Friday, 13 July 2018

How to be a Heroine (Or, What I've Learned From Reading Too Much) by Samantha Ellis - Book Review

"A couple of summers ago, I was on the Yorkshire moors, arguing (over the wuthering) with my best friend about whether we'd rather be Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. I thought Cathy, Obviously Cathy."

On a pilgrimage to Wuthering heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, free, passionate Cathy, but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob who betrays Heathcliff for Edgar and makes them all unhappy - while courageous Jane makes her own way.

And that's when Samantha realsied that all her life she'd been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane.

So she decided to look again at her heroines - the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live. Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennett); some of them decidedly did not (turns our Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn't a carefree rebel, she's a drip). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone With the Wind? It's Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), poignant memories (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper......

How To Be A Heroine is a funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives - and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do.

This was such a fun book to read that I could not put it down. The author takes us on a romp through the heroines of books that she has read throughout her life, how she has internalised some of those behaviours and the effect that they have had on her life.

Her chapter headings are:

1.   The Little Mermaid
2.   Anne of Green Gables
3.   Lizzy Bennett
4.   Scarlett O'Hara
5.   Franny Glass
6.   Esther Greenwood
7.   Lucy Honeychurch
8.   The Dolls (from the Valley)
9.   Cathy Earnshaw
10. Flora Poste
11. Scheherazade

However, these are not essays solely on each of these characters. Throughout each chapter Ms. Ellis draws on many other fictional characters who have crossed her reading path and thus this book becomes a multi-coloured ramble through the flowers and thorns she has encountered in her reading.

This is also part-memoir and we learn much about the authors Iraqi-Jewish upbringing and culture and the expectations that were put on her as part of this community.

Although, written from a femininist perspective I felt that both women and men would appreciate the message that Ms Ellis is conveying in this book. In her final chapter she writes:

"No writer is writing me a better journey. No writer is guiding me through my misunderstandings and muddles and wrong turns to reach my happy ending. And then I realise I am the writer. I don't mean because I write. I mean because we all write our own lives."

I liked this conclusion to her book. This is a light read with an important message within. None of us have to settle for another person's plan for our lives. Life itself can give us the inner strength to be the person who we want to be.

In the postscript of this book the author provides her mother's recipe for masafan, an Iraqi-Jewish type of marzipan that she mentions in the book. I had a go at making this the other day and judging by how quickly my grandchildren packed them away they were a resounding success and I encourage you to give them a try. 

Within the covers of this book Ms Ellis has given us insight into books, reading, culture and a recipe for gorgeously sweet biscuits. A marvellous combination. 

ISBN: 978 0099575566

Publisher: Vintage

About the Author:

Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist. The daughter of Iraqi-Jewish refugees, she grew up thinking her family had travelled everywhere by magic carpet. From an early age she knew she didn't want their version of a happy ending - marriage to a nice Iraqi-Jewish boy- so she read books to find out what she did want. Her plays include Patching Havoc, Sugar and Snow and Cling to Me Like Ivy, and she is a founding member of women's theatre company Agent 160. She lives in London.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara - #BookReview

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented lawyer yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by a degree of trauma that he fears he will not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever.

In a novel of extraordinary intelligence and heart, Yanagihara has fashioned a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark and haunting examination of the tyranny of experience and memory.

Some people are put off reading long books. Personally, I quite like them as I see it as a book that I can really get my teeth into. That said, by the time I am drawing towards the denouement I am usually looking forward to getting on with something new. Which is why I was surprised that when I came to the end of this totally engrossing book I was sad that it had come to an end. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I feel slightly bereft that this cast of characters are now out of my life.

Within the unassuming cover of this book lies a novel of exquisite intensity. Bearing in mind that I finished reading this a couple of weeks ago and that I have read a couple of other books since, the fact that I am still mulling this book over in my mind speaks volumes concerning what a fantastic novel it actually is.

Each of the characters are flawed but are written with such absolute honesty that they are very easy to engage with. Although this book is about the four college classmates it focuses on Jude, whose previous life is a mystery to his friends and everyone that he knows. His life is gradually explained to the reader and the author presents us with some extremely difficult themes. However, she deals with Jude with such sensitivity and compassion that, as readers, we are able to bear these revelations.

This is an intelligent character driven novel which looks at the true meaning of love and friendship. Written with tenderness, care and compassion, the author has ensured that this a book I will never forget reading.

As always, there are not any spoilers within this review. What I will say, is that I cannot decide whether I think that the conclusion of this book was the perfect one or whether I really hated it. Have you read this? What are your thoughts?

ISBN:  978 1447294832

Publisher: Picador

About the Author:

A Little Life is Hanya Yanagihara's second book and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015 and was a finalist for the National Book Award in the same year.

She is an American novelist, editor and travel writer. She grew up in Hawaii and now lives in New York.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Arlette's Story by Angela Barton - #Blog Tour and #Giveaway

I am very pleased to be taking part in the Blog Tour for this lovely book. There is also the change for your to win a beautiful notebook in today's giveaway which you can find at the bottom of the page.

* * *

One woman’s struggle to fight back against the enemy in order to protect the ones she loves.

When Arlette Blaise sees a German plane fly over the family farm in 1940, she’s comforted by the fact that the occupying forces are far away in the north of the country. Surely the war will not reach her family in the idyllic French countryside near to the small town of Oradour-sur-Glane? 

But then Saul Epstein, a young Jewish man driven from his home by the Nazis, arrives at the farm and Arlette begins to realise that her peaceful existence might be gone for good … 

The beautiful cover on this book hints that this book will be special from the very start and I was not disappointed.

Set in France during World War Two the author has created a wonderful set of characters who are believable and easy to engage with. Throughout, our sympathies lie with the people of France and the reader is with them every step of the way as their lives are impacted so horrendously by the invasion of the Nazis into their small, quiet, rural town.

There were times during my reading of this heart wrenching novel that the fear, hunger and desperation of the characters was palpable. The author has evoked the surroundings and lives of these families extremely well and has created a tense and anxious atmosphere in her telling of this story.

Ultimately, this is a book of love and hope; courage and survival; and the recognition that life will never be the same again. It is through Arlette's story that we see how a naive young girl can transform into a strong and courageous woman.

This is a well crafted and sensitive novel and demonstrates that this debut author is one to watch as I am certain that we can look forward to great things from the pen of Ms. Barton.

ISBN: 978 1912550036

Publisher: Ruby Fiction

About the Author:

Angela Barton was born in London and grew up in Nottingham. She is married with three grown up children. 
Passionate about writing both contemporary and historical fiction, Angela loves researching for her books and is an avid reader. 

Having signed publishing contracts for three of her completed novels with Ruby Fiction, Angela is excited to be working alongside such a friendly and supportive publishing team. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

Having recently moved to France, Angela (alongside her husband, Paul) is now a lavender farmer, creating products from the oil that’s distilled. Angela says she’s looking forward to spending more time writing in the company of her two spaniels while sitting on her veranda overlooking the breath-taking countryside of Charente.

Giveaway – Win a beautiful notebook (UK Only)

*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.I was gifted a #Netgalley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.