Christmas reading (6)

The Christmas reading recommendations are still coming in!  Mrs Kelly, one of our Assistant Librarians, read three books: two in English and a third in her mother tongue of Polish, our second novel from foreign literature discussed in this series.

Mrs Kelly’s first novel is The good liar by Nicholas Searle.  She says:

“Nicholas Searle’s first novel, The Good Liar, is a story principally about Roy (one among his various identities), a conman, who is planning to pull off his final financial scam. He hooks up with a wealthy widow and plans to run away with her life savings.

The structure takes you backwards and forwards, revealing Roy’s life bit by bit, starting in contemporary Britain, and then reverting back to 1938 Berlin.  I must admit, I was considering giving up at the beginning, as I simply couldn’t get into the story, but I am so glad I persevered! Loved it! The story unfolds, culminating in a fabulous ending.”

Sounds like an arresting story (no pun intended)… One I’d very much like to read, and, although my to-be-read list keeps growing, I have already started on one of the previous recommendations (S J Watson’s Before I go to sleep, after comments by Miss Anderson made it so intriguing).  Book number two on Mrs Kelly’s list is Austin Wright’s Tony and Susan:

“It grabbed me straight from the beginning! The story is about Susan, an English University lecturer, who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward, requesting an honest opinion. Since Edward’s ambition of becoming a writer was partly to blame for the breaking of their marriage, Susan is anxious about reading it. She does, however, and submerges herself into the novel, titled Nocturnal Animals. The reader then is drawn into yet another novel; very dramatic and gripping, about some tragic events in a life of Tony – a maths professor. Both stories interchange with one another, keeping you on your toes! Excellent read. Nocturnal Animals was actually adapted into the 2016 film, of the same title, by Tom Ford, its director.”

Oh no, the more reviews I read, my list increases in size!  And the third novel is one I’d like to read in translation.  Mrs Kelly says this about Bokserka by Grazyna Plebanek:

“It’s a multi-layered story about women, their desires, and breaking the stereotypes (the protagonist, Lu, fights in the boxing ring, whilst working in an embassy in Brussels, at the same time). The novel also discusses the whole generation of current thirty year-olds – people who are not afraid of many things and know no barriers. It did annoyed me at times, however, as it seems to portray feminism in the way I would not necessarily agree with. Glad I read it though!”

Many thanks, go to Mrs Kelly and all our readers, for their contributions.  It will soon be too late to feature Christmas reading so as and when we read more books and I receive more reviews, I will post them immediately.  In the libraries we are busy with History projects covering World War I and the Elizabethans, we are learning as much as the children from their fantastic teachers.

Further reading:

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle review – a thriller that will trip you up

Tony & Susan by Austin Wright

Grazyna Plebanak

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Christmas reading (4)

Our reading journey continues with two entries which are attracting my attention, and which are now on my to-be-read pile!  Mrs Redman, Head of House and English teacher recommended Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent and teacher of Drama, Miss Anderson’s Christmas reading was Before I go to sleep by S J Watson.  Here is what each had to say:

Mrs Redman on The Essex serpent: “I picked it up in Waterstones because it was so beautiful – all rich blues and embossed gold detail.  The rave reviews on the back heralded it as An Essex village is terrorised by a winged leviathan in a gothic Victorian tale crammed with incident, character and plot and they weren’t wrong.  From the start, she creates a creditable Dickensian marshland setting in which grotesques and caricatures live alongside  London cognoscente.  The notion of superstition and a potential force of evil entering their world challenges their feelings towards religion and science.  It’s a page turner with believable and likeable characters facing a predatory menace; who or what the menace really is, and whether it is real or imagined, is the essence of the book.”

Miss Anderson on Before I go to sleep:  “I read “Before I Go To Sleep” by S.J.Watson and it was a fantastic thriller. A woman suffers a brain injury leading to memory issues. She wakes up every day believing she is in her 20s and realises that she is middle-aged and cannot remember any of her life between then and now. She starts to write a diary to aid her day-to-day life and the recovery of her memory. Yet as the days build up, she realises that there are many things her husband isn’t being honest with her about.  It was a great read that had me absolutely gripped.”

Miss Anderson’s choice has been made into a film starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong (more of my favourites!).

Have any of you read these novels?  Please do get in touch, I do like to read others’ thoughts on books which are important to them, especially if featured here.

Berkhamsted School Staff Book Club meets again…

We had a lively and interesting meeting last Tuesday (17th May), and discussed two books Katherine Webb’s The legacy and Father’s Day by Simon van Booy.

the legacyGenerally we all enjoyed the books to some extent, but had more to say individually.  Katherine Webb’s novel was felt to have been well-written and a good read, with plenty of plot and storyline, however some felt that the ending needed a clearer definition: there were interesting threads which we as readers knew to be part of the story but the protagonist seemed to feel satisfied that they were not brought together for her; of course, this is purely the preference of two of the readers.  Some members of the group felt that this fact made it more realistic because in life, things aren’t always resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, but we others, whilst recognising this, felt that here, somehow, it would have made for a better ending for everything to be tied up.  The characterisation was good and the settings were interesting.  Our thanks go to HarperCollins for a copy to review.

Father's Day

Father’s Day was generally liked very much.  For a novel whose story involves travelling between the past and the present, generally we felt that this was done seamlessly with items signifying  good or important memories invoking events from the past between the two protagonists.  The story was told simply and not  sentimentally, we felt, although one member of the group disagreed.  The back story was intriguing and provided a good deal to question and talk about. The characters were likeable and interesting, with their story, whilst dramatic in itself, told calmly and almost gently. We should like to say thank you to One World Publications for the advance copy.

As usual, we then had a discussion of books which we’d recently read and enjoyed, please see the list below:

Missing, presumed – Susie Steiner

My map of you – Isabelle Broom

Maestra – L S Hilton

You sent me a letter – Lucy Dawson

The boy on the wooden box – Leon Leyson

Am I normal yet? – Holly Bourne

The storyteller – Jodi Picoult

Faces in the smoke – Josef Perl

The girl on the train – Paula Hawkins

Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr

A book which looks absolutely fascinating and which I would love to read this summer is A life discarded by Alexander Masters (author of Stuart : a life backwards).  He found some diaries in a skip outside a house which was being cleared in Cambridge, and which were written by one hand spanning five decades.  Apparently they reveal an ordinary life lived but one which is, at times, shocking, poignant, and hilarious…

If you have read any of these fantastic novels, please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

Finally, we hope, as a group, to see the long-awaited film adaptation of a favourite book of ours, Jojo Moyes’s Me before you, which is out on general release in cinemas from Friday 3rd June…Check out this blog for a review!

 

 

This Star Won’t Go Out (Esther Earl) and The Fault In Our Stars (John Green)

I felt that it was about time that, having seen the film, The Fault In Our Stars, this librarian read the book by John Green and delved a little deeper into the story behind the novel.  Many of our readers here at Berkhamsted already knew the book, told us that John was their favourite author and asked us whether we could wait to see the film… So, being one of the slower librarians on the uptake, I have finally read the novel (which I loved), seen the film and looked more closely into the background, which our students may not know too much about.  I quickly found that John was inspired to write the novel after meeting and getting to know Esther Grace Earl at LeakyCon 2009 (now known as GeekyCon, originally a Harry Potter fan-orientated convention based in the USA and Canada, now embracing all kinds of geeky things, music from rock bands ‘Harry and the Potters‘ and ‘The Whomping Willows‘, to name but two, nerdfighters and so much more…).

This Star Won’t Go Out is a book by Esther and her family, and includes pages from her journal and recollections from Esther’s parents, Lori and Wayne Earl, about her diagnosis as a sufferer of thyroid cancer, aged 12, how she coped and managed her illness, and her thoughts about life and how it was, to suffer in this way.  It is a wonderful book, and whilst desperately moving, Esther’s sense of fun, thoughtfulness on her illness as well as for others and how they were affected by it, shines throughout.  She doesn’t say much about what she achieves and how she reaches out to others, but the testament of her parents and friends, both IRL (in real life!) and online, speak volumes about her ability to encourage others to pull through in the face of adversity.  One thing thing which struck me when reading this book was very much the positive aspects of online social media.  The best of support chatrooms, YouTube videos, and blogs is apparent and the help these media can offer to young people who are suffering is immense.  In an age where we are encouraged to be very wary of the worst aspects of social media, it was enlightening to find so many examples of the best.  John Green wrote the introduction to the book, and I was moved to read how she was the inspiration (although not the basis) for Hazel Grace Lancaster, his heroine.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Fault In Our Stars tooreading it solidly in between working and family life, in a very short time.  I found it moving, devastating, amusing (the sense of humour exhibited by the young cancer sufferers made me think about things which go wrong in my life and how it is possible to see chinks of humour in almost any situation), and uplifting.  I feel that the author clearly understands how teenagers work and how they think, let alone how they may feel about things that happen to them, and, by the popularity of his writing, teens agree with this.  I also loved that the film’s storyline was so close to the novel, making it resonate for readers, who are so often disappointed by such adaptations.  The acting was superb and a testament to the abilities of the cast, particularly its younger members: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff.

In our libraries we have copies of both books, so now I am going to display them both together, I’m sure that they will fly off the shelves, as The Fault In Our Stars does permanently!

I would like to share the following links with you, in case you’d like to learn more about Esther Earl and John Green:

Esther’s parents have founded a charity of the same name as their book: This Star Won’t Go Out, click on this title to visit their website.  The charity does important work in helping to support the families of young cancer sufferers, as well as the children themselves.

To follow John Green on Facebook: click here, twitter: here, tumblr: here and finally on his own website here.  John also creates videoblogs together with his brother, Hank, and they are well-worth watching, they’re fun and educational: https://www.youtube.com/vlogbrothers

It’s the end of term!

Hear ye, hear ye! Read all about it!

Here at Berkhamsted, we have just half a day left of this term, and so, to finish, we produced a newsletter letting everyone in school know what we’ve been doing in the libraries this term.  We would like to share this with you.  How do you communicate with the rest of your schools and organisations about what you do?  It would be great to hear about what happens in other libraries…

The major event of the term has been the official opening of our School Archive Exhibition Room, which features on pages 4 and 5.  We have developed the Archive extensively over the past two to three years, with one of our librarians obtaining archivist qualifications, meaning that she is now the school’s official archivist, and the assignment of three rooms, fittingly, in the oldest part of the school to house the Exhibition Room, Archive Office and Store.  We hold fascinating material covering the life of the school since its foundation in 1541, from an original building, to seals of appointments of Headmasters, and a prefect book (annotated by Charles Henry Greene, author Graham Greene’s father, with details of old boys who died during the Great War,  he was Headmaster here during that time).  We have samples of uniform which spans the early decades of the twentieth century, for both boys and girls, copies of school magazines and much much more.  If you are an Old Berkhamstedian, perhaps you would like to make arrangements to visit one day.  Please do take a look at our website dedicated to the archive, by clicking here.

We have also housed an exhibition of students’ artwork which was undertaken to reflect what World War I meant to Berkhamsted School.  Give that our library on our Castle Campus is a Memorial Library to the memory of boys and members of all staff who served during the War, it seemed very fitting for us to display this artwork.

We also cover our subscriptions to e-resources and our celebration of World Book Day 2015, which took place on Thursday 5th March.

We hope that you enjoy taking a look!

first page lent 15

Click on the link below to read!

Lent 2015 blog ed.

Lessons in disaster : McGeorge Bundy and the path to war in Vietnam (Gordon M Goldstein)

Our Head of Sixth Form here at Berkhamsted, Mr Petty, wrote to me recently about a book which had made an impression on him during our Christmas holidays (I know, we’re still looking at books read whilst we still had time to read…).  His choice this time was Gordon M Goldstein’s non-fiction title, Lessons in disaster : McGeorge Bundy and the path to war in Vietnam.  As a historian and teacher of politics, I can imagine this to be a compelling read for Mr Petty.  He says:

“I read a cracking book over Christmas…  It’s based on interviews and diaries by Bundy, a national security adviser who was very close to decision-making in the Vietnam War, which most would surely regard as a disaster.  It has remarkably candid reflections, as its title implies, and is a brilliant companion to that most moving film  based on Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Fog of War, which is similarly honest in its admission of mistakes.  Seemingly rare nowadays, from policy-makers?”

I’m sure that Mr Petty has recommended this title, and that of the film, to his Year 13 students, and can only imagine that it will support their studies.  We should hope that our young people can learn so much from the honesty of politicians and use the past to reflect more deeply on how to improve decision-making and developing foreign policy in the future.

lessons in disaster the fog of war

World Book Day 2014: celebrations in school (2)

Welcome to part two of our posts about our celebrations for World Book Day 2014.  We took our lead from the World Book Day 2014 website  and decided to create our own ‘Writes of Passage’ noticeboard.  We had a banner made for each of our school libraries and placed them close to, or at the top of, a noticeboard.  We then invited as many people as possible to complete blank postcards with details of books which had meant a lot to them as they were reading them.  We had a terrific response!  Many were colourful and some contained entire illustrations.  Many congratulations and thanks to all who participated!

We were delighted that so many people participated – we received 322 cards and the majority of books shared were shared by only one person, and amongst them, there were only a few adults represented, thus providing an overwhelming impression that our children are reading and reading so diversely!  The children also voted outstandingly in favour of print editions over electronic versions of books.  Hooray!  Our top ten books, (including series) are as follows:

1.     The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins

2.    The Fault in Our Stars John Green

3.     To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

4.     Harry Potter series J K Rowling

5.     The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas John Boyne

6.     The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time Mark Haddon

7.     The Book Thief Markus Zusak

8.     The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared Jonas Jonasson

9.     The Inheritance Cycle Christopher Paolini

10.   The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky

Interesting that our top four also rank in the top four on the World Book Day 2014 list!

Recipe for Love (Katie Fforde)

Valentine’s Day 2013 heralds the release of Katie Fforde‘s novel Recipe for Love in paperback by her publisher, Cornerstone Publishing (a Random House company). Along with five wonderful women, I was lucky enough to be chosen to take part in filming a television advertisement for the release, which will be screened on Valentine’s day on More4 and several of the Sky television channels. A longer version of the advert will appear on the Random House website.

We had a super day which began with being taken to a pretty house in Balham, south London,  the selected location of filming.  The house has been used quite a lot for this activity, so once you’ve seen our ad, let me know when you’ve seen that kitchen before!  The first thing that happened to us was ‘hair and make-up’ which took quite a while and then we were filmed individually.  I was so surprised to find that, once in situ on my stool, a lot of time was spent making sure that ornaments and flowers were in their correct place, even one petal out of sync with a camera angle makes all the difference!  Did you know that pink flowers appear yellow sometimes?!  Everything had to co-ordinate with our outfits – apparently the trim on my cardigan looked as though it was moving independently of me!  We had been instructed to wear clothes that we’d wear when meeting a friend for lunch and not stripes or bright patterns…  The lunch theme worked particularly well given that we were in a kitchen!

Whilst filming was taking place, we were interviewed and had to remember to repeat the question being asked as the interviewer’s voice wasn’t going to be heard on-screen, not easy for someone with my short-term memory problems!  The production company would then go on to edit the ad right down to just a few words spoken by us as individuals, adding a group shot of us sitting around the kitchen table chatting and discussing the book.  It was a fascinating day and all was provided through our love of reading a particular author’s books.  Being a reader can bring you such a wealth of opportunities…

The book which we raved over was a super read, admittedly destined for the female readers’ market, but perfect for those moments when all you want to do is relax with a book to remove yourself from everyday cares.  It is based on a TV cookery show where the contestants compete to earn a good sum of money which they plan to use to advance their own culinary skills in some way.  Protagonist Zoe dreams of owning and running her own delicatessen and  the other contestants have similar ideas, owning a gastro-pub, a restaurant and so forth, but trouble-making Cher is just in it for the fame and celebrity status she craves.  Problems begin when Zoe falls for Gideon, one of the judges of the competition, and she has to manage her emotions, Cher’s attempts at sabotaging her success and her ability to help others out of crises.  Katie Fforde’s novel tells an entertaining tale, reminding us of the actual BBC TV competitions of The Great British Bake-Off and Masterchef.  Katie’s depiction of character and setting is so inviting that you can’t resist it, you can instantly recognise yourself and people and places you know, making it a comfortable read.

The best things about this day were the opportunity to meet some super people (I’m sure we’ll stay in touch), gain an insight into how a commercial is made and to understand how publishers work with authors on the promotion of their work.  Thank you, Cornerstone, for a great day!

recipeforlove5  Latest update!  To see an online version of our TV advert, please click here!

Katie Fforde
   Katie Fforde

The Shipping News (E. Annie Proulx)

 

We have now returned to school and are back into the swing of things which means more writing for me!  At the end of my last entry, I wrote that I was reading The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx, and I am happy to say that I loved it!  I had watched the excellent film adaptation years ago and, having remembered enjoying that immensely, I decided to read the novel this summer.  The book is different in style from many novels and I found it a little unusual to begin with:  the sentences are very short but so descriptive that they are far more effective for the nature of this story. Each word is significant and each sentence conveys the difficulties that Quoyle and the extensive cast of characters face in their daily lives.

Early on we learn that Quoyle has been told that he’s no good at anything and he certainly seems to have grown into that way of thinking of himself.  He cannot believe it when something good happens to him, when he falls in love, he even accepts things when his wife rejects him for a host of casual relationships.  It is when tragedy strikes that he comes into contact with an aunt he hasn’t known previously, and the events that quickly unfold take him and his daughter, Bunny, to a new future, in Newfoundland, hundreds of miles north from New York State where the story begins.  This is when his life takes a turn for the better as the aunt takes him back to where his family came from and a completely new future is on his horizon.  Quoyle experiences friendships and people caring for him in a way that has been totally alien to him until now and he and his family are welcomed into the town.  He appears to be permanently surprised by this.  The description of  Newfoundland is so expertly written that the reader gets a real sense of place and we are touched by both the cruelty and the kindness of human nature.

I watched the film again last night and did enjoy it again but felt it a shame that some of the central characters crucial to Quoyle’s discovery that his life is worthwhile, valuable and meaningful are omitted.  The scenery and cinematography convey the sense of remoteness of the place, and how its inhabitants have come to care for one another through facing adversities and the harshness of the climate.  The acting was superb and each actor well-chosen for their particular role.

 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (seen at The Rex Cinema, Berkhamsted)

I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel with two very good friends at our favourite local cinema last Monday, 16th April 2012 and absolutely loved it.  The film is based on Deborah Moggach‘s book These Foolish Things, where the author thought it would be an interesting idea for her elderly characters to travel to India to spend the rest of their years in a residential home there:

It came about because I’d been thinking a lot about growing older, about what is going to happen to us all. The population is ageing – for the first time the over 50s outnumber the rest of us – and it’s getting older. Where are we all going to live? … Our healthcare is sourced from the developing countries…  How about setting up retirement homes in developing countries where it’s sunny and labour is cheap?’ Deborah Moggach’s website

A group of previously unconnected retired people arrive in a hotel in India to spend their twilight years in the sunshine and warm colours of a former beautiful but neglected guesthouse.  As they come to terms with the fact that the hotel isn’t as luxurious as they’d been promised before leaving England, that the food isn’t quite to their taste and that each is coming to terms with what they’ve left behind, they also learn about each other and what led them to be here.  They appear to have little confidence in themselves at the outset, but the longer they spend in India, the more they see that it is slowly changing them, they begin to relax into their new surroundings.   The acting in the film is excellent with a great cast including Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie and there was another unforgettable performance by Dev Patel as the young, inexperienced but enthusiastic hotel owner.  Despite the sadness of the death of one of the characters and the difficulties of the marriage of a couple, the film is lovely and uplifting.  It ends with a note of hope.

We are so lucky to have watched this film in The Rex cinema in Berkhamsted.  The Rex is a wonderful cinema for its patrons, decorated in its original Art Deco style with ample, comfortable and plush seats (you can even pick up a cushion or two to add to your comfort, if necessary!) and take your glass of wine with you to your seat, it could not be more civilised!