Childhood Bookworm Nostalgia Trip #1

Growing up as a culchie child in 90’s Ireland meant only having two television channels, one family tv, and no friends living nearby; I mean books became the obvious pastime! I used to stay up late hiding under my duvet with a mini torch (that for some reason 90’s kids magazines often gave away as freebies? Anyone else remember that? My favourite was my green Scooby Doo one.) reading my book until my mom would catch me around 1am…

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I have a hell of a lot of nostalgia for the books I read as a child, and I can really remember vividly the plots and characters from many of them! I reckon everyone has similar powerful memories about childhood books that have stuck with them, so I figured why not try to start a book tag! #CBNT

I’m going to share some of my favourite childhood books (and the covers of the versions that I read) that bring me wonderful nostalgia, hopefully some of you have read the same books and this too brings back some marvellous memories!

I haven’t read any of these books since I was a child so these are just what I remember, and my impressions may have been incorrect, but these are the thoughts I associate with these titles. I’m going to focus on books I read before the age of 13, and maybe write another series about books that teenage me read and loved!

zforzacariah

A book that I adored but that scared me was Z for Zachariah. It’s a story about a 16-year-old girl who is the sole survivor of a nuclear war, or so she thinks. It was the first book that I read that was based in a post-apocalyptic world and it definitely made an impression on my young mind! The threat from the outsider, not only because he was an outsider but also because he was a man is something that sticks out in my memory. I remember feeling worried for her at the ending of the book too! (And it features a dog!)

sisters-no-way

Sisters…no way! Was one of my favourite books to read when I was 10 or so because it was double-sided! One side was a punky girls diary, she had lost her mother and she was coming to terms with that huge loss (I have a very clear memory of reading a line about her dad weeping in the garden while leaning against his spade, and the character thinking of going out to weep and hug him and thinking about how dramatic and poetic the image would be). Her dad starts to date again, and the woman he goes out with has two daughters, one who is the same age as the punky girl, however she’s her polar opposite. The other girl is into ballet and cares about her younger sister and has a boyfriend who she broke up with (magnums remind her of him), she’s a gentle soul and she likes eating sistersnoway2digestives that crumble at the top of the packet!
The flip side of the book is this ballet girls diary, and you see that she too had problems adjusting to her mother dating etc.  I think this book drove home to me that there’s always at least two sides to every argument…and that books are cooler when they’re double-sided.

the-chocolate-war

The Chocolate War was one of those mind-blowing books that I read when I was 11 or 12, and it made me think about challenging society and whats expected of me. As far as I can remember the book centres around a new boy in a school who refuses to sell chocolates for a fund-raiser and the religious brother and the school bully (in charge of a gang that runs things in the school as far as I remember!) who is his right hand man start an intimidation campaign that ends up in an incredibly violent organised fight.

stargirl

Stargirl was another book that had a message of staying true to yourself, no matter the consequences. The book was from the point of view of a shy boy who collected porcupine neckties, and how he fell in love with a most unusual girl. He convinces her to try and fit in, and she does for a while as far as I remember, but she hated being “normal” so went back to her hippie ways, and he talks about the lasting impression she made on the school – where they always cheer for the other teams first score in a match etc. My main memory is the description of the yellow gown and sunflowered bike that stargirl attends prom alone in! I do remember that for a while after reading this book I wanted to bring a little flowerpot to school with me, but thankfully my mother talked me out of that one! (I was an already clumsy 11 year old, adding glass to the mixture was an unecessary hazard!)

thewishlist

The Wish List was one of my absolutely favourite books, I really adored it! The main character, Meg dies in the first chapter during a botched burglary of an old man. The problem of where to send her soul arises from her balanced books, she’s done as many good as bad things in her life. She gets back to earth (with the help of a little imp who cleans the walls of the pathway to heaven and hell) and helps the pensioner she was going to rob to achieve some of his life goals, or his wish list. She also gets revenge on her abusive stepfather and ultimately carries out an act of forgiveness. (There was also a fused spirit of a pit bull and a guy who was trying to control Meg that satan sends back to earth to try to get her spirit to go to hell…) It was such a fast faced and wonderful read, I really must go back and give it a reread!

run-with-the-wind

I love foxes, and this is probably in no small part due to Tom McCaughren. I adored his fox series, I had the whole collection and I have strong memories of crying bitterly about the deaths that occurred. It’s a strong possibility that these books starting with Run with the Wind and the animals of farthing wood helped to convince me, at least subconsciously, to become a vegetarian! Sage Bush a blind fox is helping a group of foxes find safety from fur hunters and the secret to survival. I read this series before I read watership down and I think they had very similar themes for certain, but I loved both as I was (and still am!) a huge animal lover.

thelongmarch

Probably my first exposure to Native Americans and Native American culture was this book, The Long March. A young native boy is being convinced by the elder (his grandmother if I remember correctly!) of his village to donate what they can to help the starving people of Ireland. He is confused because 20 years earlier it was white people who forced his tribe to undergo the long march, and to leave their lands in Mississippi. I remember the story mentioning that the ground was frozen too hard to bury the many who died on the long march, so they put the corpses up trees. It also mentioned the dying Irish who had their mouths stained green from attempts to eat grass. It’s based on a real event that happened during the Irish potato famine, where the native Chocktaws donated a huge amount to help the people of Ireland. I think I felt very humbled by reading this book- I had up to that point always seen Irish people as the saviours and the more advanced, and this had given me a very new perspective. I remember too feeling so enraged and angry at the forced migration of the Choctaw people, it has definitely lead to an interest in native American history and culture that persists to this day.

bluehorse

Marita Conlon-McKenna wrote most of my childhood I’m pretty sure! I loved all of her books, but this book, The Blue Horse has a special place in my heart. It’s about the racism experienced by a young girl from the travelling community when she is forced into a settled person house. The outrage I felt for this little girl (I think she must have been the same age as me at the time), when a hairdresser refuses to cut her hair, claiming that all travellers have lice, it actually broke my heart to think that people were treated so badly for no good reason. I think it was my first glimpse into racism and injustices in Irish society and man did it affect me!

machine-gunners

The Machine Gunners was surprisingly enough about a machine gun… A young English boy who collects shrapnel finds a downed German plane with a working machine gun, himself and his friends decide to take this and build a fort which to defend their homes from the Germans. The kids shoot down a German plane and capture the rear gunner, who repairs their machine gun in exchange for a rowboat if I remember correctly! One of the boys family home is bombed and only he survives, and he lives in the fort from then on, the German soldier returns because he hasn’t the strength to row to Norway (I think! This is one of those details I’ve probably remembered incorrectly!) and eventually the fort is found by soldiers and after a gun battle the children and German are captured, two of the children go to a childrens home and the soldier is held as a POW. I remember having nightmares about my family home being detroyed by bombs after reading this book. (Although why anyone would bomb a fairly remote house in rural Ireland never occured to me…) I also harboured worries about my dad being forced to become a soldier until I asked my mom and learned that Ireland is neutral!

nulasecretwolf

Nuala & her Secret Wolf was my first foray into the Drumshee series, a series of books that are all based in the same place but in different time periods. This book was based in the Iron Age I think, and the girl hides the fact that she is mothering an abandoned wolf cub, who goes on to save her life. I loved this series as a kid, there was a viking based book, a famine book and many many more besides. I don’t think I finished the series as I “outgrew” it at some point but I’d love to go back and enjoy getting lost in Drumshee again!

I have at least twenty other books I could mention but I think I’ll finish up my first CBNT post with possibly the first book that I remember making a huge impression on me.

hawthorn-tree

Under The Hawthorn Tree is the first of a trilogy written by Marita Conlon-McKenna, that I read when I was nine years old, and they are partly responsible for my love of Irish history. The youngest of four children dies at the start of the potato famine and is buried under the hawthorn tree in their garden.The parents then die and the eldest girl decides to take her two younger siblings and go find their grandaunts who live in a city far away instead of going to the workhouse where they would be separated. They encounter horrors of death in various forms upon their journey and they have several close calls with death themselves. Ultimately the siblings have each other to fight for and the strength of familial bonds is a big part of this story. It’s a very moving book and one that has stuck with me all these years!

What books have stuck with you? Any reasons why?

Keep an eye out for the next CBNT coming soon! 🙂

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Closed Casket : Sophie Hannah, Agatha Christie

I’ll start off by admitting that I am an ardent Agatha Christie fan. She has written some of my favourite murder mystery books, and I feel like I’m coming home when I read one of her stories. This book…well it didn’t feel like coming home.

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It’s easy to tell that this wasn’t written by Dame Agatha herself, but it is a close approximation to her writing style, and it’s got a good pace and a nice flow. The character of Poirot isn’t quite right in my opinion, he’s not as concieted and confident (or arrogant as Hastings might say!) and he isn’t as involved as he is in a Christie novel.

The character of Catchpool is a bit odd, I feel that even though he’s the narrator I didn’t get to know him very well. His personality is slightly rounded in his kindness in going to the aid of a crying soul, and his confusion in his dealings with the cook and Poirot, but he felt like an unfinished character, Sophie Hannah gave me some sense of who Catchpool is but for me, he wasn’t fully realised.

I did enjoy the placement of the mystery in town near me, Clonakilty, at the beginning of the Irish Free State, but very little was mentioned of the ongoing civil war (which was quite a big thing around Cork in general). Maybe I’m simply nitpicking as I have an interest in Irish history and love to have historically accurate settings in books.

The setting of the big house and the limited cast of characters is a tried and true Christie device and it works yet again for this mystery. The owner of the house Lady Playford is well depicted and her novels sound like a lot of fun! (On a side note, if Sophie Hannah wanted to write the actual Shrimp Seddon mysteries I would be more than happy to read them!)

I liked the characters of Dorro and Kimpton as they felt the most realistic to me, they both had some backstory, and were presented as flawed but believable humans, they felt significantly more fleshed out than the two dimensional son Harry and the devoted Sophie for instance.

The plot ends up being quite convoluted and a bit stretched in places, but it’s an enjoyable romp all the same. I don’t want to give any of the story away other than the ending was a bit disappointing to me, and the “experiment” that was carried out was -to me- a cheap way of creating a mystery.

Over all I’d give this a rating of 2/5, it was good but far from great. It’s worth reading to be reminded of the joy of an Agatha Christie mystery. As a stand alone book, Closed Casket is fairly good general murder mystery story, but it’s not a wonderful addition to the Christie collection.

I definitely wouldn’t want it to be someones first Poirot, for that I’d recommend The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Orient Express, Five Little Pigs or The ABC Murders. Those are some of my favourite Christies and would make excellent Christmas gifts for the uninitiated!

His Bloody Project : Graeme Macrae Burnet

This work reminds me of John B Keane’s masterpiece The Field, a rural community deftly recreated; the mistrust of outsiders, the rivalry with neighbouring towns and communities and an innate sense of us vs them. The story centres around a brutal, repulsive set of murders in a small farming village, carried out by Roderick Macrae.

hisbloodyproject

The first half of the book is a “memoir” from the accused himself, and the second half is “transcripts of the trial” and “national news coverage” of the sensational crime. I felt that this was an effective way to show Roderick to be either deliberately lying or unintentionally unreliable or misleading in various parts of his narrative, and made me question the validity of his version of events and the subsequent truthfulness of his plea at trial.

The story challenged me to examine what insanity is and if someone who is insane can recognise themselves as such. Is evil an inherent moral flaw, as the minister in the village believes? Is the loss of a positive and loving influence in ones life enough to send one into a spiralling path of depravity and madness? What is soundness of mind, is it something that can be accurately measured and pronounced before the world?

This is part historical fiction mentioning a real pioneer in the field of psychotherapy a Doctor James Tompson. With the inclusion of this character Graeme has brought into play the class differences which were thought to feature heavily in the creation of the “criminal class”. Such beliefs are now outdated and distasteful but are an accurate representation of the society in which this novel is set. There’s an obvious split and mistrust between the local crofters and spalpins and those in positions of power. Both view the other as almost a different species, and in my mind they almost mirror the divide in current day global politics with ‘rural conservatives’ and ‘urban liberals’, both looking at the other group as very “other”.

Burnet has also captured admirably the rather savage and cruel treatment of women in the 1800s, rape is just seen as an inevitable thing that happens, dying in childbirth is framed in terms of dying to atone for the families sins and pregnancy borne of wedlock brings intense shame upon a family. For me it really brings to life the dour, oppressive Presbyterian/religious atmosphere that permeated the rural communities of Britain and Ireland.

The writing flows well and is easy to engage with and absorb, but some of the characters are very two dimensional in my eyes. To name but one the defense attorney Sinclair (although there is a letter from him included in the second half) could have done with more beefing up and in my opinion an exploration of his very ‘modern’ beliefs would have been interesting. My favourite character was Kenny Smoke. He’s a villager and feminist of sorts; a fair man with an innate sense of right and wrong and he stands out as a subtly nuanced and believable character.

I’d give this a 3.5/5 rating, as I certainly enjoyed this and raced through the book, but it lacks a truly gripping protagonist. A lover of true crime and historical fiction could do worse than to wake up to a gift of this from Santa!

Costa 2016 Shortlist Announced

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The shortlist was announced on November 22nd this year, and it’s an interesting group!
The competition is female dominated, with 14 of the 20 works nominated written by women. This is noteworthy merely because had it been 14 men not a single eyebrow would have been raised.

Thrillingly the novel shortlist features three former winners (Maggie O’Farrell, Rose Tremain and Sebastian Barry) which makes this years competition particularly compelling!

I’ve found myself always really enjoying the books that win, but this year I’ve decided to challenge myself somewhat. I’m going to borrow from my library the four books in the novel shortlist and hopefully, time permitting also will read all four nominated for the first novel prize (and if I succeed then continue to read the poetry shortlist) and give my honest opinion here on the blog before the winners of each category is announced on Jan 3rd.

I’m planning on reading The Essex Serpent first, which I think promises to be a pleasingly gothic victorian tale about a monster terrorising a town.(I coud be wrong I have’t read too much about any of the books so as not to spoil any surprises!) The Gustav Sonata is my second in line, mainly because it’s the one I’m least convinced I’ll enjoy and I’m hoping that the momentum I build up will carry me through it. Hopefully I can then get my hands on This Must Be The Place, I’ve never read any Maggie O’Farrell before but the basic synopsis I’ve read has already got me wanting more, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into this one. The book with the longest waiting list in my local library is Days Without End so fingers crossed I’ll get to it before the start of January!

Novel Award

Days Without End -Sebastian Barry

This Must Be The Place -Maggie O’Farrell

The Essex Serpent -Sarah Perry

The Gustav Sonata -Rose Tremain

First Novel Award

The Good Guy -Susan Beale

My Name Is Leon -Kit de Waal

The Words In My Hand -Guinevere Glasfurd

Golden Hill -Francis Spufford

Poetry Award

Let Them Eat Chaos -Kate Tempest

Falling Awake -Alice Oswald

Sunshine -Melissa Lee-Houghton

Say Something Back -Denise Riley

Children’s Book Award

Orangeboy -Patrice Lawrence

The Monstrous Child-Francesca Simon

The Bombs That Brought Us Together -Brian Conaghan

 

Time Travelling With A Hamster -Ross Welford

Biography Award

The Return: Fathers, Sons And The Land In Between -Hisham Matar

I’m Not With The Band: A Writer’s Life Lost In Music -Sylvia Patterson

Dadland: A Journey Into Uncharted Territory -Keggie Carew

Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years -John Guy

 

 

Don’t want to be a book collector I want to be a reader!

What a to do! The reasons for blogging my reading journey.

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Reading was my lifeblood for a long time, then somewhere along the line I got caught up in the drudgeries of life and forgot how to enjoy my favourite hobby. I became a book collector rather than a reader, and my aim is to rectify that.
My name is Lany and I am a recovering reader!

a small bookcase with some of the unread collection hanging about

I’ve made a libib account to scan all the unread books in my house and there’s over 500 languishing on shelves scattered around the place. It’s incredibly obscene and is creating a rapidly increasing feeling of guilt for obtaining these publications and not getting around to enjoying them (or not, as the case may be)!

This is an early new year resolution, to try to get at least 70% of the unread list…well, read!
There’s a wide variety to choose from; literary fiction, light reads, murder mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, comedy and non-fiction…certainly have got all the bases covered!

one of many...this one houses a lot of our discworld collection!

Hopefully this blog will be a record of my thoughts and feeling about the various reads and probably some reflections about the collected works of authors or various themes. It would be fun to document my ponderings on books I own, but also on books I borrow from the local library, especially as those are more “transient” books, and I may forget reading them if I don’t keep a record somewhere. Possibly some of my bookish friends will be willing to set pen to paper (as it were) and write a few posts now and then too!
Only time will tell, but I (like Dickens, ho ho!) have great expectations of myself as I set out on this endeavor.

Wish me luck! 🙂