Month: December 2018

My Best Reads of 2018 #bookreview #reading

I love a good list and I love the chance to look back on some of the excellent books I’ve read. I also love reading other people’s lists so if you have a post about your best book of the year, do post a link in the comments so I can take a look and add to my ever growing TBR list! Thank you!
These are in no particular order, as each book is so different it seems unfair to say one is better than another, but, that said, ‘The Toymakers’ and ‘The Twelve-Mile Straight’ are my standout books of the year.

A Horse Walks Into a Bar

horse
This has some mixed reviews, and I can understand why, to an extent. It’s very unusual, very dark and is difficult to read at times. But it’s brilliant.
Stand-up comedian Dovaleh G is giving a performance in a small Israeli town. A childhood friend has been asked to attend – he doesn’t know why, and as the evening progresses, he feels more and more uncomfortable, as do the audience, who realise that this isn’t the show they were expecting.
This is an unsettling novel, but it is beautifully crafted, and highly recommended.

The Cottingley Secret

cottingley

I love reading fiction based on history and I’d heard the fascinating story about the Cottingley fairies before, so was very keen to read this novel.
This is a really lovely book and a pleasure to read. The author treats Frances and Elsie with respect, sensitive always to the fact that these two girls were real people, and her retelling provides an explanation as to how and, perhaps more importantly, why, people were so ready to believe in fairies.
If you like fast-paced drama with twists and turns then this probably isn’t the book for you. But I felt that the pace and the tone were ideally suited to the subject matter and the book weaves a lovely spell that draws you in and might even make you believe in fairies.

The Twelve-Mile Straight

12 mile

In a world that seems to be moving backwards, with the rise of the far right in the US and here in the UK, this is a pertinent novel. We kid ourselves that we’ve moved so far, that we have achieved equality, but the prejudice and discrimination written here is unfortunately only too real almost a hundred years later.
Sharecropper’s daughter Elma gives birth to twins – one light-skinned, one dark. Not surprisingly, this garners a great deal of interest, and gossip, and the result is that field hand Genus, deemed to have raped Elma, is lynched.
But there’s more to the twins’ conception and birth than meets the eye. And Elma, her father Juke, and housekeeper Nan find themselves entangled in a web of lies and deceit.
This isn’t a pleasant, happy read. But it is an important one. Like Britain’s history of colonialism, the US has never seemed to really address its past, admit its guilt and make amends. That it isn’t too hard to imagine the events of this book happening still is a sad indictment of how little we’ve progressed. A must read.

Petals and Stones

petals

Such an interesting way to begin a novel – we are with Uma, content, to an extent, enjoying a normal day in a relatively normal life when two horrible things happen in quick succession – she discovers her husband Daniel’s affair, and then he is killed on his way back to explain himself to her.
Her grief is tempered by anger and frustration, and the way she has to keep these things in check in front of his family and friends is so well portrayed. And the dual timelines exploring their relationship, their pasts and that of their friends Aaron and Pippa, make for a really beautifully written and novel about relationships, love, loss and the little decisions we make that affect our lives in huge ways
Joanne Burn is definitely an author to watch out for. An accomplished and absorbing novel.

Home

home

This should be a thoroughly depressing read, but it is saved from being so by Jesika, the four-year-old narrator.
It isn’t easy to successfully write from a child’s point of view once you’re an adult, but Jesika feels really authentic. Her misconceptions and misunderstandings really make you realise how confusing the things adults say can be, and you long for the grown-ups in her life to listen to her properly, to slow down and to realise that she’s confused and worried and scared.
Hard to read at times, but definitely one to read, I can’t say I ‘enjoyed’ this, but Jesika will stay with me for a long time.

The Toymakers

Toymakers

Fifteen-year-old Cathy, pregnant and in danger of having to give away her baby, runs away to London and secures a job in Papa Jack’s Emporium.
The emporium isn’t just any old toy shop. Open only for winter, the toys use the magic of imagination, the innocence and magic of childhood, to create patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy soldiers that really fight, Wendy houses that are as big inside as they seemed to be when you were little.
Cathy is a lovely main character and her relationships with Kaspar, Emil, Papa Jack and Martha are a real highlight of the book – as is lovely Sirius, the patchwork dog. If you think you can’t cry over a toy, think again!

 

 

Winter Solstice Celebrations #wintersolstice #winter

winter-solstice-celebrations

There’s something about a cold day in December, the sky growing dark, the fire lit, candles glowing, a glass of red wine and a good book. Christmas is approaching and it’s already the shortest day. I’ve always been fascinated at the old traditions and history of the seasons and festivals, particularly those destroyed by religion. And the Winter Solstice has something really magical about it.

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year – the day that has the shortest periods of daylight. It’s always been a cause for celebration because it means that we’ve reached a turning point – that the days will slowly get longer and we’re on our way to spring (even if it doesn’t feel like it). Our ancestors always knew how to throw a celebration and the winter solstice was a great excuse. There are some fascinating traditions associated with the point of midwinter and many of them have been stolen to become part of Christmas. It’s wonderful that some traditions have been revived and some new ones are beginning.

Burning the Clocks – Brighton, England

burning the clocks

A relatively new tradition, this began in 1993, but has its roots in the idea of lengthening days and shortening nights.

A procession of lanterns and costumes, all bearing a clock face, makes its way through the streets and down to the seafront. Here, the paper and willow lantern are burnt – the lantern makers make wishes, voice their hopes and fears, and pass them into the lanterns before they are placed into the fire.

Newgrange Gathering, Boyne Valley, Ireland

Winter-solstice-at-Newgra-008

Newgrange is a 5200-year-old passage tomb built by stone age farmers. Above the entrance is an opening, On mornings around the winter solstice, a beam of light penetrates the opening and travels up the passage, illuminating it and the chamber. As the sun rises, the whole chamber lights up dramatically.

Stonehenge Gathering, Wiltshire, England

stonehenge-view-of-stone-circle-looking-south-west-along-axis-web

Druids and pagans gather at Stonehenge for both the summer and winter solstices. At the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone. At winter solstice, the sun would have set between the narrow gap of the uprights of the tallest trilithon, which is no longer standing. The sun was so important to our ancestors, providing warmth, allowing crops to grow. They must have had such fear and respect for the earth, the sun, the moon and the power of nature, something we sadly lack.

Montol Festival, Cornwall, England

montol2

The Montol Festival in Penzance is a revival of many of the traditional Cornish Midwinter customs. There is Guise dancing, (from ‘disguise’ – dancers hide their identity so they can get up to mischief!) the Cornish candle dance, and performances of Guiser plays.

Midwinter, while sometimes viewed as dark and depressing, can be a really magical time. So much of our history and heritage is in the traditions that pre-date religion. While there’s a lot of noise around the fears that Christmas is being overly secularised, it’s worth bearing in mind that winter has long been a time of festivals and traditions since long before Christmas. So here’s wishing you a happy, healthy Winter Solstice – and let’s look forward to the lengthening days ahead.

happy solsice

Perfect Books for Christmas Reading #Christmas #ChristmasReading #ChristmasBooks #FridayReads

xmas

I love Christmas. At least some of it. I love being at home with my family, snuggling up on the sofa and watching movies, walking the dogs and coming home to a glass of mulled wine and a good book. And there are some books that seem just perfect for Christmas. These are my recommendations for a cosy evening (or afternoon, or all day!) by a warm fire.

‘The Toymakers’ by Robert Dinsdale

Toymakers

I read this last week in a remote cottage in Wales while the rain poured down and the wind howled round us. We had a gorgeous wood-burner and plenty of wine, and I felt really Christmassy. It’s a gorgeous book – atmospheric, magical, heartfelt and beautifully written.

‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey

snow child

I read this quite a while ago but I can still recall how beautiful it was. The prose is so evocative, it sums up the cold and wildness of Alaska perfectly. And the fairy tale winding through makes it an ideal day for a cold winter’s night in front of a fire.

‘Dear Thief’ by Samantha Harvey

dear thief.jpg

A quiet but stunningly beautiful narrative, this novel is an honest portrayal of betrayal, anger and friendship, raw in places but so well-crafted. One of my favourite books.

‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter

nights at the circus.jpg

Vivid, magical, beautiful – this is truly a classic. The writing is assured, clever without being pretentious, lyrical in places. It’s a book I’ll remember for a long time – unforgettable, colourful, and chaotic. A masterpiece.

‘Winter’ by Ali Smith

ali smith winter

Another book that I read in Wales last week and it was very suited to the pouring rain and howling wind! Review coming soon, but goodness, what an unusual book. I won’t try to explain it because it kind of defies explanation, but it’s witty and clever and insightful. And very, very different.

Happy reading and happy holidays!

christmas

 

 

‘The Toymakers’ by Robert Dinsdale #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

Toymakers

Waterstones   Amazon.co.uk

Do you remember when you believed in magic?

An enchanting, magical novel set in a mysterious toyshop – perfect for fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Stephanie Garber’s Caraval by way of Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist

It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment.

The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own.

But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own…

Fifteen-year-old Cathy, pregnant and in danger of having to give away her baby, runs away to London and secures a job in Papa Jack’s Emporium.

The emporium isn’t just any old toy shop. Open only for winter, the toys use the magic of imagination, the innocence and magic of childhood, to create patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy soldiers that really fight, Wendy houses that are as big inside as they seemed to be when you were little.

Cathy soon becomes an essential part of the emporium, safe, happy and loved. But war is looming and the repercussions of a sibling rivalry put that happiness and safety at risk.

This is such a beautiful book. The writing is truly lovely, absolutely magical in places and it really is the perfect book to sink into on a winter’s afternoon. The magic is presented in such a way that it seems totally believable, and the dark threads of war, violence, jealousy and cruelty are wound through so skilfully, that this is much more than a fantasy.

Cathy is a lovely main character and her relationships with Kaspar, Emil, Papa Jack and Martha are a real highlight of the book – as is lovely Sirius, the patchwork dog. If you think you can’t cry over a toy, think again!

Perfect for Christmas, and one of my books of the year.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.