Berkhamsted School Christmas Reads (4)

Mrs Koulouris, an avid reader and our school Archivist, has sent me reviews of the books which she read over the holidays.  She starts with Takashi Hiraide’s novel The Guest Cat:

“A quirky Japanese tale about a little white cat called ‘Chibi’ and the effect she has on a married couple.”  Nielsen Bookdata Online has the following to add about this story: “A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another. One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. New, small joys accompany the cat; the days have more light and colour. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife; they go walking together, talk and share stories of the cat and its little ways, play in the nearby Garden. But then something happens that will change everything again. The Guest Cat is an exceptionally moving and beautiful novel about the nature of life and the way it feels to live it.”  It sounds enchanting!

We follow this with a review of Mark Mills’s tale, Waiting for Doggo.  Mrs Koulouris writes:

“Clara dumps boyfriend Dan, leaving Doggo, an ‘ugly mutt’ for him to look after. This story tells of the relationship between Dan and Doggo. A good little read, even if you’re not a dog lover.”  Two to contrast and compare, I feel.

Thirdly, we learn how Mrs Koulouris feels about A game with dice by Michael Arnold, which has a personal resonance for her:

“The Nazis are invading Poland and a small boy and his Mother escape through Italy to the safety of an Aunt and Uncle in Baghdad ….. so begins the story of a boy who has a friend in King Faisal II, boards at schools in Cairo and Alexandria,completes his secondary education at Berkhamsted School in the 40s/50s, changes his name and does his National Service with the British Army. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, the boy had the freedom and adventures that seldom exist now. It also had special significance for me, as he started at Berkhamsted School in the same year as my Father and I was reading about people that Dad has talked about on numerous occasions.

(There is a follow up book  – Their Manners Noted).”  A must for all Berkhamstedians…

Finally, Mrs Koulouris tells us of her special Christmas book, The Christmas Miracle by Jonathan Toomey:

“Each Christmas I set out to buy an illustrated Christmas story. This year I bought ‘Snow’ by Walter de la Mare.  One of my favourites though is ‘The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey’ which is beautifully illustrated by P.J.Lynch and I read it again for the umpteenth time at Christmas. Once I’d read that and watched my two favourite films, my Christmas had started.”  Fantastic stuff!

Staying Away at Christmas (Katie Fforde)

Wishing you the best of the Season’s Greetings, fellow readers!   So far this holiday I have managed to complete a work of non-fiction, which has had rather an impact on me but more of that in a later post…  I have also read Katie Fforde‘s story Staying Away at Christmas on my new e-book reader, the Barnes & Noble nook!  The story was only released digitally and so I thought I would enjoy the nook for the first time by downloading and reading it.

Katie’s new story was a nice vignette of how two families unknown to one another come to celebrate Christmas together, and enjoy it against the odds.  Both believed they have booked a converted barn to spend Christmas in and when they arrive on Christmas Eve, are shocked to find that one family hadn’t confirmed their booking.  Forced by circumstances to make a decision, they agree to spend time together and soon find they might like to extend their acquaintance!stayingaway


For the past few years, I have sworn that I would never forsake the printed book, I do enjoy the feel of it in my hands and have believed that there is no experience on earth which compares with turning the pages to reach the end, with a satisfaction like no other!  However, what with more and more of our students and my own children enjoying both the printed and the electronic version, I knew it was time to give it a chance.  I have to say that I am more than pleasantly surprised at the experience, and with the nook came the bonus of fewer books to tidy and dust in the house!  It’s a touch screen version which is so good when you are tired, it is light and easy to use.  I find it easy to download books and buying them from the nook store straight onto the device could not be simpler. You can also download e-books from your local library service, they disappear when your loan expires so you are not faced with overdue fines,nook and share books with other people who also own a nook.  I am converted.  However, I do still love the feel of the book which I can’t imagine to translate to an electronic reader, there is still a place for beautiful books full of photographs, and images…  Why not try an e-reader and let me know how you get on?


Christmas Reading

We asked our facebook and twitter friends what they’d been reading over the Christmas and New Year breaks and had a very good response!  We told them that we wanted to feature their replies in our blog so here goes…

‘I read an amazing book called Tony and Susan [by Austin Wright] – never seen the act of reading so well described in a novel before’

Fire and Ice by D Stabenow. Also two non-fiction reads – Just My Type [Simon Garfield] and Digital Library Survival Guide [Joseph R Matthews]. Wants to start Wolf Hall [Hilary Mantel] but daunted by length’

State of Wonder by the remarkable author Anne Patchett’

‘PG Wodehouse Code of the Woosters  –  reading out loud to my chap’

‘depressed myself with Of Human Bondage [W. Somerset Maugham] and Love and Mr Lewisham [H G Wells]’

‘Tried to read Tess of the D’Urbervilles [Thomas Hardy] but am struggling…. Haven’t read any classics for a while and reverted to a contemporary novel after about 50 pages.’

‘Caitlin Moran’s ‘How To Be A Woman’. I highly recommend it – very funny and insightful.’

‘I am now reading (and enjoying!) Everything and Nothing by Araminta Hall :o)’

‘I have just started reading “The Help” that I bought my Mum for Christmas only to find she had already read it, so I gave it to myself instead :)’

‘One of the James Herriot books – I think it wasVet in Harness. I’d forgotten how much I love those books!!’

‘Got started on Middlemarch. [George Eliot] Probably won’t finish til sometime after the middle of March.’

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks and a Lenin: A Biography by Robert Service’

‘Tinker,Tailor,Soldier,Spy by John le Carre. And now The Honourable School Boy. Am working my way through his back catalogue. I too recommend A Week in December and How to be a Woman. ‘

‘Hi, reading “Safe Haven” by Nicholas Sparks for school book club reasons. It looked terrible, it is terrible. The only upside is that I’m feeling rough but it is so trite I can still read it with half a brain!’

‘Started Ashes to Ashes by Marcus Berkmann over the holiday, a book about cricket’

‘I’ve been given The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes’

‘Great Expectations. I’m halfway through and have to finish it before I can watch the TV version that was on over Christmas!’

May I have your attention, please? James Corden’s autobiography.’

The man who broke into Auschwitz by Denis Avey.’

‘Cracker jokes, “batteries not included”, Parcel tags. [I’m] well read, me!’

‘Using my E Reader in bed….under the covers with the light on it….while my dear husband SNORED for England…..I finished Just Boris: The Irresistible Rise of a Political Celebrity [Sonia Purnell]. Frozen Planet [Alastair Fothergill and Vanessa Berlowitz], coffee table edition, no e reader could do this justice, (I am half way through that). Along with a Boston tourist guide book!’

‘Steve Jobs biography’ [Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson]

Brother of the More Famous Jack (Barbara Trapido)

One book I’ve read over the Christmas holidays is Barbara Trapido‘s novel Brother of the More Famous Jack.  I thoroughly enjoyed Barabara Trapido’s writing, her style draws the reader in. In this novel, she gives the reader a passionate insight into first love, how damaging it can be when it ends, especially as the young woman narrating her story not only falls in love with the eldest son of a large family but also with the family itself.  She charts her recovery and subsequent restoration of herself, her own sense of wellbeing, as well as within that family, with wry humour and acceptance of the love of the family’s second son.  I loved it and found it a great read, much resonated with the fact that I have also married into a large family, good for the current moment, when I saw many of our lovely nephews and nieces over Christmas!

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (Agatha Christie)

At our Reading Group meeting yesterday evening, held seasonally in a local hostelry, we discussed Agatha Christie’s novel Hercule Poirot’s Christmas.  It was another lively evening and very enjoyable, most of the group members warmed to this tale of murder mystery set during the Christmas period and it was a light-hearted book to read before we finish for the holidays.  Interestingly, our group was divided into readers who turned the pages needing to find out what was going to happen next and trying to work out ‘whodunnit’ and those who simply let the text place them in context, not worried about who was the perpetrator of the crime or how they did it.  We enjoyed the writing as a product of its time, written and published in the late 1930s, with reference to the Spanish Civil War and the threat of the impending breakout of  World War II.

Christmas movies: a few of our favourites

We have two days left of term before we finish for the Christmas holidays and we thought we’d take a look at a few of our favourites…  I have placed these in no particular order as we each have our own ideas  about where they should be amongst our best !

Elf – always good to get you in the mood, enjoyed by parents, children and teens alike!

A Christmas Carol – of the numerous versions out there, we have selected three for mentioning here:

And with a variation on this theme, we have

Raymond Briggs‘ illustrated animations are still a firm family favourite with us:

Home Alone 2: according to one fifteen-year-old I know, this one is the best!

Olive the Other Reindeer is a bit different – we love the idea of a small dog and her flea deciding to help Santa out with his deliveries and enjoy the actors’ and singers’ voices portraying the main characters

Polar Express – the lovely animations are almost too realistic, but they are captivating…

Both the 1947 and 1994 versions of Miracle on 34th Street are lovely:

This is a  lovely film to watch, having been inspired by the wonderful picture book, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey written by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by Patrick Lynch:

Finally for the adults we have selected Love, Actually 

 and The Holiday