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!

 

 

Advertisements

Our book club returns…

Just before our half term holiday, we had our first book club meeting of the year.  It’s so hard, sometimes, to arrange a time to meet in a school as busy as ours, and sometimes you just have to make a date, and hope that people come!   Well, they did and we had a great catch up with what we had read over the past few weeks and reflected on the wonderful day we had had in London back in November at The Reading Agency when we participated in English PEN’s ‘From one reader to another’ event – more of this later.

Please see details below of our reading, in case you feel inspired to take a look:

Persuasion Jane Austen
Reasons to stay alive                      Matt Haig (great exploration of the author’s own experience of depression and how there is a way through, turn to literature and mindfulness)
Sagan, Paris 1954                           

 

Anne Berest (in translation –  about the year when 18 year-old Françoise Sagan published her much-acclaimed novel Bonjour tristesse)
The shock of the fall                        Nathan Filer (great reviews for this debut novel, well-written and observed, about a young man and how his mental health deteriorates, but not all doom and gloom)
The light between oceans             M L Stedman (a boat washes up on the shore of an island containing the body of a dead man and a crying baby, the lighthouse keeper and his wife have to decide what to do).
The age of miracles                         Karen Thompson Walker (the world starts slowing down with days and nights becoming longer: what effect would this phenomenon have on the world?)
Disclaimer                                           Renée Knight (cleverly written thriller, a woman starts reading a book which turns out to be about her, and a secret that only she thought she knew)
The widow                              

 

Fiona Barton (psychological thriller, after a man’s death, his past is dragged up as it is thought that he had abducted a child…)
After you                                             Jojo Moyes (sequel to Moyes’s Me before you, where we follow what happens to Louisa after Will’s death)
The memory book                           Rowan Coleman (well-written novel by local author about a woman who develops early onset Alzheimers, and how her she and her family deal with it, again not all doom and gloom)

The next meeting will be held on Tuesday 15th March when we will be discussing Sarah Waters’s novel The paying guests and Blood ties by Julie Shaw.  I shall report back with our thoughts on these novels shortly afterwards.

On Saturday 14th November, 2015, we were lucky enough to be chosen to participate in a day of reading group activities based at The Free Word Centre in London, hosted jointly by English PEN and The Free Word Centre. ‘From one reader to another’ offered us the opportunity to read two books in translation:

  • Dreams from the endz    Faïza Guène
  • Compartment no. 6         Rosa Liksom

We discussed each book with a different reading group, one based at English PEN itself and the other from a library reading group based in East London.  We had a fascinating discussion and met some interesting people through a mutual love of reading.  We listened to Jessie Burton talk about books which had inspired her to read and then to write her wonderful novel, The miniaturist.  We were treated to a translation duel of a text from its native Polish into English which was exceedingly enjoyable, and then heard about the work of a reading group coordinator based in a prison.  It’s easy to forget how literacy can enable and empower, he was telling us how those who’d participated had found that reading had improved their literacy to such an extent that they felt determined to improve their lives on leaving prison.  We had an amazing experience and would like to thank all at English PEN and The Free Word Centre.

 

Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (4)

This, the fourth episode in our Christmas reading journey, sees three more, very different books read by Dr Hundal, Head of a Sixth Form House and biologist, and me.  Dr Hundal’s chosen novel is entitled Butcher’s Crossing, and was written by John Williams in 1960.  Williams’s book Stoner enjoyed renewed success in 2013, forty eight years after it was written, perhaps Butcher’s Crossing will too, some fifty five years later!  Dr Hundal says:

“A terrific read which is set in the 1870s. It is written with a simple but engaging descriptive prose. The story’s central character is a young East Coast man going out West in search of adventure. After teaming up to hunt down one of the largest buffalo herds remaining, he finds he has taken on more than he bargained for.  The tension between the main characters is at the heart of the book. I enjoyed the wonderful description of the wide, open and, at times, mountainous wilderness. Well recommended.”

The book was reviewed in The Guardian newspaper on 7th January 2014 by Nicholas Lezard and, he, too, was impressed by the novel. Click here to read more.

The two books which I spent my holidays reading are Jane Austen’s timeless Persuasion and Matt Haig’s current and most recently published Reasons for living.  Both were read with different expectations.

Persuasion is my favourite of Austen’s novels, and thinking that I would have the time to do it justice, I began to read.  Having read so many modern novels of various genres lately and not reading the great classics for a good few years, I found it took a little time for my brain to settle and focus on the language, manners and expressions.  I had thought that I would be able to slip into it again, and the fact that I didn’t, and felt that I had to engage my brain physically to do so, made me think that this could  be an excellent brain exercise! I was justly rewarded and reminded of what a great novel it is.  I have recently seen an article which considers Persuasion the poorest of Austen’s work but I’m sure I don’t agree.  Perhaps I am not viewing it critically and just enjoying the story, the setting and language.  That’s good enough for me!  It’s a wonderful novel about true friendship, the nature of families, love, and the way life turns out – not so different from many modern novels but also a commentary on its time, where making good marriages did count for some. we learn how a man could establish himself as a naval officer and earn the respect and wealth which goes with hard work, and, interestingly, become rich through being a captain in times of war.  Give me a Captain Wentworth any day!

I chose my next book having read a review somewhere (I really must start making notes of where I read such things!), and felt the need to take a look at Matt Haig‘s book to understand exactly what he went through as a young man of 24 who found himself extremely depressed with very little hope about what the future may bring. He tells how he came through his darkest times and discusses how mindfulness has become a key part of his recovery.  The more I learn of this idea, the more I like, and can see how beneficial it can be.  I had heard of Haig as an author of children’s and young adult fiction, and wanted to know more about him.  I truly appreciated this book and learned more from it than I have from other sources, produced by clinicians.  It is an honest account of how he has come through and taught me a few things:

“That’s the odd thing about depression and anxiety.  It acts like an intense fear of happiness, even as you yourself consciously want that happiness more than anything…”

His list of reasons for staying alive halfway through the book makes so much sense to me, even as a non-sufferer. This book helps those who love people who are.

I’d be interested in reading your thoughts, if you have read any of these books, do let me know!

Christmas reading at Berkhamsted (2)

In part two of our Christmas reading project we have three books offered by our School Archivist, Mrs Koulouris.

The first is a book by the Irish author, Cecelia AhernThe Marble Collector.  Mrs Koulouris says this about the book:

“A family story about a collection of marbles and the story that the daughter unravels about her Father and his past.  Not bad.”

Her second novel is Dawn French’s latest offering, According to yes, which she enjoyed very much:

“[I] loved this, primary teacher Rosie Kitto goes to Manhattan to work for a family.”

Mrs Koulouris’s final choice is the reflective and intriguing book, Chance developments, by Alexander McCall Smith; it is a different style of writing from his previous work, and has certainly piqued my interest.  Mrs Koulouris had this to say:

“[I] really loved this … He [McCall Smith] produces stories around a random set of photographs, not knowing anything about the people or places in the snaps.”

Mrs Koulouris has subsequently written to me saying that one book she’d like to read soon is Tom Michell’s The penguin lessons:

“A true story by Tom Michell, who was a teacher in Argentina who adopted a penguin as a pet.”

It seems that the penguin is reluctant to return to the sea , having been rescued from an oil slick by the author and cleaned up.  Michell takes him back to the boarding school, where he works as a teacher, and the penguin naturally becomes an invaluable member of the school!

I would very much like to read all of these, and they shall all be on my TBR list!  if you have read these books, please let me know what you think, it’s always good to hear from other readers.

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

More winter reading from Berkhamsted School…

One of our super English teachers, Miss Brims, has sent me reviews of two books which she has enjoyed recently.  Miss Brims writes:

The Beauty of Humanity Movement is the next book from award winning Canadian writer Camilla Gibb. Set in a modern Vietnam, the story charts lives of a family torn apart, joined by food and love, not blood,  and an ancient tale of old lost love.

Vietnam has seen many changes in one lifetime, and Old Man Hung has seen them all. His pho is as legendary as it is nourishing, as coveted as it is illegal, and as unifying as it was devisive.  When Maggie returns to the country of her birth, she arrives with all the ideals and modern mentalities in accordance with her upbringing in the USA, but she must keep the best of her present and her past in order to unravel the secrets of her families history.

Tu’ has grown up with Old Man Hung and posivitivity and good nature are inextricably entwined with both Hung, Maggie, and their fight for justice, truth, love and survival.

A beautiful, bitter sweet story which will live in your thoughts for days.

Greame Simpson’s loveable duo of Don and Rosie Tillman return in The Rosie Effect, a heart wrenching tale of a couple in their first year of marriage. Everything is going well for the new couple, the Wife Project has come to a successful conclusion, Rosie and Don have moved to New York and Don is learning to compromise, despite the obvious financial and logistical disadvantages. But when Rosie discovers she is pregnant, Don doesn’t respond as she hopes he will, driving a wedge between the couple which threatens their marriage (though Don is rather blissfully unaware of this). As ever, his intentions are good, and the reader is rooting for this loveable, nearly perfect man throughout his hilarious mis-steps.

If you loved The Rosie Project, you will love this too. Just be prepared to have the tissues ready for both laughter and heart break.”

We loved The Rosie Project as a staff reading group, please see the review here.

Us (David Nicholls)

us

Another January read was David Nicholls‘s superb latest offering, Us.  I loved this novel, and enjoyed it so much more than the author’s previous bestseller, One Day.  

It tells the story, through the eyes of Douglas Petersen, of a marriage: from its unlikely beginnings and the birth and upbringing of a son, through to the moment when Douglas’s wife wakes him during the night to tell him that the marriage is over. He comes across as a stereotypical non-romantic research scientist to begin with, but as we journey with him on this last family holiday upon which he embarks with his wife and their now teenage son, we discover a man who is coming to terms with the loss of a way of life, the family unit as he knew it and the possibility of starting again.  During the course of the novel, he understands where he has made mistakes in his relationships with his wife and son, and has learnt that it isn’t too late to change things at the same time as moving on from a life which he thought was his, familiar and believed to be one whose values his wife had shared.  This is a poignant tale but one peppered with excitement and a lot of fun (the description of the scrapes Douglas gets himself into when searching for his son in Europe positively had me laughing out loud!), and very moving scenes, as well as a positive recognition that times have changed and it is possible to begin again after the ending of an important relationship, and connect with the son he thought he knew, but didn’t understand.

I would recommend this novel wholeheartedly, especially for those who have similarly experienced the ending of a significant relationship.  It is well-written and extremely thought-provoking.

The Memory Book (Rowan Coleman)

I very much enjoyed reading local author (to Berkhamsted), Rowan Coleman’s latest novel, The Memory Book, recently.  I was lucky enough to have a little time around New Year and so read it in a couple of days!

The novel tells the story of a woman who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease in her forties, and how her teenage and toddler daughters, together with her new husband and mother manage the disease and their own feelings as they watch Claire gradually descend into a state when little makes sense to her any more.  To make the most of Claire’s diminishing number of days of lucidity, they decide to start writing in a book of memories, mainly filled by Claire’s own memories of her life and experiences, but also those of her husband, Greg, elder daughter, Caitlin and mother, Ruth.  At times, it seems as though the only person who truly understands Claire is toddler Esther.  The story is eloquently told and, as a reader, one gets  a sense of all the emotions felt by each member of the family and those with whom Claire is in touch outside the home.  Memories are not only recorded, they are are created, and forge new feelings of connection between the main characters.  There are many wonderful, yet poignant, moments, which are often punctuated with a good sense of humour.  The novel ends on an upbeat level with the promise of new beginnings… Read it and enjoy!

memory book

Hello from the Gillespies (Monica McInerney)

Greetings to our readers for the New Year!

Our staff book club read the latest novel by Monica McInerney just before Christmas and we had a lovely meeting  to discuss it in a local hostelry just after we finished for the holidays.

Angela, a student from England, finds herself working in a bar in Sydney in her early twenties, whilst travelling.  One hot, sultry evening, as she works  a shift on behalf of a friend, in walks Nick Gillespie, a young, strong, handsome sheep farmer who has come into town. They get talking and quickly realise that they are meant to be together.  Angela moves to his farm, leaving her English life behind and they begin a very happy married life together.  Until, that is, some thirty odd years later, when Angela sends out her annual Christmas letter, or rather Nick does by mistake!  Usually this is the first of the Christmas rituals, a task which records the happiest and most exciting events of the family’s year, and now sent out by email on 1st December…  This year things have changed and the letter is not the same cheery affair as has been the case, indeed, it has been a year wracked with difficulties and worries, and Angela feels encouraged by a friend to be honest and truthful about the state of the family and its affairs…  This is perhaps the real Christmas newsletter which we would all like to write!  She had meant to save it and not send it out, but when she is distracted by her son’s accident in the kitchen, Nick decides to send it instead, thinking he is doing her a favour, without first reading it himself.  The resulting effects are devastating: heart-breaking and shocking for family and friends, who had no idea about the realities of life and its concerns on the farm.  To discover whether the family can reunite and move to resolve their problems, you must read this book!

We enjoyed it enormously, so perhaps you will too.

hello from the gillespies

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!