The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots – Beatrix Potter

It’s today! It’s today!

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I was unbelievably excited to wake up this morning to an email informing me that The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots would be waiting for me when I returned from work. Obviously I would have preferred to wait by the front door for the postman, but somehow I managed to get through the day at work. I then tore home, dived into the book and had it finished before supper time.

I’ve always been a huge Beatrix Potter fan. My childhood box set was always a prized possession of mine and was subject to more than one show-and-tell session back in primary school. The Tailor of Gloucester was always my favourite and I still love to pull the book out and watch the BBC adaption around Christmas time. If there is anything more magical than animals behaving like humans it is animals behaving like humans in the snow. Simpkins in his snow boots is one of my favourite images of all time.

When I heard there was a new book by Beatrix Potter being published I was over the moon. To think that the manuscript remained hidden for over 100 years, only to emerge to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s death – it is almost as though she had planned it. I couldn’t wait to see what this story, written ten years after all her other much-loved tales, had in store for me.

The newest addition to the collection tells the tale of a very serious, well-behaved black cat by the name Catherine St. Quintin who likes nothing more than to sneak out at night and poach animals with her air gun. Like all of Beatrix Potter’s tales it is filled with funny escapades with the characters falling into one or two unfortunate scrapes, before ultimately learning a rather valuable lesson. Diehard fans of Beatrix Potter will be delighted to encounter a ‘stout buck rabbit in a blue coat’, who bares more than a striking resemblance to a mischievous young bunny once seen stealing radishes from Mr Macgregor’s garden – it looks like Mrs McGregor never did get her winter coat – as well as one or two other familiar faces and more than a few news ones.

Of course, half of the delight in a children’s book is in the illustrations and while I will admit I was slightly surprised when I saw that Quentin Blake was illustrating the book,  I think the result is absolutely stunning. Who better to illustrate a book by one of Britain’s most-loved children’s authors than one of Britain’s most loved children’s book illustrators? His drawings are nothing like Beatrix Potter’s, but I wouldn’t have liked to read a book where Beatrix Potter’s style was mimicked. Blake doesn’t attempt to fill Beatrix Potter’s shoes, he merely pays homage to her work, and does a remarkable job of it. The illustrations are perfect, wonderfully encapsulating the action and humour in Beatrix Potter’s latest tale.

What’s more Blake’s illustrator’s note, where he hopes that Beatrix potter would have approved of his work and speaks of his pride at being given the opportunity to illustrate such a book, is so sweet and endearing. I truly think he has done wonders with the text and brought the book to life in a way that none other than Beatrix Potter herself could have. My one slight disappointment is that the few drawings that Beatrix Potter did create to accompany the story could not be included in the publication.

Overall, however, I think this book is a real delight to read, filled with Beatrix Potter’s classical charm, but with slightly more adult escapades than the previous publications. There is also a subtle, perhaps satirical ribbon running through it which suggests that what is natural does not always come naturally.

There is no doubt that it was written by the Beatrix potter we all know and love, but the style is  different to her earlier works. Not worse, just different. Of course, we can’t know whether there was a deliberate attempt on the part of the author to change her writing style, or if the book was left in a somewhat unfinished state. Whatever the case may be, it is a truly charming read and I will happily place it alongside my other Beatrix Potter books, and no doubt look on it time and time again.

I know the publication is a couple of months too late, but happy birthday Beatrix, may you continue to delight us, and future generations for many, many years to come.

 

Murder in Retrospect – Agatha Christie

“Nothing whets the intelligence more than a passionate suspicion, nothing develops all the faculties of an immature mind more than a trail running away into the dark.”
― Stefan Zweig

This is my first experience of Agatha Christie, courtesy of my good friends Prudence and the Crow. I will read just about anything, but and while I love a bit of mystery, murder mysteries don’t often cross my radar. Of course, I am familiar with Christie’s work – you can’t very easily go through life without hearing a thing or two – and have seen the odd film or TV adaptation of the famous Hercule Poirot, but that’s about it. In fact, it never even really occurred to me that I hadn’t read any of her work until I received this book. In signing up to PATC I wanted to widen my readership and force myself to discover new books, and this is exactly what I got.

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Amyas Crale was murdered, poisoned in fact, of that there is no doubt. But who placed the poison in his cup? This is the question Hercule Poirot is hired to answer, some sixteen years after Amyas’ wife, Caroline, was found guilty of the murder. The couple’s daughter, Carla Lemarchant, approaches Poirot to investigate after receiving a letter from her mother, written just before she passed away, protesting her innocence. Poirot willingly accepts the case, but soon fears that it may be just as clear cut at it originally appeared. All leads seem to point Caroline, but something’s not quite right. It’s up to Poirot to revisit the past, and solve a murder, in retrospect.

Murder in Retrospect was published under the name of Five little Pigs in the US, whether or not this changes your understanding of the novel I cannot say, but for me, at least, it was a bit of a dead end. The ‘five little pigs’, alluded to in the American title, are the five suspects in the murder case – Amyas’ good friend, Philip Blake; Philip’s brother, Meredith Blake; Amyas’ mistress, Elsa Greer; Caroline’s younger half sister, Angela Warren; and Angela’s governess, Cecilia Warren.  Each suspect is represented by a different little piggy from the well-loved nursery rhyme I’m sure you are all familiar with – and they vaguely fit into these roles, Elsa Greer, the greedy little swine with whom Amyas is said to be madly in love, is the piggy with the ‘roast beef’, for example.  “This little pig went to market, this little pig stayed at home…” Poirot mutters to himself, briefly profiling the different suspects, as Carla explains the background of the murder case. Really, this is as far as the Five Little Pigs analogy goes – it doesn’t really add much to the story, it’s more just comes across as an odd little mannerism of Poirot’s. There is, of course, no evil, murderous pig in the nursery rhyme.

When reading a mystery novel, half of the thrill is in trying to work out the answer for yourself, and generally speaking, it’s quite easy to spot the different motives characters might have for wanting knock off the murder victim. This book, though, is a bit different. From the very beginning it’s difficult to comprehend exactly how Caroline Crale could possibly be innocent – she was furious with Amyas, she threatened to kill him, she served him the beer which dealt the fatal blow, and, no one else really has a motive. The only thing which doesn’t add up is why, if she was guilty, Caroline would suddenly attempt to reclaim her innocence on her death bed. Why would she write a letter to her daughter asking for her to find the truth, if indeed she was guilty? It is almost infuriating to read, because it seems so obvious for Caroline to be the one who poisoned Amyas, but of course, no mystery novel is complete without a mystery, and so it must be one of the other five – but how?

The book follows the classic structure of a mystery, but with one key difference – Poirot never actually visits the scene of the crime, and relies instead on just the testimony of the suspects. As an inspector Poirot is perhaps best known for this. So, in this case, Christie chooses to exaggerate Poirot’s main character trait, by having him to solve a crime completely in retrospect, sixteen years after it took place, with only the, somewhat blurry, statements of those involved. This requires revisiting the day of the murder through the minds of the five suspects, and as such, the reader must reread the same story over and over again. I normally hate it when authors choose to write a book from two different points of view, with alternating chapter retelling exactly the same scenes – get on with it already! – but in the case of a crime scene I think it works really well. With each retelling of the story, another piece of the puzzle is added, creating a richer image of the scene, and leading the reader, as always, to the wrong conclusion, before the true murderer is finally revealed.

My overall opinions having finished the book are definitely positive; Murder in Retrospect is a creative twist on a traditional murder mystery novel which is sure to be a hit with fans of the genre. It took me right until the end to solve the puzzle, and I was lead of a marvellous goose chase throughout, falling into each and every trap that Christie set – what more could you ask for? I’m sure I don’t need to recommend Agatha Christie to anyone, if you are a fan of murder mysteries then you will undoubtedly like this one – but you already knew that, didn’t you?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy reading the book, but I’m not sure whether I will delve further into Christie’s vast repertoire. It is easy to see why there has always been such a strong following of murder mysteries and of Christie in particular – there is certain thrill in trying to solve a puzzle before the detective which can be somewhat addictive – but I’ve never really been particularly taken by the genre as a whole. On the whole, it was interesting to experience Christie’s work for the first time, but I think, for now at least, the case is closed for me.

 

New year, new update!

Hi boys and girls!

I hope you all had an amazing Christmas and New Year with your loved ones.

I know, I know, I suck! I’ve been really rubbish the last month and haven’t posted a single update!

You see…

The run up to Christmas was insanely busy, what with 12-week reviews, gift shopping, chest infections, and preparing for a long-haul flight (which, it turns out, makes me rather anxious), and I very much needed to take a little time off – I do hope you will forgive my radio silence!

Excuses, excuses.

In other news, we’ve just come back from an amazing few weeks in Hong Kong!

In my time away I drank Champagne in the highest bar in the world, got purposely elbowed in the face by a Chinese woman, fell over – twice, saw a real life giant panda, and ate more strange things than I would care to admit (sea cucumber is definitely an acquired taste).

But you didn’t come here to read about my festive antics, did you?

You’ll be pleased to hear that in my absence I surmounted quite the pile of books to review, so I’m going to have a very busy start to the new year. It’s a good thing I am feeling so wonderfully refreshed 🙂

I also returned to some very welcome packages from my good friends Prudence and the Crow!

November’s box

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December’s box

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While I’m over the moon with both my books, I’ll be placing November’s choice on the bookshelf for now, purely because I reviewed all the Chronicles of Narnia not that long ago, but I can’t wait to get started on December’s choice:

Redwall – Brian Jacques

It is the start of the Summer of the Late Rose. Redwall Abbey, the peaceful home of a community of mice slumbers in the warmth of a summer afternoon. The mice are busy preparing for the great Jubilee Feast. 

Bust not for long. Cluny is coming! The evil one-eyed rat warlord is advancing with his battle-scarred mob. And Cluny wants Redwall. 

Needless to say, I am thrilled with the prospect of another vintage children’s book to sink my teeth into – especially as it comes with a personal recommendation from Prudence.

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Here’s wishing you all the Happiest of New Years 🙂

There will be many, many reviews to follow.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

“In our hatred, we are like bees who must pay with their lives for the use of their stingers” ― Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen

“I hate the Führer,” she said. “I hate him.”

And Hans Hubermann?

What did he do?

What did he say?

Did he bend down and embrace his foster daughter, as he wanted to? Did he tell her that he was sorry for what was happening to her, to her mother, for what had happened to her brother?

Not exactly.

He clenched his eyes. Then opened them. He slapped Liesel Meminger squarely in the face.

“Don’t ever say that!” His voice was quiet, but sharp.

71h2sjik5al-_sl1380_This book just launched itself directly onto my list of favourite books of all time!

The Book Thief is narrated by Death – this is what first drew me towards it. The front cover depicts a young girl skipping hand in hand with the Grim Reaper – how could I not want to read this?

Despite my excitement I was less than enthused by the way the book began. The whole prologue had vaguely unnatural feel to it. I found it really difficult to get into and I worried that the whole book would continue in the same jarring, start-and-stop style. I knew I wouldn’t be able to force my way through the 500+ pages of text if Zusak didn’t grasp my attention soon.

Thankfully, my worries were in vain.

It was as though someone turned on a light, and I suddenly went from being vaguely uncomfortable to completely in my element. The rest of the book is written in a similar style, but whereas the prologue felt awkward and unnatural, the proceeding chapters click perfectly into place.

The book thief’s story begins in 1939 in Nazi Germany. Liesel Meminger is taken to Himmel Street in Molching, to the home of her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Her communist parents have been taken away to concentration camps, and her young brother did not survive the journey to their new home.  On her first night in Himmel Street as she lies in her new room, the bed reserved for her brother lying empty next to her, she is plagued by nightmares of her brother’s death, and awakes screaming in a cold sweat. Her foster father, ‘Papa’, comforts her, reading to her from The Gravedigger’s Handbook – Liesel’s first stolen text.

As political tensions in Germany increase, Hans is called upon to fulfil a promise he made years before, forcing him to harbour a deadly secret, and placing the family constant danger. Despite their fears, relationships in the family grow stronger and each night Hans continues to read with Liezel. As her book collection grows, Liesel recognises the power of the written word and slowly begins to write her own story.

Zusak’s style, while perhaps slightly jarring at first, is wonderfully unique. The story is separated into small chapters, each focusing on a very specific point in time, with death drawing out the relevance of each occurrence to the wider story. The text is broken up with pictures, handwritten notes, and regular snippets of background information in amongst the main tale: brief statistics, information on Stalingrad, small observances, and even a pamphlet made from the painted-over pages of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, are all slipped into the flow of the text.

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The presence of Death as a narrator is interesting, and works really well given the context of the book. Throughout the novel the shadow of loss hangs heavy over Nazi Germany and Death himself is a constant feature on every street corner. As a narrator, Death foretells of which characters are due to meet their demise. Zusak allows you to fall in love with characters you know are going to die. And no, this doesn’t ruin the ending, it adds to the overall tension which builds up over the course of the book. It is as though you are placed in the midst of the inhabitants of Himmel Street, knowing that war will claim some of those that you love. Waiting to find out when Death will strike is the real struggle.

The Book Thief is unique amongst WWII fiction as it tells the tale of war-torn Germany from a Nazi-child’s perspective. Liesel Meminger is a wonderfully-developed and complex character who is just beginning to form her own understanding of the world. She understands the importance of doing as she is told out in the street, of Heil Hitler-ing the lady in the sweet shop and attending Hitler Youth in a neatly pressed uniform. But inside, she conceals her own personal judgements and aspirations, harbouring thoughts that must not be spoken outside the walls of 33 Himmel Street.

The Book Thief is marketed as a book for young adults, but I struggle to see how anyone, whatever their age, could fail to enjoy it. If you are interested in WWII fiction, or, like me, in historical fiction in general, then this really is a must read.

To Kill a Mockingbird ten-day (re)read challenge

“I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Atticus Finch

Penguin Random House have today launched a ten-day social media campaign to get people to (re)read To Kill a Mockingbird, ahead of the release of Harper Lee’s highly-anticipated second novel Go Set a Watchman.

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The ten-day challenge, which will run from 21–31 May, is described as a ‘a read-along for readers old and new, (re)discovering and discussing the book together to a loose ten day plan.’

‘We’ll together be reading this brilliant piece of work by Harper Lee in preparation for Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman, out on the 14th July.’

You can keep up with what’s going on by following the Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr sites that have been set up for Go Set a Watchman.

‘During this time we’ll be releasing lots of Mockingbird material, like family tree infographics, story guides and our favourite quotes,’ A Random House spokesperson has said. ‘We’ll also be making a call-out for everyone to share photos of their well-loved copies of To Kill a Mockingbird and hosting competitions to win copies of Go Set A Watchman to be sent out to lucky recipients as soon as the book is published in July.’

I don’t own a well-loved copy, although I did buy a copy of the new edition a couple of months back in anticipation of the release of Go Set a Watchman. I’m just so keen that I jumped ahead of the game!

Haven’t got a copy yet? Click here to solve that problem.

Go Set a Watchman, which sees Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird return to Maycomb as an adult, will be released on 14th July.

****GIVEAWAY****

In keeping with the spirit of the campaign I’ve decided to give you a chance to win a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. So if you want to take part in the challenge, but don’t have a copy of the book here’s your chance to get one. Just comment on this post by Sunday 24th May to be in with a chance of winning. The winner will be selected at random.

Good luck!

World Book Night – Amazon freebie!

In celebration of World Book Night I have teamed up with author N Caraway to offer you all the chance to read his novels for free on your kindles.

World Book Night is an annual celebration of reading and books that takes place in the UK on 23 April. Across the country volunteers give out hundreds of thousands pre-chosen books in their communities to share their love of reading with people who don’t own books or are unable to read regularly.

This years book list has some cracking reads on it – check out the World Book Night website for more information, and to locate participating venues.

And for those of your who can’t participate in any of tonight’s events head on over to Amazon, or Amazon UK, and grab yourself a free ebook to sink your teeth into instead.

Click on the book covers to get yourself a copy.

The Manneken Pis

maneA lonely old man is living out the last days of his life in Brussels, a city that alternates between small-town non-entity and extreme surrealist quirkiness, symbolised by the famous statue of a small boy urinating. Increasingly confused by the effects of a heart attack, he tries to find meaning in one last rational act of kindness before he dies.

Set in the capital of a rapidly ageing Europe, the second novel by N Caraway is a tragicomic study of solitude and growing old that also provides a surprising new take on the theme of the classic Frank Capra movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

The Humanitarian

51W+tDMNtgLAfter decades of civil war a peace deal is in the offing for the ravaged land of South Sudan, where the United Nations and a plethora of non-government organisations have come together to deliver emergency aid to the thousands of displaced and homeless people scattered in camps and villages across the vast wilderness of swamps and scrubland.

Richards is a UN official on his final mission, leading a small team to a remote region. For him it is not just the war which is ending, but the world he has come to inhabit. Detachment and isolation from all that is around him begin to take hold and memories of another life threaten to break through the thin walls he has built around himself. As he sinks deeper into inner darkness a chance meeting with a young priest seems to offer the hope of a way back to belief in humanity and meaning, but the road is rough.

Payday splurge! Bookish treats to get me though April

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” ― Oscar Wilde

It’s the end of the month, which means it’s finally time to treat myself after a few penniless weeks. Check out my haul!

The Hourglass Factory – Lucy Ribchester

the-hourglass-factory-9781471139307_hr1912 and London is in turmoil…

The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret.

Then Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, and Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?

From the newsrooms of Fleet Street to the drawing rooms of high society, the missing Ebony Diamond leads Frankie to the trail of a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined…

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

The-Book-Thief-cover1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

It’s a small story, about:
a girl
an accordionist
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery.

The House at the End of Hope Street – Menna Van Praag

9780143124948_p0_v1_s260x420When Alba Ashby, the youngest Ph.D. student at Cambridge University, suffers the Worst Event of Her Life, she finds herself at the door of 11 Hope Street. There, a beautiful older woman named Peggy invites Alba to stay on the house’s unusual conditions: she’ll have ninety-nine nights, and no more, to turn her life around.

Once inside, Alba discovers that 11 Hope Street is no ordinary house. Past residents include Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, and Agatha Christie, who all stayed there at hopeless times in their lives and who still hang around – quite literally – in talking portraits on the walls. With their help Alba begins to piece her life back together and embarks on a journey that may save her life.

Ladder of Years – Anne Tyler

{D611CA94-A3E1-4F0E-AA1C-260F3312C980}Img400Forty-year-old Delia Grinstead is last seen strolling down the Delaware shore, wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and carrying a beach tote with five hundred dollars tucked inside.

To her husband and three almost-grown children, she has vanished without trace or reason. But for Delia, who feels like a tiny gnat buzzing around her family’s edges, “walking away from it all” is not a premeditated act, but an impulse that will lead her into a new, exciting, and unimagined life…

Did you treat yourself to any literary goodies this payday?