25 March 2015

Little Black Classics

To celebrate their 80th anniversary, Penguin Books have published 80 new editions of classic titles. The collection celebrates the diversity of the original Penguin classics and includes books from around the world, from all different cultures and spanning many centuries. Each book costs just 80p and you can see the full list of available titles here.

Above are the two I decided to pick up after some deliberation! They both sound very different but equally interesting.

The Old Nurse's Story: A ghostly child roams the Northumberland moors, while fairytale characters gather at a strange party, in these two Victorian gothic tales.

A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees: Moonlight, spring blossom, a woman's hair - a medieval Japanese monk reflects on idle moments and life's fleeting joys.

Will you be picking up any of the Little Black Classics? I think I might add a few more to my collection!

23 March 2015

The Guest Cat

The blurb: A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another. One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby garden. But then something happens that will change everything again. The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it.

Rating: 3/5 stars

This was a really nice little book. It’s not very eventful and not much happens, it’s just a short story about a couple who become quite fond of the cat who lives next door. It was lovely to read: the writing is beautifully descriptive and I could picture the settings really well. I’ve since read that the author is actually a poet and this is definitely reflected in the writing style. Because it’s only a short book, it was the perfect thing to read in between two heavier books, although it did take me a little longer to read than I thought considering the length.

The reason I’ve given it only 3 stars is that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would, and I think that’s because the description is actually quite misleading. This might be down to things being lost in the translation from Japanese to English but is something to bear in mind. I chose this book thinking it was going to be all about what animals, especially cats, can bring to people’s lives, and more of an anecdotal style. This appealed to me as it was something I could really relate to having lived with, and sadly lost, a cat myself. The book is actually more of a reflection on the pace of life and human relationships with nature in general. Chibi the cat plays only quite a small part in that and, while the theme of the book is thought-provoking, I was quite disappointed having picked it up expecting something different.

I did really like the language and the tone of the writing, but I would be hesitant to recommend this one especially if you might have similar reasons for picking it up as I did. I'd love to know what you thought if you've read it!

19 March 2015

Elizabeth Is Missing

The blurb: Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognisable – or her daughter Helen seems a total stranger. But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it. Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about. Everyone except Maud…

Rating: 5/5 stars

It’s been a while since I read a book cover to cover all the way through without stopping, but that’s exactly what I did with Elizabeth Is Missing. I started it at 7pm and turned the last page at 11pm – quite late for me to be awake on a weekday and definitely past my bedtime! But I just couldn’t put it down.

Maud is 82 and has dementia. Often forgetting things, she writes notes to herself to help her remember. Since she hasn’t heard from her friend Elizabeth for a while, or can’t remember hearing from her, she believes something terrible must have happened and sets about finding out where Elizabeth has gone. The events of the present day and the past frequently become tangled in Maud’s mind and the story moves between past and present to show how her quest to find Elizabeth triggers memories of the disappearance of her own sister, Sukey.

Because Maud is the narrator of the story, from the first few pages you gain a real insight into what it might be like to live with the condition. You experience along with Maud the things she forgets; the way others respond to her and how much it frustrates her. The theme of dementia is handled very sensitively and I think Emma Healey has done a wonderful job of finding the right balance between humour and poignancy to portray the way memory can deteriorate and the way in which elderly people can frequently find themselves living in the past. Maud is a delightful heroine and one that I won't forget about in a hurry. You can’t help but root for her, and feel strangely protective - I found myself really worrying that something bad was going to happen to her!

As well as being a thoughtful exploration of Alzheimer’s, the story is gripping as the mysteries of Elizabeth’s whereabouts and Sukey’s disappearance slowly unfold. The books moves between past and present as new developments in Maud’s search for Elizabeth echo the search for Sukey and both are woven together brilliantly. I really enjoyed seeing the way both aspects of the story developed and playing the usual guessing games with myself as each new piece of information was revealed, and the resolution was very satisfying. I think the story would have been great as a stand-alone crime novel but for me it was Maud and her failing memory that gave it that extra layer of depth to make it such a brilliant and thought-provoking read.

Too long, didn't read? Here's my Goodreads review:
Elizabeth Is MissingElizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Both a gripping mystery and a thoughtful look at the effects of dementia - Maud is a delightful heroine and Emma Healey does a wonderful job of weaving together sensitivity, poignancy, humour and suspense. A wonderful book.

View all my reviews

5 March 2015

The First Book I Ever Loved

A little evening post about one of my childhood favourites to celebrate World Book Day.

Evacuated from London to Wales during World War II, Carrie and her brother are sent to live with the very strict Mr Evans. In trying to heal the breach between Mr Evans and his estranged sister, Carrie does the worst thing she ever did in her life.

I have always been a bookworm and I have so many favourite reads from my childhood, but Carrie's War by Nina Bawden is the first one I remember re-reading over and over again. It tells the story of Carrie and her little brother Nick who are evacuated during World War II to live with grumpy Mr Evans and his sister. When I was younger, I was fascinated by wartime history and the idea of being evacuated to live in the countryside, and I think that's why this story really captured my imagination.

The story is told from the point of view of Carrie as an adult, who is revisiting the Welsh valley that was her home during the war with her two children to reminisce about her adventure and the friends she made. Carrie has grown up believing that she caused a terrible thing to happen there when she was an evacuee. You have to wait until the end to find out what the secret is, but on the way you get to know so many interesting characters like Hepzibah Green and Mrs Gotobed who give the whole story a kind of whimsical feel with their strange names. I haven't picked it up for years but I can still clearly remember the characters and the plot, and always remember it being a firm favourite. It's such a lovely read that can be enjoyed by all ages, and I think it has something for everyone: it's equal parts history, adventure, and mystery. I'll definitely be passing this one on to my children in the future!
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