Throwback Thursday: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen:

 

Image result for water for elephants bookWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen:

This book is a real gem: a rare gem that thrills and shocks simultaneously. This is a beautifully written, well researched, off-beat love story about a young man called Jacob who (having been suddenly orphaned at the age of 22 while at university and in the age of the depression in America) finds himself, quite unexpectedly, working for a circus. Here we are treated to a feast of colourful (many rather unsavoury) characters (with dwarves, bearded ladies and a whole host of animals).  This book is just spectacular – the way that I was immersed into circus life was astounding, I really felt the atmosphere, the sounds, the smells; I was there in the big top, there on the train in the dead of night, there at the raucous after-show parties – Gruen did a fantastic job of setting the scene.

Animals are one of my biggest passions (along with books and travel) and therefore any book containing animals is usually a hit with me. Water for Elephants is not only a love story between Jacob and Marlena (a married woman whom he loves from afar) but also between Jacob and his animals, imparticular an elephant named Rosie whom I also fell in love with.
The story flits between Jacob as an old man in a nursing home (where a circus comes to town which brings back all his memories) and Jacob in the 1930’s during his circus years. This is a wonderfully written, engrossing, captivating novel and I felt lost when I had finished it; I truly had withdrawal symptoms. After now having seen the film, I want to immerse myself in this wonderfully vibrant and chaotic world that is The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. If you think you won’t like a book set in a circus, think again; there’s so much more to it and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Verdict:

An absolute joy! A book that made me laugh, cry, and everything in between. I cannot recommend highly enough.

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Throwback Thursday: Dog Boy by Eva Hurnung

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have chosen one that I read in 2010 and still plays on my mind even now:

9270148Dog Boy by Eva Hornung:

As soon as I saw this book sitting on a shelf in Waterstones years ago I made a bee line straight for it. I am such a huge animal lover and I am a sucker for books with animals on the cover, in the title or narrated by them. Wolf Totem, Animal Farm, Black Beauty and Life of Pi all feature in my list of favourite books of all time.

Dog Boy is narrated by Ramochka, a four-year-old boy who lives with his mother and his latest “uncle” in a high-rise apartment block in Moscow. After several days of his mum not returning, seeing Uncle moving out all the furniture, and being left to fend for himself in freezing conditions and with no food, he finally ventures outside. Cold and hungry, Ramochka follows a large sandy coloured dog back to her lair. The dog becomes the only source of food, warmth and comfort that Ramochka has available to him and he begins to see the dog as his Mamochka. The puppies that Mamochka is already nursing become his siblings and they accept him into their fold immediately and unquestioningly. The two older siblings, however, take more convincing but eventually, Ramochka becomes a permanent and invaluable member of their little family, all living together in the basement of a derelict church in the harshest of conditions. The longer the new family is together, the more Ramochka begins to forget his old life, and before long he is eating rats and other fresh kills that any one of the pack manages to bring home.

What I loved about this book was the real love and strength of the bond between human and animal. It was amazing to see how the pack of stray dogs view the world, through the eyes of a small boy. The story is alternately shocking, pitiful, heartbreaking, tender, joyful and fascinating. I fell in love, smiled, cried and hoped. To live with this group of animals for a few days was a privilege and one I won’t forget easily.

Verdict:

A highly recommended read. It will lift you up and tear you down but it is truly a wonderful, captivating, must-read.

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Throwback Thursday: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is: Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong.

Taken from my review in 2009, this book is still firmly at the top of my favourite ever reads. In 2008 it won the first ever Man Asia Literary Prize and with good reason. I have hardly ever come across anyone else who has read it but I honestly recommend so highly.

Image result for wolf totem jiang rongWhat I thought:

From the very first page I was hooked. Jiang Rong creates such a vivid and compelling narrative that I found myself simultaneously gripped with the story yet trying to slow down and savour every word, so beautiful was each sentence.

Wolf Totem is semi-autobiographical and Jiang’s passion for the Mongolian grasslands shines through on every page. The description of the grasslands themselves, the wildlife, the lifestyle and survival was stunning. So few books make me believe that I am there at the actual place, but with this book I was there on horseback, hiding from wolves, fleeing for my life, braving blizzards and building campfires. I smiled, I cried, I hoped and I silently pleaded all within the space of an hour. I also fell in love with wild Mongolian wolves. To get to know them was an honour– they are clever, cunning, brave, brilliant and I loved following their story (from both sides – the good and the bad). The Little Wolf that was captured and raised by humans both enchanted me and broke my heart.

While this book is most certainly a tale of the grasslands of the last 10,000 years and what happens when modern living creeps in, it is also a book about so much more. I can’t praise this enough; I am sad that it has ended as I could have read on for another 500 pages. What a beautiful book, one I highly recommend and one I will be reading again and again.

Verdict:

It’s now quite a while since I read this and I really think I want to read it again soon; just reading this review has brought back so many memories of how wonderful it is. If you love animals, nature, different cultures, the human spirit or just damn good literature then you will love this.

 

Throwback Thursday: Villette by Charlotte Bronte

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

villetteI am a huge fan of all the Brontë sisters and Jane Eyre is actually one of my favourite books of all time. However, I wanted to share one of her lesser known books instead – Villette. Funnily enough when I first picked it up, I reached page 100 and put it down for a while but something kept pulling me back and it ended up being in my Top 20 ever books.

This review is taken from my original review in 2009

What I thought:

Reader, I heart Ms. Brontë! Reading Villette was like reading a huge epic that I was so immersed in that I walked in Lucy Snowe’s shoes, I felt what she felt. How many authors can do that to you?

Lucy Snowe is difficult to get to know at first. In fact, she is difficult to like. This is deliberate; she tells you about other people, what they think, what they feel, but precious little about herself, of whom she appears fiercely private. Only as the story unfolds does she start to let you in – I remember being surprised when she showed such tender, gentle thoughts and actions towards the sick daughter of her employer; that, I believe, was the first glimpse of emotion from Lucy and it really endeared me to her. Lucy Snowe’s name was not an accident – Brontë toyed with Lucy Frost for a while before settling on Snowe. She also allows us to see her as others do: “Crabbed and crusty” said Ginevra, a pupil at the school, and “unfeeling thing that I was” written to her in a letter. The point is, she isn’t unfeeling at all. She is lonely and trying to make her way in an unfamiliar world. Lucy’s past is only hinted at but it appears to have been an unhappy one.

Brontë’s prose is gorgeous, Villette is such a richly embroidered account of a young woman trying to make a life for herself in a foreign country and fighting for independence and friendship. This book isn’t a romance in the same way that Jane Eyre is. I wasn’t sure for a long time who the leading man would be (in fact he doesn’t even appear until the second half of the book). And it isn’t love at first sight, we watch it grow.

I absolutely adored this book and it is now a firm favourtie of mine.  I finally closed the book in a daze. I don’t want to give anything away, but I was not expecting what happened at the end at all. That came completely out of the blue for me.

Go ahead, indulge and enjoy!

Have you read any books by the Brontë’s? Which ones are your favourites?

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Throwback Thursday: The Mayor of Casterbridge

throwbackthursday

Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy

mayorTaken from my review in 2012:

When I began this book I have to admit that I didn’t think the three words I’d be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fact, I really had no intention of reading this book at all any time soon as a friend of mine had to study it in school as a teenager and told me it’s the worst book she’s ever read and that had stayed with me and filed into the “don’t bother” part of my brain. But then I saw or heard something about this book (I forget where and what) and that it was about a man who sells his wife and baby daughter at a fayre and immediately I thought that sounds intriguing and off I popped to pick up a copy. How glad I am that I did – The Mayor of Casterbridge has turned out to be one of my favourite books! I loved it!

Michael Henchard is a young man of twenty-one and walking the countryside of Dorset with his wife, Susan, and their baby girl, Elizabeth-Jane, looking for work. They decide to rest a while in a small village where there is a fayre and several drinks later, Michael starts loudly asking for bidders to buy his wife. After accepting 5 guineas from a sailor he wakes later to realise that they have actually gone and when he realises what he has done he swears not to drink a drop more of alcohol for another 21 years (as long as he has so far lived). He starts to make inquiries about where the sailor and his family may have gone but nobody knows who he is and Michael is too ashamed of his conduct to search too effectively and he sets off on the road once more, alone.

The story then fast-forwards eighteen years and Michael is now the Mayor of Casterbridge (modeled on Dorchester in Dorset). It’s difficult to say more about what happens next as I really don’t want to give it away – this book is much better read if you know nothing about the characters and what is to come yet as there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The fuller title for The Mayor of Casterbridge is The Life and Death of a Man of Character, and that is really what this book is based around – Michael Henchard and his fall and rise (and fall again). The main cast of characters is small enough that we really get to know them well and care about them: Susan and Elizabeth-Jane become part of the story again as does a Scottish traveller looking for work, Donald Farfrae and a young lady, Lucetta Templeman, who gets caught up in something that will come back to haunt her in a big way later in the book.

Henchard really is a man of character, as the title suggests, and he is prone to jealousy, impulsiveness and malice but in turn he can be caring, warm and reflective meaning that the reader never hates him, but actually feels for him as he is his own harshest critic. What astounded me was Hardy’s understanding of human nature: time and time again I was amazed that he had managed to get it so spot on; to really make me feel as the characters did and understand why they behaved the way they did.

What I really loved about this book, though, was the drama. This is why I love all the Victorian books I have read so far – they’re like watching a soap-opera. The Mayor of Casterbridge has it all – love, hate, greed, jealousy, deceit and repentance. And watch out for a scene involving a skimmington-ride (what the Victorians – and those before them – used to do to humiliate people, particularly adulterous women or women who beat their husbands which involved a very rowdy and public parade with effigies of the persons concerned being ridden through town on the back of donkeys) which has extremely tragic consequences.

I just had to share this quote with you too as it made me laugh:

“The present room was much humbler, but what struck him about it was the abundance of books lying everywhere. The number and quality made the meagre furniture that supported them seem absurdly disproportionate.”

Sound familiar? 😉

 

I loved the fact that there were pictures too

 

Verdict:

I heart Thomas Hardy! This is the second book of his that I have read (the first being Tess) and I now fully intend to gorge myself on the rest this year. Forget your preconceptions about dry and dull Victorian literature – this book has it all! A firm favourite now and one I will definitely read again at some point.

Have you read it? If so, what did you think?

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Review: Sealskin by Su Bristow

SealSkin-Vis-3.jpgWhat I thought:

Have you ever read a book where, when you turn the final page, you are simultaneously enraptured, enchanted and bereft at having to leave the characters right there on the page and carry on without them? This is that book.

Inspired by the legend of Selkies (seals who can transform into people) and set in a small fishing village in Scotland, this is a book about love, redemption and an awakening, all with a sprinkling of magic. Donald is a young man who is always on the outside, preferring his own company to being among those who mock him and one day, while out on the seas, he is involved in something that will change the course of his life forever. The act is shocking and unexpected but it is a talented writer who can lead you gently in Donald’s footsteps as he learns to atone himself and allow the reader to begin to forgive him as he begins to forgive himself.

What did I love most about this book? Everything. Really, just everything. There was almost a childlike wonder to reading this book; a fairytale that bewitched and enchanted. It is the sort of story that I would want someone to read to me while tucked up under a blanket with a hot chocolate. That’s how it made me feel. I miss it now it’s over. I miss them.

Haunting and evocative with such fluid prose, this is a book of beauty and magic. I fell in love: with the landscape, the cast of characters and with the awakening of a whole village. I was there in the pages. I tasted the salt on my lips, I felt the wind whip through my hair, I felt the bitter cold of rain-soaked clothes and I felt the freedom of running through the grass with abandon.

Verdict:

This book is special.  January is not yet over and I already know that Sealskin will be in my Top 10 books for 2017. I will be recommending this book to everyone I know. And I will read it again. And again.

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NB/ Thank you to Orenda Books for a copy of this wonderful book which I chose to read and review honestly.

Day 3 – A Book With a Favourite Character

Tiger Tiger, bruning bright…

I regularly fall in love with characters in books – they don’t even necessarily have to be “nice”, just interesting and believable will do for me. I love  it when an author is able to create such brilliant characters that I either feel I know or would even like to know in real life: those are often the books that I think about years later as I really want to know how the characters went on with their lives after I closed the pages of the books.

The book I have chosen, however, has my favourite character ever, and it’s not even a human being! After reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi I fell head over heals in love with a bengal tiger. The tiger in question was known as Richard Parker and he ended up on a life-raft in the middle of the Melacca Straights when the ship he had been on sank along with almost all the other zoo animals that had been on the ship with him. Richard Parker survived and spent the next year floating round an ocean with only a young boy (and fleetingly a zebra, orangutang and hiyena)  for company. What I loved about Richard Parker is the way that Martel managed to make the whole thing feel real without resorting to fantasy or magical realism; it all seemed so plausable to me. I still, to this day, have visions of this huge stripey hunk of fur trying to swat flying fish with a massive paw, while trying to keep balance on a tiny boat in the middle of the Inidan Ocean. Brilliant!

 

 And just to prove my dedication to said stripey hunk of fur, check out a post I did about 13 months ago about my shelves and on one of them you will surely spot a few familiar faces 🙂

 

  Who is your favourite character from a book?