield here.  I absolutely adore her work; I find her so inspiring, and really admire the way in which she can present such a vivid slice of life in just a few pages.  A wonderful short story author, and this is one of my absolute favourites.

 

 

 

Which of the Little Black Classics have you read, and which are you coveting?  Do you like the format of the books?

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Favourite Books from my Childhood: One

I thought that it would be a good idea to create a blog post about all of the books which I adored as a child, and naturally, there are many of them.  I have used my Library spreadsheet (a big list of all of the books which I’ve read during my lifetime) as inspiration.

Topsy and Tim

The Big Surprise (Topsy and Tim #2) by Jean Adamson – I used to read the Topsy and Tim books religiously when I was in infant school, and they were the first books I got to when I moved myself up a reading group, much to my parents’ amusement.  In my infant school library, we had a series of wooden boxes on legs, and each of them was painted in a different colour.  The books within each had a corresponding coloured sticker upon their spine.  When I had made my way through the colour which I had been assigned, I would move myself up so that I had more books at my disposal.  I think, in this way, that I reached the books for the most advanced readers when I was still in the middle of Year One.  I also learnt recently that Jean Adamson is a relatively local author to me, and I would have found such a fact terribly exciting when I was younger.  Topsy and Tim is a lovely series of books, and this was my particular favourite.

Funnybones

Funnybones by Allan Ahlberg – This book had an accompanying cartoon, which I am sure that many people of my age still remember the opening rhyme to.  The concept was quite simple: in a dark, dark town, in a dark, dark street, in a dark, dark house, in a dark, dark cellar, lived three skeletons – Big Skeleton, Little Skeleton, and their dog.  Each story featuring the trio was so fun, and I loved the illustrations.  Even though the very idea of living skeletons who enjoy playing tricks on people seems a little odd to me as an adult, something about it really worked, and for this reason, Funnybones and the rest of the books in the series will definitely be read (and the cartoon shown) to my future children, who will hopefully find it as amusing and memorable as I still do.

The Bear Nobody Wanted by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – Janet and Allan Ahlberg were my literary heroes when I was small, and I loved reading all of their books.  The Bear Nobody Wanted is one which remains vivid in my mind.  The story begins as a sad one, but it has a delightful ending, and it certainly made me treasure my soft toys all the more. 

‘The Jolly Postman’

The Jolly Postman, or Other People’s Letters, The Jolly Pocket Postman and The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – I still remember these books with such fondness.  Each had a plethora of small envelopes inside, in which there were tiny letters which the Jolly Postman was delivering all around town.  I am certain that the stories would still absolutely delight me as an adult, and I am very excited about the possible prospect of re-reading them far into the future.

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – Definitely one of the most adorable simple picture books that there is.  I vividly remember reading it over and over again before I could even read its words.

Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen – I still absolutely adore these tales, and was lucky enough to drag my boyfriend around the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Copenhagen last year.  I cannot pick a favourite story as I did love so many of them, but as it is still essentially wintertime, I shall say that ‘The Snow Queen’, and its beautiful television adaptations, is at the very pinnacle of my treasures list.

‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch’ by Ronda Armitage

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch by Ronda and David Armitage – Such an absolutely charming book, which I remember adoring.  I found out last year that there is an entire series of these books, and am hoping that my library has them all in stock so that I can joyfully discover the Lighthouse Keeper all over again.

The Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker – It goes without saying that I absolutely adored these books.  Which little girl didn’t?  I would happily gaze at the illustrations for hours, and read the lovely accompanying rhymes.

Brambly Hedge

The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem – Surely the most adorable series of books, Brambly Hedge centered around a group of woodland creatures who wore the most adorable clothing, and were real characters in themselves.  I am longing to rediscover these lovely tales once more.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie – Quite honestly, I could gush about this charming book for hours.  If you haven’t read it before, please, go and do so.  It is beautiful, magical and filled with adventure – for me, the very cornerstones of marvellous children’s literature.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – Everyone who knows me tends to know how much I absolutely adore the Madeline books, and Madeline herself as a character.  These tales are all told in rhyme, and centre upon a children’s orphanage in Paris, in which Madeline lives with eleven other little girls and their guardian, Miss Clavel.  Bemelmans’ illustrations are utterly charming, and he effortlessly captures the excitement and adventure which his little heroine encounters along the way.

Purchase these books from the Book Depository

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Best Books on the North

I like to theme my reading around the seasons as far as I can, and what better thing to post in the run-up to Christmas than a list of best books set in the wintry north?  The first five are books which I have very much enjoyed and would highly recommend, and the last five are those which are high on my wishlist.

1. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen ***** (Various parts of Scandinavia)
2. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey ***** (Alaska)
3. Naive. Super by Erlend Loe ***** (Norway)
4. The Winter Book by Tove Jansson ***** (Finland)
5. The Siege by Helen Dunmore **** (Russia)

6. The Red Scarf by Kate Furnivall (Siberia)
7. With the Lapps in the High Mountains: A Woman Among the Sami, 1907-1908 by Emilie Demant Hatt (Northern Sweden)
8. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy (Siberia)
9. Victoria by Knut Hamsun (Norway)
10. The Crow-Girl: The Children of Crow Cove by Bodil Bredsdorff (Denmark)

Which are your favourite books set in the north?