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.

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Christmas reading (2)

Our next readers to feature are Mr Ford and Mr Cruickshanks, who have read books in English and Spanish respectively, representing the Departments of Religion and Philosophy and Modern Foreign Languages.

After reading a recommendation in the Library’s Michaelmas Term newsletter, Mr Ford decided to read David Lagercrantz’s novel The girl in the spider’s web.  This was commissioned by Stieg Larsson‘s estate following his death, as a result of finding notes believed to be the essence and beginnings of a fourth novel in the series following the exploits of Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomquist. Click here to read an article by arts journalist Mark Lawson from August 2015 to read more…  Mr Ford says:

“On the recommendation of the Newsletter I read ‘The girl in the Spider’s Web’ and really enjoyed it – I have placed it in the Castle Common Room for others to read…”

We are all for book sharing here in the libraries, whether it be by passing on recommendations, or physically putting a copy of the printed word in another’s hands… I shall be wandering over to the Common Room shortly to see what else is there!  Mr Ford adds the following about his current read:

 “I am currently reading the first Robert Galbraith novel [‘The cuckoo’s calling’ – winner of the 2013 LA Times Book Prize for Mystery and Thrillers ] and very much enjoying it.”

Mr Cruickshanks, one of our Spanish speakers, read Isabel Allende‘s La casa de los espíritus, he says:

“I finally finished reading a very challenging novel called ‘La Casa de los Espíritus’ (The House of the Spirits) by Isabel Allende, a South American author. It tells the story of the Trueba family throughout the twentieth century, living in an unspecified South American country. The Truebas are land-owners and very affluent, and the novel describes their experiences, from the height of their influence at the start of the century, through the pressures of the arrival of Communism and the demands for workers’ rights and, subsequently, a military coup that overthrows the new Communist government during the second half of the century. I describe it as a ‘challenging’ novel, because (quite apart from the fact that it was in Spanish) the novel is very dense, very descriptive, with incredibly long paragraphs (often stretching over multiple pages) and very little dialogue. I usually prefer more accessible (let’s be honest, more ‘trashy’) novels, but the description of life during the rise of Communism and in the aftermath of the coup was very powerful. It was certainly a novel that made me think!”

Incredibly (because almost everyone I know has), I have not read any of Allende’s novels yet, but this review has made me want to take it home today, and since we don’t have a copy on our shelves, a trip to the public library is in order.  Unfortunately, Spanish is not one of my languages, so I shall be reading it in translation…

Berkhamsted School Staff Book Club, latest meeting notes…

At our last meeting, we discussed three novels, all very different in style and content.  First on our list was the challenge of a male member of the club: ‘Women don’t read John le Carré’, so we read le Carré’s novel A Murder of Quality.  Given that the majority of us are women, we took up the challenge!  On the whole, we enjoyed the novel very much, despite the unattractive group of characters and the dismal time of year when the murder took place.  We felt it was cleverly written, its spare, minimalist prose built up the tension and drama.  It left us wondering whose side is le Carré on…  Smiley is acting in a more detective-like role, but is nonetheless as effective as when he is the spy.

Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle was a completely different genre.  Some found it bizarrely compelling, with others not liking it at all.  It was well-written but clearly a reflection of Jackson’s turbulent mind, with the symbiotic relationships between the sisters, and other characters.  The tale portrays small town America in an unfavourable light, however the descriptions of the surroundings of the castle are almost poetic.

Our third novel was The Secret Place by Tana French.  Most readers enjoyed it very much, although the supernatural element to the tale appeared superfluous.  The story revolves around the relationships between girls at an independent girls’ boarding school in Dublin and the murder of a boy from the corresponding boys’ school, on the grounds of the former school.  We are told the story both from the girls’ perspective and that of the young male detective, who is striving to make his mark in the murder squad.  Interesting, strange and holds the attention.

We also discussed other books which we had read over the summer and I include these for your reference as books which you may wish to include on your Christmas lists:

 

  1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand click here for a link to a website dedicated to this book.  Hilary recommended it and Sarah read it during the break.   Discussion of the novel was very interesting with Patrick and Hilary representing opposing views about Rand and her theories, philosophies and ideas on economics and the workings of the world.  Fascinating stuff!
  2. The President’s Hat by Antoine Laurin – (read in translation from the French). Again,  the book has its own website, click on the book title to go there.  This was a great little book about the positive impact that François Mitterand’s hat has on the lives of four different individuals after they have worn it… A light but entertaining read!
  3. We are all completely besides ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – this was another curious summer read for Beth and me, well-written story, although a bit strange. It’s very different from The Jane Austen book club, one of the author’s previous works.
  4. Shadowlands by William Nicholson: Kafka-esque.
  5. Probably nothing : a diary of not-your-average nine months by Matilda Tristram. A graphic novel written by a woman who had been diagnosed with cancer, about her experiences
  6. Novels by the late P D James
  7. Books by Antonia Senior
  8. Books by Philippa Gregory
  9. Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  10. Books by Gerald Seymour
  11. The house we grew up in by Lisa Jewell
  12. Books by Louis Theroux

We won’t be meeting again until after Christmas – so here’s wishing all the greetings of the season and enjoy the holidays!

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!

World Book Day 2014: celebrations in school (1)

One week has already passed since we celebrated World Book Day in school and we thought we would share with our readers the books which our great teachers have discussed with their students in class on the day.  We followed the Drop Everything And Read initiative, whereby the teacher talked to their classes about a favourite book, or one which means a lot to them, and then this was followed a conversation about reading in general.  Here are some of the responses:

Mr Cowie, head of our Economics Department, recommended Leviathan – The Rise of Britain as a World Power by David Scott.  He says:

“How did an insignificant, rain-swept set of islands in the North Atlantic become the greatest power first in Europe and then in the world? Splendid stuff – proper history!”

leviathan

Mme Shipton wrote to say:

“I read a passage from Le Petit Prince [by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry] in French. Some girls were also keen to read out loud and invited to do so.  It was an enjoyable experience”.

le petit prince

In co-curricular club at lunch-time, historian Mr Bridle talked to his pupils about John Donne’s poem No Man is an Island :

“We were talking about why human rights abuses overseas should matter to us”.

john donne

English teacher, Mrs Tomlin, had an interesting idea:

“I read an extract from The Book Thief  [by Markus Zusak] to my classes and they had to guess whose perspective it was written from. Once they looked at the clues, many pupils guessed that it was Death. This has created intrigue as to how it can be made into a film. Some pupils even debated whether we were supposed to feel sympathy for Death!”

book thiefInspiring reads there, I think…  Our next entry will tell of our other library exploits during the day.

Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)

On Tuesday 12th February, 2013 we discussed Gillian Flynn‘s third novel, Gone Girl.  Reactions to this book were mixed with one member of the group not wanting to
finish the book because the characters were so unappealing, and others amongst us, whilst they agreed with that point of view to some extent, did get into the story much more.  The story is told from the perspectives of husband and wife Nick and Amy Dunne, and how they perceive their relationship to have broken down after a five-year marriage.  Each has a very different view of how they got together and what went wrong.   It starts with Nick describing what happens when Amy disappears and how this affects him, Amy’s story is told through her diary over the course of their relationship from its beginning.  At first I found myself not caring too much for Amy who seems self-obsessed and completely superficial but liking Nick, who appears charming and attractive in personality as well as looks.  After a while, my views were reversed when I reached the part when Amy is on the run after going missing, and I’m at the point in the book now where I’m really unsure as to how the story is going to end, as any number of events could occur!  I must read on to the end…  This novel is Gillian Flynn’s third novel and is widely acclaimed with some great reviews (eg, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/may/20/gillian-flynn-gone-girl-review ).  If you haven’t read it, give it a go and let me know what you think. It is rumoured that David Fincher, Director of the film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, will be directing a film version of Gone Girl, I’ll let you know when it happens and perhaps we can go and see it…

gone girl

Dark Tales from the Woods (Daniel Morden)

Grimm Brothers
Grimm Brothers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We were very excited to welcome back to school the great storytellers, Daniel Morden and Oliver Wilson-Dickson, on Monday 3rd December.  Daniel and Oli came to see us for the first time last year (check out this entry here), and because they wowed us then with their telling of the Brothers Grimm tale, The Lucky Child, we invited them back to tell us a story from Daniel’s collection of folk talesDark Tales from the Woods.  During the week preceding their visit, we visited the English classes of our Year 7 pupils, to remind them how storytelling is important for the passing down of knowledge, traditions, morals and language followed by a telling of another of Daniel’s stories: The King of the Herrings.  The children told us that they really enjoyed this story, which boded well for the day when the storytellers came…  Daniel warmed us all up by illustrating how telling stories can be similar to telling lies which were really outrageous, everyone laughed and then we were delighted with Oli’s contributions both to the story and by playing his violin to accompany the story and sing.  How easy is it to play the violin at the same time as singing, I wonder?  Such talented people!  After a fabulous morning, Daniel went on to prepare for a storytelling event at the Crick Crack Club, based at the Soho Theatre, Dean Street, London…
darktales

Heart-shaped Bruise (Tanya Byrne)

I know it’s a little while ago now but this is our book club report for 18th September!  It’s been such a busy start to our academic year, what with an inspection (very good) and lots of events going on in and around school such as Open Days, European Day of Languages, Bookbuzz and more…  So I am finally getting round to telling you about our meeting!

We met, as has become our habit, in a local hostelry, where the tea and coffee is very good!  We started by talking about our holiday reading, which, given that we’re avid readers, I felt that we could just share a few of them with you here.

  1. Wicked girls – Alex Marwood
  2. Dark matter – Michelle Paver
  3. Death comes to Pemberley – P D James
  4. The Thread – Victoria Hislop
  5. The weight of silence – Heather Gudenkauf
  6. A time to dance – Melvyn Bragg
  7. Lia’s guide to winning the lottery – Keren David
  8. Saturday supper club – Amy Bratley
  9. Reading in bed – Sue Gee
  10. Wonder – R J Palacio
  11. Shogun – James Clavell
  12. Life with the lid off – Nicola Hodgkinson*
  13. All passion spent – Vita Sackville-West*
  14. The shipping news – E. Annie Proulx**
  15. The sense of an ending – Julian Barnes*
  16. Summer of love – Katie Fforde*

* see more information about these books here

** see more information about this book here

A core novel which most of us read was Tanya Byrne‘s debut novel, Heart-shaped Bruise. There were mixed reactions to the book, but most readers enjoyed it and found it a very interesting story of a young woman who finds herself in the psychiatric wing of a Young Offenders’ Institute, and, to keep the story a page-turner, you don’t discover what she’s done until the very end. Having written it as a journal, Emily records the sessions she has with her psychiatrist, her memories of events leading up to her arrival at the YOI and thoughts she has about the other inmates she lives with.  One member said that she thought the story was good and told from a very interesting perspective.  She loved the characters but wasn’t sure that she could identify with all of them.  Another of our members enjoyed some of the descriptive passages highlighting page 102:

“… and the light from the only window was filtered through the tired leaves of a spider plant that hung over the edge of the windowsill as though it was trying to summon the energy to throw itself into the bin beneath it.”
I enjoyed reading this book  as I felt engaged with the story and found the narrative convincingly observed the way that teenagers speak and behave.  We are eagerly awaiting Ms Byrne’s second novel…

The Orange Prize 2012 shortlist

Here in Berkhamsted School Library, we are trying so hard not to put through an order for our own copies of this year’s shortlisted books as we would like to share them with you all!  I cannot wait to get started on these titles, they all look like thoroughly good reads, especially for those long summer holidays…

The shortlist for 2012 looks like a particular well-chosen collection of books with some fascinating stories to keep our reading brains tuned in over the next few weeks.  It’s good to see Esi Edugyan‘s Half Blood Blues on the shortlist after she wasn’t successful in winning the Man Booker Prize of 2011 after being shortlisted for that prize too:

“From Weimar Berlin to the fall of Paris, and on to the present day, danger, jealousy and inspiration combine to tempt a man to a secret betrayal. The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. In “Half Blood Blues”, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong… ”  Nielsen BookData Online

Anne Enright‘s new novel, The Forgotten Waltz, will hopefully be as successful as her previous book, The Gathering, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2007, it certainly looks like it’s an excellent book to read:

“If it hadn’t been for the child then none of this might have happened. She saw me kissing her father. She saw her father kissing me. The fact that a child got mixed up in it all made us feel that it mattered, that there was no going back. “The Forgotten Waltz” is that rare thing: the literary page turner…It is an acutely tender depiction of the complex familial bonds joining us, a delicate portrait of love, loss and hope, from a formidably talented writer”. (Claire Kilroy, “Financial Times”).”  Nielsen BookData Online

Painter of Silence is Georgina Harding’s fifth book and third novel.  From the synopsis below, it makes for a superb story:

“Iasi, Romania, the early 1950s. A nameless man is found on the steps of a hospital. Deaf and mute, he is unable to communicate until a young nurse called Safta brings paper and pencils with which he can draw. Slowly, painstakingly, memories appear on the page. The memories are Safta’s also. For the man is Augustin, son of the cook at the manor house which was Safta’s family home. Born six months apart, they grew up with a connection that bypassed words. But while Augustin’s world remained the same size Safta’s expanded to embrace languages, society – and a fleeting love, one long, hot summer. But then came war, and in its wake a brutal Stalinist regime, and nothing would remain the same.”  Nielsen BookData Online

It’s always gratifying when a writer’s debut novel appears on literary prize shortlists, and  here we welcome the efforts of Madeline Miller. Her work, The Song of Achillesis a re-telling of the Iliad:

“Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear. ”  Nielsen BookData Online

Cynthia Ozick, a well-known American author, whose work appears here for the first time, has written critically acclaimed and award-winning short stories and literary essays.  Her new novel, Foreign Bodies, should be an intriguing book to read:

“The collapse of her brief marriage has stalled Bea Nightingale’s life, leaving her middle-aged and alone, teaching in an impoverished borough of 1950s New York. A plea from her estranged brother gives Bea the excuse to escape, by leaving for Paris to retrieve a nephew she barely knows; but the siren call of Europe threatens to deafen Bea to the dangers of entangling herself in the lives of her brother’s family. By one of America’s great living writers, Foreign Bodies is a truly virtuosic novel. The story of Bea’s travails on the continent is a fierce and heartbreaking insight into the curious nature of love: how it can be commanded and abused; earned and cherished; or even lost altogether.”   Nielsen BookData Online

Finally, we come to a previous winner of the 2002 Orange Prize for her novel Bel Canto, Anne Patchett.  Her latest offering, State of Wonder, seems to be a fascinating thriller:

“There were people on the banks of the river. Among the tangled waterways and giant anacondas of the Brazilian Rio Negro, an enigmatic scientist is developing a drug that could alter the lives of women for ever. Dr Annick Swenson’s work is shrouded in mystery; she refuses to report on her progress, especially to her investors, whose patience is fast running out. Anders Eckman, a mild-mannered lab researcher, is sent to investigate. A curt letter reporting his untimely death is all that returns. Now Marina Singh, Anders’ colleague and once a student of the mighty Dr Swenson, is their last hope. Compelled by the pleas of Anders’s wife, who refuses to accept that her husband is not coming home, Marina leaves the snowy plains of Minnesota and retraces her friend’s steps into the heart of the South American darkness, determined to track down Dr. Swenson and uncover the secrets being jealously guarded among the remotest tribes of the rainforest. What Marina does not yet know is that, in this ancient corner of the jungle, where the muddy waters and susurrating grasses hide countless unknown perils and temptations, she will face challenges beyond her wildest imagination. Marina is no longer the student, but only time will tell if she has learnt enough.”  Nielsen BookData Online

I hope that these short overviews will inspire you all to read these works of fiction and if you have read them already, please let us know what you think.  As I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am waiting for the summer holidays to arrive before I can begin!

2011 Man Booker Prize shortlisted books now in Castle Library! (part 2)

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan:

“The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black. Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you. And they just might tell it wrong…”  http://www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/books/459

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman:

“Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers – the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen – blissfully unaware of the very real threat all around him. With equal fascination for the local gang – the Dell Farm Crew – and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of his new life in England: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of inner-city survival. But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own. In doing so, he unwittingly endangers the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to try and keep them safe. A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.”  http://www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/books/448

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick De Witt:

“Oregon, 1851. Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious professional killers, are on their way to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. On the way, the brothers have a series of unsettling and violent experiences in the Darwinian landscape of Gold Rush America. Charlie makes money and kills anyone who stands in his way; Eli doubts his vocation and falls in love. And they bicker a lot. Then they get to California, and discover that Warm is an inventor who has come up with a magical formula, which could make all of them very rich. What happens next is utterly gripping, strange and sad. Told in deWitt’s darkly comic and arresting style, The Sisters Brothers is the kind of western the Coen Brothers might write – stark, unsettling and with a keen eye for the perversity of human motivation.”  http://www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/books/452