The War of the Worlds: Classics Challenge #1

Following my post on reading obvious classics (that you honestly haven’t read) I started with H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. If you are on Amazon Prime, head to your Prime Reading and it’s available to download to your Kindle for free.

This little novel is truly mind blowing. Just imagine, H.G. Wells wrote The War of the Worlds in 1897 and has never been out of print. What I found absolutely remarkable is that in the middle of the conservative Victorian era, Mr Wells is able to narrate the landing of these terrible and violent Martians that will cause mayhem in the sleepy outskirts of London. 

The most fascinating thing about reading The War of the Worlds is that it is very easy to forget this was written almost century before the moon landing. Wells has an extraordinary ability to recreate the tension and panic of the English people as they realise the terrible threat they are under. The plot gets darker and darker, and there are very explicit violent scenes as the Martian fighting-machine leaves its path of death and destruction. 

An extraordinary read that includes the unforgettable Martian red weed. Now, that will stick with you. Literally. 

Obvious classics you’ve never read

Who doesn’t love a reading challenge? You may have chosen the traditional Goodreads one or the incredibly clever Pop Sugar Challenge. I think I have both on my radar but browsing on my Amazon Prime Reading I saw an interesting selection of classics. At first instance I thought why bother if I know these stories. But do I? This gave me the idea to spend the first few months of the year reading the obvious classics I’ve never read. Here is my list so far:

Alice in Wonderland Amazon Classics

The War of the Worlds – H.G Wells

Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

The Adventures of Pinocchio – Carlo Collodi

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

The Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Julius Verne

The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling

The Arabian Nights – Andrew Lang

I will write short reviews of each one of these titles, but if you think I’m missing a really obvious jewel, please get in touch and I’d be happy to add it to the reading list.

Till later!

Why I will not bother with this children’s book

Since starting my journey into parenting I have been absolutely fascinated by the impact that children’s authors and illustrators can have in little people. I think Julia Donaldson deserves a Damehood, a statue and a museum. I will start campaigning to make Axel Scheffler a national treasure (regardless of him being German, who cares!). Jon Klassen‘s books, simple and clever, never fail to make my daughter chuckle. Michael Brownlow’s Ten Little Pirates taught my girl to count and she now knows it by heart. I could go on forever telling you about how much I value children’s books in our life. Until, Mr Large is in Charge came home in a party pack.

MrLargeAs I read the book to my daughter something started bothering me. And I mean, really bothering me. The story line is the following: Mrs Large wakes up one morning feeling unwell and Mr Large tells her to go back to bed and rest as he will look after the children. In a nutshell, Mr Large is an utterly incompetent father to the point that Mrs Large never gets to rest. But that doesn’t matter because at the end they all snuggle in bed with mum.

I understand that the author Jill Murphy, wrote the first Large family book back in the late 1980s with the idea of portraying the chaos of family life. But please correct me if I am wrong, Mr Large is in Charge was first published in 2005 and this is why I have a problem with it. We are constantly bombed (and pressured) to raise children surrounded with positive role models, so why continue portraying fathers are as useless when it comes to domestic life? I found it incredibly unfair that in this day and age we can come across children’s books that reinforce the idea that ‘Dad can’t cook’ and ‘Dad can’t do the housework’.

There are many fathers out there who are perfectly capable to look after their kids without having mum around. My husband is one of them and he does the ‘job’ as well as me. He fixes our daughter’s toys, he does her hair in plaits, cooks great meals, takes her swimming and to hockey. We live in the age of shared parental leave, as well as household responsibilities, flexible working for both men and women, so how about portraying a Mr Large who in the end has a fantastic day out with his children and when he’s back home Mrs Large feels better?

If classics like Snow White are changing (no more kissing while asleep), I believe the Large family should do so as well. We owe it to the 21st century dads.

I’m Back or On Why I did not Blog for Over a Year

It’s been more than a year since my last blog post on Memory of Water. My excuse for this silence is well, I had a baby girl on 12 May 2014!

fine balanceOn my last day at work, my wonderful colleagues at Belgravia Books gave me a pile of books that promised to make the wait for baby more bearable and less boring. Well, baby took it’s time and in between cooking and freezing, packing and re packing, going swimming (going floating really) I started a big fat novel called A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.

At 600 plus pages and a particularly small font, the novel symbolised my resignation that baby was officially overdue. There would be long days ahead of me.

Without giving much away, the novel is set in India in the late seventies during the period known as The Emergency. As usual, I knew nothing of this chaotic episode in India’s history but the great triumph of the novel are the characters. On one hand Mistry gives a heart breaking insight to life in Bombay’s slums, and on the other depicts the never ending struggles of the middle class to remain there. The clashes between rural and urban life are also a key element on the development of the characters in the story.

Half way into the book, Paloma was born. In the few moments of peace and quiet in hospital I found myself wondering about what was in store for my characters. In particular, the tailors and aunty Dina. They felt like family and in a surreal way I was worried about them.

Back at home and in between naps, I managed to finish the novel. It took me 3 months but every page was worth it. I had the best of both worlds, a sleeping baby and a good book.

Memory of Water

 

m of w

This novel came to my hands as a proof copy sent to work by Harper Collins (thank you for the freebie!). It was one of those days when you feel like reading something completely random and the thought of a young Finnish author caught my attention. I know very little about Finland and the cover looked weird enough to give it a go (yes, I do judge books by their covers, ready my post about book covers here). The point is, I had no idea I was in for a literary treat.

For some strange reason I always end up reading historical fiction or miserable novels. I am incapable of recommending people a happy book. Perhaps because it’s so difficult to read a good funny book and sad stories tend to bring the best of authors. It’s a mystery.

So there I was with my copy of Memory of Water which looked to be a serious read with secrets and intrigue at the core of the plot. Yes please!  This is a superb first novel by Finnish author Emmi Itäranta which will leave you thinking about the things we take for granted:  water and freedom.  The story is set in the near future, at a time when China rules the world and the impact of climate change has left the planet with no seasons and most importantly with a critical shortage of water.

Noria and her family are the tea masters of the village in what is called then the Scandinavian Union. They have a special relationship with water; one that brings secrets that are simply and too dangerous to share. Police rations water to all villagers but as it becomes scarce, and after her father’s death, Noria is decided to share the location of a secret spring. The consequences are well, you can imagine… disastrous.

If you like Margaret Atwood’s novels, you’ll love Memory of Water and please don’t pay too much attention to the cover and give this novel a chance. It’s worth it!

P.S. You can follow Emmi on Twitter @emmi_elina

 

 

 

 

Hate the character, love the book

commandantIs it possible to like novel featuring a protagonist that is evil and unscrupulous? Or is it that we admire the author’s ability to construct a character that will give us the creeps as the story unfolds? In order to find the answer to these questions I dare you to read Monsieur Le Commandant (Gallic Books).

In this outstanding book, Romain Slocombe gives life to Paul-Jean Husson, a character that you will find very hard to forget. This is an epistolary novel centred in one letter only addressed to a Secret Service Commandant. We are presented with one narrative voice which is that of Mr Husson. So don’t get too upset demanding ‘the other side of the story’. There will never be one.

So, who is Paul-Jean Husson? Our protagonist is a retired WWI hero, powerful, arrogant, also a novelist and on top of that a Nazi sympathiser. Needless to say, the anti-Semitic element is pretty much a key part of his personality but things get nasty when he falls desperately in love with his son’s German wife Ilse. And to make matters worse, after he investigates her background, he finds out that she’s Jewish. Well, if you think this sounds bad enough, Monsieur Le Commandant has many more surprises in store for you.

There’s no question that Mr Husson is a despicable character. The things he says in his letter to ‘Monsieur le Commandant’ are shocking and offensive but we must remember that Paul-Jean Husson is overall a man of his time.  So before you throw the book in rage remember this is 1942 and although it may be hard to believe, this novel is a reminder that there were people who thought persecuting Jewish people wasn’t such a bad idea.

‘The Jewish question has been often been misunderstood. I do not criticise the Yids for their work ethic . . . or for their notorious business acumen. As you know as well as I, the gravity of the situation is that the Jews pose a national and social threat to every country in which they are to be found. National, because the Jews are a homeless nation and assimilate only superficially into the civilization of the country that has nonetheless honoured them with its welcome.’ (p.43)

It is hard to read some of these lines in the present time and not think in horror how could someone say and do such things? But I applaud Romain Slocombe for creating such a despicable character such as Paul-Jean Husson.  Why? For the simple reason that he is a reminder that we’ve come a long way and we must work together to make the world a better place.

Bitter Almonds or The Privilege of Literacy

bitterThey say that giving a book to someone is also giving a commitment as people expect you to read it. This is how Bitter Almonds fell into my hands.

As many of you, I have a reading waiting list and I promise myself not to buy more books until I’ve read the ones I have in that never ending pile. I must confess I was reading something else when Bitter Almonds appeared. With not too much room in my bag I carried the book in my hand and while on the bus I started reading it. The rest is history. I was hooked.

This is perhaps one of the lesser known novels by the French writer Laurence Cossé. But certainly one that had a strong impact in me and that I’ll remember for a long time. The idea behind the novel is simple: literacy.

For many reading and writing is as natural as breathing. I can’t even remember that process in my childhood. I was born in a family of readers, in a house with a library that keeps on growing and where you’ll be able to find all sorts of books from classics to mountaineering and landscape gardening books. Reading has always been there, but not for Fadila, Bitter Almonds’ main character.

One day, any day, Edith, receives her new housemaid: Fadila, a 60 year old Moroccan lady. Nothing unusual there except that Fadila is illiterate. And this is when the story becomes heartbreaking and an eye opener. Edith is determined to teach Fadila to read and write, and in this process the world of Fadila opens to the reader. Just imagine not using public transport such as the underground because you’re unable to read the stations or the map.

Even more, finding your bearings in a big city rely on your memory, street names mean nothing to you. Fadila always takes the bus, the same bus and if there’s a change of route she panics and can’t get to get to work. Using a cash point is unthinkable and therefore the only way is to ask a cashier in a bank to help you fill the slips. Needless to say, Fadila can’t do numbers either. The novel is set in modern day Paris, a city where, like many others, literacy is a given. In today’s world we look around assuming the written word speaks to everyone. But very few times we sit back to think about those who did not have the opportunity or the gift of literacy.

Fadila’s journey into learning is truly a very difficult one. I’ve never tried to teach anyone to read and write and since recommending this book on Twitter I was contacted by teachers who read the book and told me that Edith’s and Fadila’s experience was beyond painful and frustrating.

I come from a country where illiteracy is not unheard of and as a book lover is easy to forget it. The great achievement of a novel such as Bitter Almonds is that takes you to the core of a life shared by many people all over the world.

In a nutshell, never take literacy for granted.