Friday, 31 January 2014

Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist by Jack and Holman Wang
Published by Cozy Classics
5th December 2013
Board Book Edition
 
 
 
 
Cozy Classics is the popular board book series that distils great works of literature into 12 child-friendly words. Accompanied by 12 stunning images of needle-felted characters, the cuteness and visual simplicity of the felted illustrations will appeal to children, while their craftsmanship will appeal to adults. Oliver Twist is Charles Dickens' high-spirited adventure about one boy's journey through the underworld of London and is one of Dickens' most famous tales.
 
 
 
The Cozy Classics books are back with some new titles for the new year.  This time it's with the classic Dickens novel Oliver Twist.  The format is the same, twelve words followed by twelve gorgeous felted images.  Want to see some of them?
 
 
 
Please sir, can I have some more?
 
 
 
 
 
 
Meeting Fagin
 
 
 
I have to say, I think these books are fantastic and a great way to get very young children interested and understand some great classic fiction.  Both of my girls, who are 5 and 7 love these books and because there is no actual text, they generate lots of conversation about what can be seen in the images, but also about what we think each word might be referring to before looking at the illustration, for example 'more'.
 
 
I can't wait for the next Cozy Classic!
 
 
 
Happy Reading
 
 
 
Miss Chapter x


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Night Film


Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Published by Windmill Books
30th January 2014
Paperback Edition

 
 
 


 

Everybody has a Cordova story.  Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn't been seen in public since 1977.  To his fans he is an enigma.  To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy.  To Ashley he was a father. 

On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan.  Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty.

For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence.  Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.

The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career.  This time he could lose his grip on reality.

 

Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not.
     Maybe your next-door neighbour found one of his movies in an old box in her attic and never entered a dark room alone again.  Or your boyfriend bragged he'd discovered a contraband copy of At Night All Birds Are Black on the Internet and after watching refused to speak of it, as if it were a horrific ordeal he'd barely survived.
     Whatever your opinion of Cordova, however obsessed with his work or indifferent - he's there to react against.  He's a crevice, a black hold, an unspecified danger, a relentless outbreak of the unknown in our overexposed world.  He's underground, looming unseen in the corners of the dark.  He's down under the railway bridge in the river with all the missing evidence, and the answers that will never see the light of day. 
     He's a myth, a monster, a mortal man.
     And yet I can't help but believe when you need him the most, Cordova has a way of heading straight toward you, like a mysterious guest you notice across the room at a crowded party.  In the blink of an eye, he's right beside you by the fruit punch,  staring back at you when you turn and casually ask the time.

 

Marisha Pessl took the book world by storm with her debut novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics in 2006 but has not written another novel since.  When I heard Night Film was coming out I was excited, yet daunted.  Could she pull it off again, after such a long gap?

From the start Night Film is set to imprint on your life.  It's a fantastically clever combination of prose, intertwined with newspaper articles, photos and underground blog posts.  Marisha Pessl is so clever that you actually start to believe that Stanislas Cordova really does exist, as do his films just from the way the information is set out in front of you.

Scott McGrath is an journalist with a grudge to bear against Cordova, he's been trying to find out more about the man behind the movies for years but the last time he got too involved and it ended up with his marriage ending and a custody battle with his daughter.  Running in the park one night, McGrath spots a mysterious girl in a red coat who seems to be following him.  Who is she, and what does she want?
 
Days later, Stanislas' daughter Ashley, a talented musician, is found dead in an abandoned warehouse.  It seems that she was the girl in the red coat, but what did she want with McGrath?  Before he can really think about it, he is drawn back into the world he once swore he would stay away from.  What happened to Ashley and why was she reaching out to him?  Can McGrath finally uncover the truth about the mysterious life and world of Stanislas Cordova without it taking over his life?

Make no doubts about it, Night Film is a big book, some 656 pages in the paperback edition but I flew through it.  The cover says it's in the same league as Gone Girl, it isn't, it's much better.  Night Film is probably not like anything else you will read this year.  Try it, I don't think you'll be disappointed.



Happy Reading

 
 
Miss Chapter x

Monday, 27 January 2014

Just What Kind Of Mother Are You?


Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly
Published by Bantam Press
25th April 2013
Hardback Edition


 

What if your best friend's child disappears?  And it's all your fault.

This is exactly what happens to Lisa Kallisto, overwhelmed working mother of three, one freezing December in the Lake District.  She takes her eye off the ball for just a moment and her whole world descends into a nightmare.  Her best friend's thirteen-year-old daughter Lucinda has gone missing and now, devastated by this and publicly blamed, Lisa sets out to right the wrong.

But as she begins peeling away the layers surrounding Lucinda's disappearance, Lisa learns that the quiet town she lives in isn't what she thought it was, and her friends may not be who they appear to be, either.

 
He arrives with time to spare.  Reverse-parking, he gets out and the cold hits him.  Slapping him hard in the face and stinging his skin.  He smells good.  Expensive.
     He's parked a few hundred yards from the school at the viewing point.  On a clear day there's an uninterrupted vista across the lake, over to the mountains beyond.  In better weather there'd be an ice-cream van, Japanese tourists taking photographs.  Not today, though.  Not with the clouds so low in the sky, and not with the autumn darkness fast approaching.
     The lake water reflects the trees.  It's a muddy, coffee-coloured brown - soon to be slate-grey - and the air is still.
     Maybe he should get a dog, he ponders briefly.  Something friendly - a spaniel perhaps, or one of those white, fluffy things.  Kids love dogs, don't they?  It might just be worth a go.

 


Paula Daly's first novel is something many women with children can relate to.  That crazy time when you are trying to juggle too many things at once, and then you forget to do something crucial.  Lisa Kallisto is that mum, too many things on her mind, agreeing to things without really listening to the information at hand, meaning she has forgotten that her daughter's best friend was meant to be staying over; and now she has gone missing.

We join the police investigation as they not only try to find Lucinda, but are also on the hunt for someone who has started taking young girls, drugging and raping them.  Lucinda is the second girl to disappear in as many weeks. 

Kate, Lucinda's apparently perfect mum, and her family, turn on Lisa and the guilt she experiences means she desperately feels the need to get involved in the investigation and find out what happened to Lucinda.  As she starts to follow Kate, and her husband Guy, their seemingly perfect life suddenly doesn't seem so great, and the secrets that both families have been trying greatly to keep hidden begin to become unravelled. Kate is one of those women you sometimes end up being friends with, and then at some point, begin to question just why you are friends with them, after they have put you down for the umpteenth time. 

This is a good read, one that keeps you turning the pages, not only to find out more about DC Joanne Aspinall who is in charge of solving the disappearance of Lucinda, but also about the secrets the characters are keeping from each other.  What does Lisa have to hide from her husband Adam, and where does Guy, Lucinda's father, keep driving off to?  Just What Kind Of Mother Are You hits you with a conclusion that you didn't expect.

 
Happy Reading

 
Miss Chapter x

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Fairies and Fireflies


Fairies and Fireflies by Becca Price
Published by Wymtales Press
9th January 2014
Paperback Edition

 



 
In the Wide, Wild Field, friendship is bigger than fear, and can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

A butterfly fairy gets a kitten, raids a beehive, and makes friends with a firefly. Urisk the brownie gets a new home, and finds help overcoming his fear of the dark. Fireflies learn that friends come in all shapes and sizes, and let you be who you really are.

This collection includes the bonus story, Sunflower, which was also published in Dragons and Dreams.

These bedtime stories will enchant children ages 3-7.

 

Once, a small Butterfly-Fairy flew over a patch of golden sunflowers growing in the wide, wild field.  Butterfly-Fairy loved the sunflowers.  She loved their bright orange petals, and the way that the flowers always turned their heads so that they always faced the sun.  They even looked like the sun, she thought, with their flat round seed-heads surrounded by orange and yellow petals that looked like the rays of the sun.
 
The sun was warm on her green and purple winds, and the sky was clear and blue.  Butterfly-Fairy should have been very happy, but she was sad and lonely.  She wanted a pet to play with, to cuddle with, to love and to hold.

Butterfly-Fairy landed on the largest sunflower.  She opened a pouch that hung from her belt, and took a pinch of magic, and sprinkled it on the sunflower.  "I wish I had a kitten to play with!  A soft, furry kitten to love, and hug and cuddle, and play with!"  Then she took a whole handful of magic, and sprinkled it on the sunflower.  "I do wish I had a kitten!"

 

Becca Price is an American author who writes children's fantasy fiction.  Following on from the success of Dragons and Dreams comes this new collection of bedtime stories, aimed at children (or more specifically girls) ages between 3 and 7.

My girls are 5 and 7 so I read these stories to them to guage their opinions.  They both loved the adventures of Butterfly-Fairy.  The stories are just the right length for bedtime, in fact they are short enough to allow for more than one at a time.  There is always some good that comes out of each story too, for example in Sunflower, the kitten that Butterfly-Fairy wishes for is too large for her to play with, so she gives it to a lonely child instead.  These stories are simple and well-told.  Of course, if your child has no interest in fairies, then this book wouldn't be for them, but both of my girls do so they loved this.  The only thing missing in our opinion are some illustrations.

 

Happy Reading

 
Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Big Brother


Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Published by Harper Collins
2nd January 2014
Paperback Edition
 




“I can’t believe they gave him a middle seat.”
     “They should really charge double, and leave the next seat empty.  I lost my armrest, and the guy was half in my lap.  And you saw how hard it was for the attendant to get the cart past him.”
       I was relieved when the woman’s suitcase arrived, since the pariah whom she and her seatmate had so cruelly disparaged must have been the very large gentleman whom two flight attendants were rolling into baggage claim in an extra-wide wheelchair.  A curious glance in the heave passenger’s direction pierced me with a sympathy so searing I might have been shot.  Looking at that man was like falling into a hole, and I had to look away because it was rude to stare, and even ruder to cry.
     “Yo, don’t recognize your own brother?”
     The smile I’d prepared in welcome crumpled.


I have to wonder whether any of the true highlights of my fortysome years have had to do with food. I don’t mean celebratory dinners, good fellowship; I man salivation, mastication, and peristalsis.  Oddly, for something I do every day, I can’t remember many meals in detail, while it is far easier for me to call up favorite movies, faithful friendships, graduations.  It follows, then, that film, affinity, and education are more important to me than stuffing my face.  Well done, me, you say.  But were I honestly to total the time I have lavished on menu planning, grocery shopping, prep and cooking, table setting, and kitchen cleanup for meal upon meal, food, one way or another, has dwarfed my fondness for Places in the Heart to an incidental footnote; ditto my fondness for any human being, even those whom I profess to love.  I have spent less time thinking about my husband that thinking about lunch.  Throw in the time I have also spent running indulgence in lemon meringue pies, vowing to skip breakfast tomorrow, and opening the refrigerator/stopping myself from dispatching the leftover pumpkin custard/then shutting it firmly again, and I seem to have concerned myself with little else but food.

 
It has to be said, Lionel Shriver has done it again.  The author of the incredible We need to talk about Kevin (see my previous post) has just written an explosive book focussing on that ever topical subject - food.  As this is an American author, then what better way to tackle our relationships about, and with what we eat than with the topic of obesity, of which American has a major problem.

Pandora Halfdanarson is a now flourishing business woman living in the state of Iowa; daughter of a successful soap-opera father, she has spent her life shunning the media. Her brother Edison hasn’t.  A known jazz musician he has dreamt of living life in the limelight ever since he can remember.  After a few years absence, he calls Pandora out of the blue, asking if he can visit.  The man who greets her at the airport is not the brother she remembers.  He has piled on the pounds to become a grotesque enlarged version of himself, to the extent that she initially doesn’t recognise him.

What follows is a graphically descriptive account of our relationships with food, and how not only this can affect those living with us, but also the way we are treated and regarded in society.  It’s an engrossing read that, pardon the pun, I devoured in only a few sittings. 

It’s not a light-hearted read, as fans of Shriver will already expect of her, but a brutally honest account with an element of truth in its telling.  I’ll be recommending this to many people to read.

 
Happy Reading

 
Miss Chapter x

The book that keeps coming back to me






Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who tried to befriend him. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood and Kevin's horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her absent husband, Franklyn. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.


I wasn't going to blog this today.  I have a review lined up for tomorrow but this morning it hit me again, as it is sometimes want to do.  Out of the blue, just like that.  Sometimes you read a book, and it won't let go of you.  You remember specific parts of it as if you had only read it yesterday because when you did read it, it made you gasp and your heart race and you couldn't put it down.  We need to talk about Kevin did exactly that to me. 


We chose it for our book group back in 2010 when it had just been released in paperback.  You know what happens in the book before you read it, Kevin has a dysfunctional relationship with his mother and goes on to kill his fellow pupils at school one day.  What you don't know, and this is the genius of Lionel Shriver as a writer, is a) why and b) how.  Oh my goodness me, when you get to the how bit you can't stop turning the pages.


I'll readily admit, I found the start of the book hard-going.  It's a series of letters from Eva to her husband, totally one-sided, for it doesn't show his replies, all about her relationship with Kevin from pre-conception to the present day.  There were times when I didn't care about this moaning woman, but I persevered.


And this is what I tell everyone when I recommend this book, and I do recommend it a lot, it's hard work, and a bit self-centred to start with, but then suddenly you know what is about to happen, and forgive me but then BOOM it hits you like a ton of bricks and you stay up so late because you just have to keep turning the pages right up until the very last sentence because Shriver has you gripped.


It's not a 'nice' book, it's about your child murdering other children, and how you deal with that.  But it's so fantastically well written you can't help but admire it.  Oh, and don't think you can cheat by watching the film because that really won't do at all!


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Longbourn

Longbourn by Jo Baker
Published by Black Swan
1st January 2014
Paperback Edition
 
 
 
 
 
 
'If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,' Sarah thought, 'she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.'
 
It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah's hands are chapped and raw.  Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.
 
 
 
There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September.  Washday could not be avoided, but the weekly purification of the household's linen was nonetheless a dismal prospect for Sarah.
     The air was sharp at four thirty in the morning, when she started work.  The iron pump-handle was cold, and even with her mitts on, her chilblains flared as she heaved the water up from the underground dark and into her waiting pail.  A long day to be got through, and this was just the very start of it.
     All else was stillness.  Sheep huddled in drifts on the hillside; birds in the hedgerows were fluffed like thistledown; in the woods, fallen leaves rustled with the passage of a hedgehog' the stream caught starlight and glistened over the rocks.  Below, the sow twitched, her piglets bundled at her belly.  Mrs Hill and her husband, up high in their tiny attic, skep the black blank sleep of deep fatigue; two floors below, in the principal bedchamber, Mr and Mrs Bennet were a pair of churchyard humps under the counterpane.  The young ladies, all five of them sleeping in their beds, were dreaming of whatever it was that young ladies dream.  And over it all, icy starlight shone; it shone on the slate roofs and flagged yard and the necessary house and the shrubbery and the little wilderness off to the side of the lawn, and on the coveys where the pheasants huddled, and on Sarah, one of the two Longbourn housemaids, who cranked the pump, and filled a bucket, and rolled it aside, her palms already sore, and then set another bucket down to fill it too.
 
 
 
Longbourn by Jo Baker turns the classic novel Pride and Prejudice inside out by looking at the lives of the characters who help make the world of the Bennet family what it is.  Mrs Hill runs a tight ship, along with her husband Mr Hill, and housemaids Sarah and Polly; always catering to Mrs Bennet's every beck and call.  But why is Mrs Hill allowed, unannounced, into Mr Bennet's study?  Sarah dreams of what life for the Bennet sisters could possibly be like, of the endless balls and dinner parties, and a man to fall in love with her.  One day, a stranger appears over the fields, and becomes the new footman - he harbours secrets no one could possibly guess at.
 
Jo Baker's novel, is one in a growing trend of current fiction that takes a classic tale and looks at it from another angle - that of the servants point of view.  It's a fascinating tale; while Mrs Bennet is flapping about what people will think of her dinner parties, Mrs Hill has to make it happen at the drop of a hat.  When the 5 sisters need new outfits, it is Sarah who is sent to walk the long journey into town, and back, to fetch what they need.  It's a beautiful tale, and so well-written that you can feel the chilblains on Sarah's hands that first cold morning.  Whilst Longbourn made me want to go back and read Jane Austen's masterpiece again, to see if I could spot Sarah, or Polly or James in the turning of the pages, it also didn't, Longbourn is definitely a novel in it's own right.
 
 
Happy Reading
 
 
Miss Chapter x
 



Saturday, 18 January 2014

Persephone Books

There's a lot of bloggy love out there at the moment for Persephone Books, and I thought I'd leap onto that bandwagon poste haste and share my favourite of all their titles.

But what are Persephone Books I hear you cry - not heard of them, then let me tell you.

Persephone prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women. The titles are chosen to appeal to busy women who rarely have time to spend in ever-larger bookshops and who would like to have access to a list of books designed to be neither too literary nor too commercial. The books are guaranteed to be readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget.

They have a shop in Lamb's Conduit Street in London, and will also supply books by mail order.  Do check out their lovely website here.  One day, I will enter their premises and stroke the books in all their glory. 




Their books are all packaged in the same way, with a beautiful dove-grey cover, and then the surprise is inside with a vintage fabric/wallpaper covering and matching bookmark, carefully chosen to match the period and contents of the book!


 
 
 
You can join their mailing list and they will send you a copy of their biannually and their catalogue (plus a bookmark)!
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
The books aren't cheap, they are currently £12 each, but they are so gorgeous that I think they are well worth the price.  So far, I have 5 in my collection:
 
 
The inside of Miss Ranskill Comes Home
 


 
 
The inside of The Journal of Katharine Mansfield


Good Evening, Mrs Craven



The inside of The Two Mrs Abbotts

but my favourite of them all is this one


Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Miss Pettigrew lives for a day describes the whirlwind adventure of Miss Pettigrew, a governess sent to a job interview at the wrong address who, over the course of twenty-four hours, receives an introduction to the glamorous lifestyle of nightclub singer Miss LaFosse. It's a wonderful book and one we chose for our book group - we've been meeting now for 8 years and it's by far, still our favourite read!  It's also a wonderful film.


If you haven't heard of them yet, I urge you to give them a try.  I don't think you will regret it!


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Girl Least Likely To


Girl Least Likely To: Thirty years of fashion, fasting and Fleet Street by Liz Jones
Published by Simon & Schuster
16th January 2014
Paperback Edition

 

 

Liz Jones is Fashion Editor of the Daily Mail, and a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.  She is the former editor of Marie Claire, which sounds quite an achievement, but she was sacked three years in.  A psychotherapist once told her, ‘What you brood on will hatch’, and she was right.  Nothing Liz ever did in life ever worked out.  Nothing.  Not one single thing.

Liz grew up in Essex, the youngest of seven children.  Her mother was a martyr, her dad so dashing that no other man could ever live up to his pressed and polished standards.  Her siblings terrified her, with their Afghan coats, cigarettes, parties, sex and drugs.  They made her father shout, and her mother cry.

Liz became an anorexic aged eleven, an illness that continues to blight her life today.  She remained a virgin until her thirties, and even then found the wait wasn’t really worth it; it was just one more thing to add to her to do list.  She was named Columnist of the Year 2012 by the British Society of Magazine Editors, but is still too frightened to answr the phone, too filled with disgust at her own image to glance in the mirror or eat a whole avocado.

She lives alone with her four rescued collies, three horses and seventeen cats.  Girl Least Likely To is the opposite of ‘having it all’.  It is a life lesson in how NOT to be a woman.

 
I went to visit my mum today.  She is in her old bedroom, still in the semi-detached Sixties’ house she shared with my dad in Saffron Walden in Essex, but the room could now by anywhere.  Or at least, anywhere inside an institution.  Her bedroom furniture has been taken away – the double divan, the heavy, dark dressing table – as the carers found it to be in the way, too low, too high, too heavy.  Basically, my mum’s pride and joy, Pledged over many decades, contravened health and safety.  She is, instead, in a narrow hospital cot, with metal bars on each side, a hoist above her hovering like an obscene child’s mobile.  It twinkles, I suppose, when someone has bothered to open the curtains (a ritual that began and ended my mum’s every day, whilst she could still wield a mop to shove the heavy, oak curtain pole back up into place, given it always drooped with the weight of the blue velvet).  But rather than being a comfort, the mobile-hoist hybrid is a constant reminder of her infirmity.

Everything in the room is the colour of her dentures, which she no longer wears, given she no longer eats solids.  There are pads and wipes and cotton wool and anti-bac gels everywhere, as though she were a giant baby.  She is served tiny spoons of baby food by a Latvian carer who shouts, from time to time, ‘How are you feeling today, Meesees Jones?’  A lifelong tea addict, her only liquid is lukewarm water, syringed from a small pipette into her gaping maw; a mouth like that of a long-neglected baby bird.  Occasionally, the water hits the back of her throat and she splutters.  She can no longer watch TV, even if she could ever find her glasses (a lifelong quest), or listen to the radio, so these last ornaments of normality have been excised.  She doesn’t really know it is me, her youngest child, her baby, her Lizzie (her other children were summoned with a roll call – ClarePhilipNickLynTonySue – until she hit upon the right one, but she always knew it was me) sitting by her bed, my silver laptop a shield from her torment.

 

Liz Jones is a bit like Marmite.  You either love her or hate her and this book will not change that.  Many who already dislike her will read this and continue to do so.  Those of the three million readers of her column in the Mail on Sunday will read it and love every word.  So what about those who aren’t sure, or have maybe never even heard of Liz Jones?  (At the time of writing, Liz is currently gracing our tv screens on Channel 4's Big Brother).

Journalist and fashionista Liz Jones never felt she would be good at anything.  She only really had two ambitions, to own a horse and to appear in Vogue magazine.  The first she finally managed a few years ago, the latter she never achieved.  Starting out as reporter on Lyons Mail, Liz worked her way up through the likes of Company magazine until she was offered the role of Editor of Marie Claire.  She was to dramatically fall from grace just three years into the role by challenging the ‘body issue’ and the way that magazines portray women.

This is Liz’s account of her life, from her first childhood home by the A130 that she was too scared to cross, to her failed marriage to an adulterous husband; Liz reveals all.  I will readily admit to being a reader, and admirer, of her column in the MoS.  I do think that she has become a parody of herself, that with her writing she has created a persona that she now cannot afford to shake off.  But, she has an unfailing talent for writing, and publishing things that shouldn’t be said, but for Liz, that has made her career.  She no longer has a husband, or very many friends as a result but she tells it as she sees it.  She is nothing but unseeingly honest.  I actually really enjoyed this book, she focuses more on her earlier years than the later ones of her marriage, and current relationships, but that’s what the book is about; if you want the latest ins-and-outs of her life, read her weekly column.  However, I wouldn’t want to be Liz Jones for anything.  She clearly is a woman who tries too hard, and seemingly fails at almost everything in doing so.  Is she her own worse enemy?   Probably.


Happy Reading

 

 
Miss Chapter x

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Other Typist


The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
Published by Penguin
2nd January 2014
Paperback Edition
 
 

 
 

New York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition and the whole city swims in bathtub gin.

Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the Lower East Side.  Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precint.  While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid.

But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell.  As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls’ friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose’s fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession.

But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out?

 
They said the typewriter would unsex us.

One look at the device itself and you might understand how they – the self-appointed keepers of female virtue and morality, that is – might have reached such a conclusion.  Your average typewriter, be it Underwood, Royal, Remington, or Corona, is a stern thing, full of gravity, its boxy angles coming straight to the point, with no trace of curvaceous tomfoolery or feminine whimsy. Add to that the sheer violence of its iron arms, thwacking away at the page with unforgiving force.  Unforgiving.  Yes; forgiving is not the typewriter’s duty.

 I don’t suppose I know much about the business of forgiveness, either, as my job ha so much to do with the other end of it.  Confessions, I mean.  Not that I extract them – that is for the Sergeant to do.  Or for the Lieutenant Detective to do.  But it is not for me to do.  Mine is a silent job.  Silent, that is, unless you consider the gunshot clacking of the typewriter that sits before me as I transcribe from a roll of stenotype paper.  But even then I am not the originator of this ruckus, as after all, I am only a woman – a phenomenon the Sergeant seems to observe only as we are exiting the interrogation room, when he touches my shoulder gently and says with great and solemn dignity, “I am sorry, Rose, that as a lady you must hear such things.”  He means the rape, the robbery, whatever it is we have just heard confessed.  At our precinct, located in the borough of Manhattan in what is known as the Lower East Side, we are rarely left wanting for more crimes to hear.

 

Suzanne Rindell’s debut novel is a mix of The Great Gatsby combined with the thriller elements of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith, which transport you to America in the 1920s.  The First World War has just ended and the 20somethings are living it up.  However, the Volstead Act, introduced in 1920, to control the production, importation and distribution of intoxicating beverages, intends to stop this. As a result the criminal underworld latches on to it, and the world of the speakeasy emerges - secret bars to consume prohibited drinks. 

Rose Baker is a well-brought up, straight-laced girl.  Raised by nuns, she wouldn’t dream of visiting a speakeasy, or of even consuming a drink.  That is, until she meets the other typist, the glamorous, flirtatious Odalie.  Determined from the start to dislike her flamboyant ways, Rose is soon drawn to Odalie, and a friendship quickly develops which takes Rose to places she has never dreamed of.  But how much control does Rose actually have over the situation.  Is Odalie really all she seems?

From the beautiful cover, in both hardback and paperback editions, this book is a steady-paced but well written story right from the start.  Rindell manages to bring America in the 1920s to life, especially the environment of the police precinct, and that characters that both work there, and are brought there.  I loved The Other Typist with its contrast of glamour and seediness and think this could be an ideal book for group discussion.  

 
Happy Reading

 
 
Miss Chapter x

Saturday, 11 January 2014

My Favourite Book

Do you have a favourite book?  One you can return to again and again and yet it seems to tell a different story each time?

I do!

I read a few a lot of books and don't actually re-read very many of them - with the exception of my Christie collection.  I can read Agatha Christie books many times over!  I don't know why I don't re-read books to be honest, I think it's because there are always so many other choices to move onto next.

Anyway, I digress!  Back to the book in hand...


This is the version I have - can you see the spooky face in the background?



This is the one I can read and re-read.  It's by the wonderful author Diana Wynne Jones, and it's called Fire & Hemlock.  I can't remember how old I was when I discovered this, but I can remember it was because of a magazine review that I liked and made me want to go and get the book.  I'd not read any of her other books before, and I don't think it would have been a typical read for me either so it shows just how influencing a review can be.

Polly has always loved the fire and hemlock photograph, which hangs, above her bed, with its suggestion of mysterious dark figures and undiscovered secrets.
But now, it sparks memories in her that don's seem to exist any more. Memories of Thomas Lynn, who became her greatest friend… Memories of the stories they made up together – adventures in which Tom is a great hero and Polly is his assistant… Memories that these adventures had a nasty habit of coming true…
What has happened in the years between' Why has Tom been erased from Polly's mind, and form the rest of the world as well? And why is Polly so sure that she must have done something dreadful? Determined to uncover the awful truth, she casts her mind back ten years to when it all started .At the funeral…


I guess today, if you wrote a book about a ten-year old girl going off with a grown-man to have secret adventures with, it would cause suspicion, but then, it didn't seem questionable.  In fact, this book has it's own Wikipedia page!  The odd thing is, no matter how many times I read it, I can never remember the end.....!

What do you return to read?  Do tell.


Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x







Thursday, 9 January 2014

Love, Nina


Love, Nina: Dispatches from Family Life by Nina Stibbe
Published by Viking
7th November 2013
Hardback edition
 
 

 

  

In the 1980s Nina Stibbe wrote letters home to her sister in Leicester describing her trials and triumphs as a nanny to a London family. There's a cat nobody likes, a visiting dog called Ted Hughes (Ted for short) and suppertime visits from a local playwright. Not to mention the two boys, their favourite football teams, and rude words, a very broad-minded mother and assorted nice chairs.

From the mystery of the unpaid milk bill and the avoidance of nuclear war to mealtime discussions on pie filler, the greats of English literature, swearing in German and sexually transmitted diseases, Love, Nina is a wonderful celebration of bad food, good company and the relative merits of Thomas Hardy and Enid Blyton.

 

Dear Vic,

Being a nanny is great.  Not like a job really, just like living in someone else's life.  Today before breakfast Sam had to empty the dishwasher and Will had to feed the cat.

 
Sam: I hate emptying the dishwasher.

MK: We all do, that's why we take turns.

Will: I hate the cat.

MK: We all do, that's why we take turns.

Sam: Anyway, Will, the cat hates you.

Will: Don't talk shit, Sam.

Sam: Don't say shit in front of the new nanny. (Drops cutlery on to the floor and shouts, "Trevor Brooking")

Will: Don't say Trevor Brooking in front of the new nanny. 
 

Sam had porridge (made by me in a pan).  Tea, no sugar.  Pills.

Will had grilled tomatoes with garlic (he made it himself, except for lighting the grill) and tea, three sugars.

MK had hippy bread (not granary), toasted.  Early Grey, one eighth of a spoon of sugar.

Lucas had Go-Cat (chicken flavour), water.

We are very near the zoo, but they never go there.  And nearish to Madame Tussaud's but they never go there either.  They never do the things you'd imagine.  Apparently only people who don't live in London do all that stuff.  Real Londoners just go to secret places that tourists don't know about, like Hampstead Heath.  Our closest, Monopoly-wise, would be Oxford Street (green) or Euston Road (blue).  But the funny thing is, how near everything is.  You could walk pretty much anywhere.  Distances seem further on the underground because you go all round the houses and not just from A to B.

Hope all's well with you.

 
Love, Nina

PS Jez lives up the road in halls of residence and his college (UCL) is very close to MK's office on Gower Street, which is quite near Oxford Street.

 
 
In 1982 Nina Stibbe moved from Leicester to central London, to work as a nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers, then the editor of the London Review of Books.  This book is a collection of some of her letters to her sister Victoria.  As well as the everyday life of the Wilmer famiy, a few neighbouring celebrities are dropped into the letters too, in particular Alan Bennet who can be found popping round for tea and the author Deborah Moggach, who doesn't!

 

I initially wanted to read Love, Nina as I am known as Nina by my family - a strange reason to therefore want to read a book, but it's true!  Thankfully it turned out that I really enjoyed it!  It's a nice, easy read and the letters have a naive innocence about them.  We learn about MK and her two sons Sam and Will, as well as the other residents of Gloucester Crescent.  I found the book quite amusing at times, in particular one scenario involving borrowing a saw from the theatre director Jonathan Miller who was their neighbour, and then the panic of not being able to return it as it had vanished!  Nina certainly wasn't employed for her cleaning or cooking skills, and the book is full of recipies either tried or suggested by one sister to another - many involving turkey mince.  I won't be trying to recreate any of the dishes!

 

Love, Nina is a funny, light-hearted read that is perfect for dipping in and out of to while away the hours.

  

Happy Reading




 
Miss Chapter x

Monday, 6 January 2014

Dot


Dot by Araminta Hall
Published by Harper Collins
2nd January 2014
Paperback edition

 

 

In a higgledy-piggledy house situated in a sleepy Welsh village, two girls play hide and seek within its maze of tunnels and range of turrets.  Squeezed under her mother’s bed, Dot’s hand brushes against a long-forgotten photography of a man, his hair blowing in the breeze.  Dot stares so long at the photograph the image begins to disintegrate before her eyes, leaving her with just one thought: ‘it’s him.’

 
They were playing a game of hide and seek, as they so often did.  Some people might have seen it as a lack of imagination , but as both Dot and Mavis displayed so much imagination in later life, it seems more likely a fact of  circumstance.  Druith is after all miles from anywhere, sunk in a low, damp Welsh valley, and Dot’s house suggested itself to hide and seek in a multitude of ways.  Not that two ten-year-old girls were aware of any of this.  They didn’t even find Dot’s house strange: it was still nothing more than a marker in their childhood landscape, and the fact that the floors tipped, cupboard doors opened into secret passages and a concealed turret sprouted out of the side of the house washed over them.  The only thing they were beginning to find amusing were the plates with Dot’s grandmother inexplicably chose to hang on the walls.  ‘What next?’ they’d whisper to each other.  ‘Will we be eating off paintings?’  Although one glance at the heavy oils of permanently displeased relatives and windswept landscape made this seen very unlikely.

 

Unlike her first novel Everything and Nothing Araminta Hall has moved away from the crime/thriller genre and written a novel about families and relationships and the twists and turns of life that can undoubtedly change not only your life but those around you.

Focusing on three generations of women, Dot is a well written novel encompassing a whole host of characters.  I liked that fact that there were no real secondary characters in the book; everyone had a chapter where they got the opportunity to explain themselves.  What begins with two school friends playing hide and seek, turns into something much more complex. 

Dot’s father leaves her on her second birthday.  But who is he, and why did he leave?  Her mother rarely leaves the house they share with their grandmother, and she isn’t telling Dot anything.  Why do both Dot and Mavis both have the same red hair?  And later on, why do the girls’ plans for university both take a dramatic turn?  Araminta Hall weaves together a fantastic tale of two families who on the outside appear to have nothing in common but as the story progresses, you realise that appearances are not what they seem.

Having loved Everything and Nothing, I was eager to read Araminta Hall’s second novel.  There is no comparison.  Whilst I have loved reading both, they are of completely different genres, which, is an amazing feat for a new author to accomplish.  With a whole host of complex characters, and twists and turns to keep you reading, Dot is an enjoyable novel of ordinary people and what how the events around us can shape who we ultimately become.

 
Happy Reading


Miss Chapter x

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Published by Bloomsbury
7th June 2010
Paperback edition
 
 
 
 
 
It's 1946 and Juliet Ashton can't think what to write next.  Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey - by chance, he's acquired a book that once belonged to her - and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence.  When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Juliet's curiosity is piqued and it's not long before she begins to hear from other members.  As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation, Juliet soon realises that the society is every bit as extraordinary as its name.
 
 
Mr Sidney Stark, Publisher
Stephens & Stark Ltd
21 St James' Place
London SW1
 
 
8th January 1946
 
 
Dear Sidney,
 
     Susan Scott is a wonder.  We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food.  Susan managed to get hold of ration coupons for icing sugar and real eggs for the meringue.  If all her literary luncheons are going to achieve these heights, I won't mind touring the country.  Do you suppose that a lavish bonus could spur her on to butter?  Let's try it - you may deduct the money from my royalties.
     Now for my grim news.  You asked me how work on my new book is progressing.  Sidney, it isn't.  English Foibles seemed so promising at first. After all, one should be able to write reams about the Society to Protest Against the Glorification of the English Bunny.  I unearthed a photograph of the Vermin Exterminators' Trade Union, marching down an Oxford street with placards screaming 'Down with Beatrix Potter!' But what is there to write about after a caption?  Nothing, that's what.
     I no longer want to write this book - my head and my heart just aren't in it.  Dear as Izzy Bickerstaff is - and was - to me, I don't want to write anything else under that name.  I don't want to be considered a light-hearted journalist any more.  I do acknowledge that making readers laugh - or at least chuckle - during the war was no mean feat, but I don't want to do it anymore.  I can't seem to dredge up any sense of proportion or balance these days, and God knows one can't write humour without them.
     In the meantime, I am very happy that Stephens & Stark is making money on Izzy Bickerstaff Goes to War.  It relieves my conscience over the debacle of my Anne Bronte biography.
     My thanks for everything and love,
 
     Juliet
 
     P.S.  I am reading the collected correspondence of Mrs Montagu.  Do you know what that dismal woman wrote to Jane Carlyle? 'My dear little Jane, everyone is born with a vocation, and yours, is to write charming little notes.' I hope Jane spat at her.
 
 
This is one of those books that I've been meaning to read for an age - since it came out in-fact.  For some reason though it hasn't happened and then, by chance, I stumbled on an un-read copy, no less, in the charity shop a few weeks back and bought it.  On New Year's Eve, having finished the book I was previously reading, I needed something new to start and gazing at the shelves, this one jumped out at me - though not literally of course!
 
 
The book is a series of letters from author Juliet, to her publisher Sidney, to his sister, Sophie and then to the collected members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  The Second World War has just finished and life is returning, somewhat, to normal, but for the Islanders of Guernsey, returning to normality after being held captive by the Germans is a little harder.  Juliet learns of how life was for them during the final years of the war, and of the Society formed out of the blue one night, that kept them all going, both then and now.  Writing back and forth to each other, new friendships are formed, and Juliet decides she needs to go to Guernsey to meet this wonderful group of people.  It's a move that will ultimately change her life.
 
 
This is a real feel-good book, similar to I Capture the Castle by Dodi Smith, which kept me turning the pages all-night long.  Mary Ann Shaffer, and later her niece Ann Barrows (after Shaffer falls to ill to continue the book) write with humour and true personality - I believed these letters and in the characters who wrote them. Having lived on Jersey for a few years, I know about the Occupation and the effect that it had on the Channel Islands as a collective.  Whether this made the book more appealing to me I can't say, but I've already recommended it!  A great first read of the year!
 
 
Happy Reading
 
 
Miss Chapter x