Go Set a Watchman – Book review and giveaway!

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

imagesSet during the height of the Great Depression of the 1930s, To Kill a Mockingbird, is the tale of an innocent childhood in a sleepy southern town rocked by scandal. When Lawyer Atticus Finch chooses to defend a black man charged with the rape of a white girl he exposes his children to the reality of racism and stereotyping. The story, which is told through the eyes of Atticus’ six-year-old daughter, Jean-Louise ‘Scout’ Finch, sheds an amusing unfettered light on the irrationality of deep-south traditions surrounding race and class in the mid-1930s. At its heart, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic coming-of-age tale, which went on to become one of the most famed anti-racist novels of the 20th century. Today the book is widely regarded as a one of the masterpieces of American Literature.

It’s no wonder then, that the release of Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, fifty-five years after To Kill a Mockingbird, was met with such excitement.

Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee

You deny them hope. Any man in this world, Atticus, any man who has a head and arms and legs, was born with hope in his heart. You won’t find that in the Constitution, I picked that up in church somewhere. They are simple people, most of them, but that doesn’t make them subhuman.

81SX8d6vpzLGo Set a Watchman takes up with twenty-six-year-old Jean-Louise, as she returns to Maycomb to visit her now ageing father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, Go Set a Watchman delves into the raw truth of the political turmoil which marred the Southern United States of the 1950s. Jean-Louise’s homecoming, far from being an idyllic break in the country, takes an unsettling turn, as racial tensions rippling through the town come to her attention and she learns some troubling truths about the friends and family close to her heart. As she struggles to comprehend the changes occurring around her, Jean-Louise embarks on a life-changing journey guided by her own conscience.

By now, you will have no doubt read your fair share of reviews and criticism of Go Set a Watchman. Before I get into the controversy surrounding the book’s release, and subsequent criticisms of the book itself, I first want to tell you why I loved the book.

The structure of Go Set a Watchman is so completely different to To Kill a Mockingbird; I’ve heard it called jarring, and awkward, but I found it refreshing. The novel is told in the third person, but still awards an amazing insight into the minds of the central characters, with large sections of text given over to Jean-Louise’s hilarious internal monologue, particularly when she finds herself at odds with her insufferable aunt (‘Jehovah!’). As a reader you are able to witness Jean-Louise without being restricted by seeing everything through her eyes. I loved the effect that this had and I feel it allowed for a deeper understanding of her character.  The quick fisted child from To Kill a Mockingbird may have aged some, but her personality and morals remain as rigid as ever. Even as an adult she is far happier in slacks than a skirt, and more than willing to speak her mind to anyone who disapproves. Twenty years on, and the adult Jean-Louise is still a force to be reckoned with.

I also loved the amount of time Lee gave to looking into Jean-Louise’s life in the years in between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. I loved Jean-Louise’s internal anecdotes about her childhood, in particular the nine month’s spent thinking she was pregnant after being wrongly advised about the birds and the bees by an older girl. Watching the whole debacle unfold is hilarious, but none so much as the exchange between Jean-Louise and Calpurnia when she finally confesses her horrible secret:

“I’m going to have a baby!” she sobbed.

Calpurnia said, “As sure as the sweet Jesus was born, baby. Get this in your head right now, you ain’t pregnant and you never were. That ain’t the way it is.
“Well if I ain’t, then what am I?
“With all your book learnin’, you are the most ignorant child I ever did see…” Her voice trailed off. “… but I don’t reckon you really ever had a chance.

Little gems like this give Go Set a Watchman a really human feel, which I absolutely loved. It is one thing to witness a character’s story as it unfolds, but another to observe a character revisiting their past. The Jean-Louise of To Kill a Mockingbird exists only in the present moment, whereas the adult Jean-Louise transcends time periods to enable a fuller understanding of the complexities of her character.

Now, on to the controversy.

I know a lot of people are of the opinion that Lee was manipulated into granting permission for the release of Go Set a Watchman, and I’m sure nothing I say will change this, but I, personally, do not believe that this is the case. Firstly, friends and family close to Lee have outright denied that this claim – but this is not the only reason I choose to believe that Lee wanted the book to be published. I think that the presence of anomalies within the text, specifically with regards to the outcome of the Tom Robinson case in To Kill a Mockingbird, suggest that Lee had the definitive choice when it came to publishing the book. For me, the presence of such anomalies show that Lee wanted the book to be seen and to be viewed as it was; true to the time it was written, and not as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird. If the release of Go Set a Watchman was nothing more than a money-making plan at the expense of a fragile old lady I do not think this would be the case.

The circumstances surrounding the publication of Go Set a Watchman are not the only thing awarding the book negative media attention. I have read so many opinion pieces that suggest that the book ruins To Kill a Mockingbird and taints the Atticus Finch that we all knew and loved. One US bookstore even offered refunds to anyone who purchased the novel from them, on the ground that their advertising it as ‘nice summer read’ was unquestionably false. This, again, I do not agree with.

When I read To Kill a Mockingbird I fell completely in love with Atticus, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman is fundamentally different. But did this new portrayal of his character ruin the former impression I had? No, of course not. The Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird still exists, and nothing will ever change that. Go Set A Watchman may be set 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was never intended to serve as a sequel.

The time portrayed in Go Set a Watchman can’t be viewed in a vacuum, but neither should it be completely judged based on To Kill a Mockingbird. The two books are fundamentally different. One gave birth to the other. Go Set a Watchman in itself is an incredible look at the time in which it was written, allowing for amazing insight into the Southern United States of the 1950s.

Would Go Set a Watchman have been accepted by a publisher now were it not for To Kill a Mockingbird? I don’t know. Maybe not. The novel is certainly not as ground-breaking as To Kill a Mockingbird – but is that really surprising? It is the history of the book that is really fascinating. As readers we have been given the chance to read the first draft of one of the most famous books ever written. In reading Go Set a Watchman you are given an incredible insight into Harper Lee’s writing process. Needless to say, as a booklover, and a fan of To Kill a Mockingbird, I found Go Set a Watchman to be an incredibly interesting and exciting book to read.

If you haven’t yet read Go Set a Watchman, and haven’t been put off by all the negative media coverage than I have good news for you. I have an extra copy of the book up for grabs for one lucky reader.

Simply comment on this blog post by Friday 4th September, to be in with a chance of winning.

Happy commenting!

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.


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.

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

“But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget.” ― Tim O’Brien

What was it I came for? The loaded shelves frown down at me as I circle them, and the blue and white linoleum stares up, dirty and cracked. My basket is empty, but I think I’ve been here for a while; Reg is watching me. I reach for something: it’s heavier that I was expecting and my arm is pulled down suddenly with the weight. It’s a tin of peach slices. That’ll do. I put a few more tins in my basket, tucking its handles into the crook of my arm. The thin metal bars grind against my hip on the way to the counter.

EIM-pb-jacketMaud’s memory is not as sharp as it once was. She forgets to turn the gas off, eats endless amounts of toast, makes cup after cup of tea which line up, cooling on the side board, and has enough sliced peaches to feed an army – but still she buys more.

To help her to remember, Maud has a ‘paper memory’ – countless notes left by her carers, her daughter and herself. Notes fill her house, her pockets, and the gaps in her arm chair, instructions, reminders, recipes and phone numbers spill from every orifice. In Maud’s pocket, amongst the shopping lists and appointment slips is a note in Maud’s own handwriting that reads ‘Elizabeth is missing’. Elizabeth is Maud’s friend; the only friend she has left. She doesn’t remember when she wrote the note, but she knows that something is wrong. If only she could tell someone, if she could just make them understand.

Elizabeth is Missing is probably not what you expect. I asked a friend if she knew what the book as about, she looked at me in confusion and said, or asked, ‘some girl called Elizabeth who goes missing?’ – She couldn’t be further from the truth. This book is so much more than just a mystery.

Fifty years ago Maud’s elder sister went missing. In Maud’s mind lie the secrets to solving this mystery, and they are desperate to get out, but it’s difficult to solve a puzzle when you keep forgetting the clues. Maud can’t remember the relevance of her thoughts – there is definitely something important about planting marrows, but she can’t be sure what. She struggles to express herself, forgets the word she was just about to say, answers a questions asked hours before, and relives conversations from years past. It’s no wonder no one takes her seriously.

In Elizabeth is Missing the clues are slowly teased from Maud’s damaged mind. The reader is tossed between the present day, and fifty years in the past, reliving, day by day, the disappearance of Maud’s sister, before returning to the present to search for her ‘missing’ friend. The present is confusing, muddled and foggy, while the past is pristine and bright.

Maud’s memories: her parents’ house, the yard, the pantry, and the dusty bedroom floors – are all so clear and picture perfect. Emma Healey creates a rich, colourful background for Maud, clearer and crisper than the black and white photos of her past. The second Maud casts her mind back it is as though you are there with her in the kitchen, stirring the supper cooking on the stove and preparing the table; focus and you can hear the tinkling of tea into china cups, and the soft clink of the tea spoon.

Return to the present, and the scene is much more blurry.

In Elizabeth is Missing, Healey has taken a theme something that many people are incredibly uncomfortable with, and expressed it in a way that I have never seen before. Watching a loved-one grow old and lose their capacities is one of the most heart wrenching and terrifying experiences I have ever had, and it was incredible to view this from the other side. Elizabeth is Missing allows the reader to take on the role of the person whose mind is failing, to see the world through their eyes. The effect is unsettling, haunting and somewhat humbling.

Maud is an amazing character, she is funny, cleaver and mischievous, but her story is so incredibly sad. If you are an emotional reader, as I am, this one is likely to induce a few tear-filled episodes. There were also times when I felt so angry on behalf of Maud, I was furious with the people around her, those close to her who, it seemed, would ignore her, dismiss her, and neglect her. But of course, the events are portrayed through Maud’s mind, you do not see the other times. The times she has forgotten. It is difficult to describe the emotional rollercoaster that this book took me on – I laughed, I cried, and, in the end, I closed the book feeling completely overwhelmed.

Elizabeth is Missing is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. Despite the games Healey played with my emotions, I loved every second of it. Each individual aspect of the book combines to create something truly unique and stunning. Even now, weeks after having finished the book I feel completely blown away by the sheer brilliance of it.

Would recommend to anyone and everyone, if you only read one book this year make it Elizabeth is Missing.

I’m having another … Wordless Wednesday

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C. S. Lewis

Charlotte’s Web named best children’s book of all time!

“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” ― C. S. Lewis

I was over the moon today to learn that Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White had been voted the best children’s book of all time.

The 1952 tale, about a lovable pig named Wilbur who is saved from the slaughter thanks to his unlikely friendship with a resourceful spider named Charlotte, was named number one in a list of 151 books chosen by critics in a poll by BBC Culture.


The initial selection was whittled down to a list of the 21 top books in children’s literature, a diverse selection of books which provides a charming glimpse into children’s literature of the past two centuries.

1. Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
3. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
5. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
6. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
7. Winnie-the-Pooh – A. A. Milne
8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
9. A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin
10. A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle
11. The Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder
12. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame
13. From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler – E. L. Koenigsburg
14. The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
15. His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman
16. Matilda – Roald Dahl
17. Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh
18. Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren
19. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
20. Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown and Pat Hancock
21. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

There are many books on the list I would have happily seen voted number one, but I think the most deserving book won. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Little Women are all firm favourites of mine, but they are books I came to love later on in life, whereas Charlotte’s Web was one of the first books I read on my own.


I loved Charlotte’s Web as a child, and I find it just as enjoyable now as I did twenty years ago. So I am over the moon at it’s number one spot. Books which tell a story from the point of view of animals have always been popular among children, and E. B. White took this classic theme and created something truly wonderful.

I’d love to know what your thoughts are on this. Did your favourite children’s book make in onto the list? Do you think something else is more deserving of the number one spot? Let me know! 

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?

Some of my favourite fictional ladies, created by ladies

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” ― Joseph Conrad

Over the weekend #womeninfiction emerged on Twitter, so in running with the theme I’m here to share with you a few of my favourite fictional ladies.

Renée Michel

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery.

Elegance of the HedgehogRenée Michel is possibly my favourite literary lady of all time. She is a concierge, and self-confessed member of the lower class. Despite how she outwardly appears, she is in fact fantastically intelligent, but she knows her place, and sticks to it, stating that to be “poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age”. Madame Michel prefers to lives a secret life, reading Russian literature in the privacy of her lodge while donning the air of a simpleton when speaking with the inhabitants of the apartment complex where she works.

In Renée, Barbery has created a fantastic female heroine for lovers of literature. I challenge anyone to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and not feel themselves brimming over with admiration for the soft soul nestled within the prickly exterior of Madame Michel.

Petronella Brandt née Oortman

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

18498569Petronella is an 18-year-old Dutch girl whose family have fallen on hard times since the death of her father. She is married off to a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam, Johannes Brandt, but has a difficult time fitting into her new life. Petronella, who prefers to go by the name of Nella, attempts to be a good wife to her new husband, but is forever at the mercy of her stern sister-in-law Marin Brandt. Nella begins as a child, before all too quickly becoming a woman, when the crushing weight of her new family’s secrets is placed on her shoulders.

What is there to not love about Nella? In each stage of her growth she is simply delightful: innocent and charming, determined and strong, and finally, reliable and level-headed.

Jerusha Abbot

Daddy long legs – Jean Webster

9780141331119Jerusha Abbott, or Judy as she likes to be called, was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. At the age of 17, she find herself at a loose end, she has finished her education, and is no longer young enough to live in the orphanage without paying her way. Imagine her surprise when one of the John Grier Home’s trustees offers to pay for her to go to university. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance; in exchange Judy must write him a monthly letter. Judy is told she will never know his true identity and must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply. Judy warms quickly to the trustee, gifting him the persona ‘Daddy Long Legs’, and writing warm, detailed letters each month. Judy dotes on her Daddy Long Legs, and, it appears, he on her.

Judy is an amazing character, gifted with the unique opportunity to turn her rags to riches. Read Daddy Long Legs and I’m sure you will find, too, that you fall in love with the little orphan girl and her extraordinary tale.

Geogianna Lennox

Dead and Buryd – Chele Cooke

dfw-cc-dab-cover-mid (2)Georgianna Lennox is a local medic on a foreign planet ruled by alien invaders, the Adveni. The native people, the Veniche, to whom Georgianna belongs, have become slaves in their own home. Georgianna is somewhat unique among the Veniche as her work allows her to tread within the realms of the Adveni forces, treating the sick and injured within the walls of the infamous Lyndbury prison. For Georgianna this is a way of treating her lost people, but it is not enough. When Georgianna’s friendship with a group of rebels risks putting her own freedom at stake, she is faced with a difficult decision – what will she choose to put first, her family or the freedom of her people?

Georgianna is a strong, determined character, but one I felt extremely comfortable getting to know. Cooke has created a character that is admirable, but also wonderfully human. I found her to be amazingly likeable and funny, despite her hard exterior.


Now the Day is Over – Marion Husband

9781908381811-frontcover (2)Are you sick of me talking about Edwina yet? If you are, shame on you, you clearly haven’t taken the time to read the book.

Edwina is the spirit of a young woman trapped between the  early 20th Century, and modern day Britain. Since her death she has lurked the shadows of her former home, critically analysing those who take residence within the walls. In Now the Day is Over she takes the form of super-omniscient narrator, haunting the house which was once hers, commenting on the lives of the adulterous couple who reside within her domain, comparing their existence to the life that was once hers.

I love Edwina because she is so all encompassing. She is deliciously genuine, admirable, maddening, terrifying and somewhat detestable all rolled into one.

Intrigued by any of my lady loves? You know what to do.