Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson; a story that captured my heart

Every now and again a book comes along that totally captures your heart; Stanley and Elsie by Nicola Upson is most certainly one of these.

D5ej2F6WsAA42Yg

I’ve been a huge fan of Upson’s Josephine Tey crime series for years (which deserves a blog post all of its own) so when the proof for this book popped up on my twitter feed, I was immediately intrigued to see where this standalone with a very different sounding direction would take me.

duckworth

{I was incredibly lucky to receive a proof copy  from Duckworth Publishers}

So, what is Stanley and Elsie about? It is the story of artist Stanley Spencer and his unique friendship with his housemaid Elsie, who comes to live with Spencer and his young family after World War I. We meet Stanley as he is in the process of working on a commission to paint the interior of a memorial chapel for those lost at war and we accompany the years it takes to create his masterpiece of  trauma, loss and redemption. We also follow his complex marriage to fellow artist Hilda, his tangled relationship with his daughters and later on how he navigates temptation and obsession. At the heart of the Spencer family is Elsie, who does her utmost to keep them all together, offering care, wisdom and friendship.

Carline, Hilda Anne, 1889-1950; Elsie

{I need an Elsie in my life. This is a painting of Elsie by Hilda Carline}

Spencer was a real artist, as was his wife Hilda, who later signed her work as Hilda Carline. I knew Stanley and Elsie was based on real people and on their artwork but that was pretty much all the background knowledge I had going in. And what a discovery this book was – it opened my eyes to incredible art that I didn’t know existed. What struck me in particular as I researched Spencer afterwards, was how Upson has taken a character, who is so often portrayed as a great artist but a pretty awful human being, and has dismantled this polarised image with such skill to reveal a complex man, who lost his sense of self during the war and spent most of his life trying to work out who he actually was – through his art and also through his relationship with women. A man who was capable of great kindness but who could be equally self-centred and hurtful, who could be charming and grounded in life but also naive, manipulative and detached from reality.brusha7.png

Whilst I’ve started with Stanley, it is the women in this novel who shine through for me. Upson writes each character with so much depth that I felt incredibly invested in their development:  The absolutely lovely, observant and vibrant Elsie, who I wish I could be friends with. Hilda, who struggles with finding her own identity as an artist, who struggles with being a mother and is so consumed by loneliness and her love for a man who cannot give her what she needs. Stanley’s sister, a side character but a striking one, who gave up her art to look after her parents and lost her sense of self in the process, her mental health deeply affected. And of course, Patricia and Dorothy – who I can’t say to much about as it would spoil your reading experience – who I wanted to hate but just couldn’t as they were battling their own personal and societal demons too.

brusha5.png

And then there’s the very special relationship between Stanley and Elsie, which felt so real, so genuine and which I still think about now. It is a friendship which navigates both social and gender divides – it is messy and frustrating and warm and at times very sad; I felt all the emotions!brushA7

Alongside Upson’s wonderful characters is the equally wonderful interweaving of Stanley and Hilda’s art. I absolutely loved how the plot was shaped around the artwork, crafted with such care and detail; Upson must have done an immense amount of research for this. The description of the different parts of the chapel are stunning, enabling me to visualise each piece in such detail that when I came to look up the chapel paintings online, it was like I was returning to something I had already seen before. The chapel is a National Trust property now and can be visited – of course I have a road trip planned for the summer.brushA5

I can’t finish without mentioning how brilliantly Nicola Upson captures those seemingly small, ordinary moments, which hold so much more. There were several times I annotated a page with “ such beautiful sadness” and I was left in tears at several points towards the end because of how an interaction or an observation was written. As I said, this book left a mark on heart.paint-set

 

The Burning by Laura Bates and The Furies by Katie Lowe; a double review

I’ve been in the mood for a bit of YA recently and it just so happened that two books with very similar themes (though completely different in content and writing style) crossed my path. A promise of witchy elements, an exploration of what empowerment can look like, insights into what it means to be a teenage girl today and the complexity of female friendships, plus a touch of history thrown in for good measure – needless to say I dove right in. You might want to get yourself a cup of tea before you read on, I’ve got a lot to share with you 😊

the furies

The Furies by Katie Lowe

(thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for the arc. Publication date: 2 May 2019)

What it’s about: This is the story of Violet, looking back at the mysterious death of a girl she knew in her school days in the late nineties and her life leading up to this event. In a run down, quiet coastal town, the teenage Violet starts at the sixth form of a private girls school. She is befriended by a group of girls and also becomes part of their secret club, which is led by a very intriguing, charismatic art teacher known as Annabel, who is following a centuries old tradition. And incidentally, the school’s history is connected to the witchcraft trials that took place there in the 17th century – the exploration of magic is something these girls are fascinated by. I won’t say any more than that 😉

Some of my thoughts…

*I loved the premise of this book and especially its exploration of intense anger and its consequences,  the potential of female power- both liberating and destructive as well as the question of what lengths a person is capable of going to in order to find a sense of belonging.hand*The Furies has some absolutely stunning descriptions; really vivid, evocative settings and character insights.hand*For me, it captured all the angst and intensity of being a teenager really well (and a touch of 90s nostalgia in the process as I was a teenager then too). Beyond the mystery and the possible witchcraft there are four girls trying to make sense of themselves and their world. I think there is a lot to identify with for YA readers and Lowe knows her audience well.hand*I really liked how art, folklore and the history behind the school were interwoven with what happens to the characters in the narrative. Three of my favourite interests all in one book, each contributing their own layer to the story being told.hand*The witchy element made me smile as I adored The Craft and the like when I was younger (still do if I’m honest)  and can totally see why The Furies is being described as its successor.hand*Katie Lowe makes Violet (the narrator), and therefore the reader, constantly question what is going on and that uncertainty works really well. What is in fact real? Is there magic involved? Are there mental health and alcohol/drug abuse issues at play? In fact, is Violet reliable as a narrator?

What didn’t work for me…

The following is based on personal preference and I feel like I need a disclaimer stating that I am also not the target audience – but I do read quite a bit of YA.

*The sections of lectures given by teachers were really interesting and relevant to the plot but they were often lengthy and felt disjointed within the narrative. It pulled me out of the story at times and I wonder what a younger me would have thought about these sections.hand*The animal sacrifice. There are just certain things I cannot read about and this is one of them. Yes, it is part of ritual in this narrative but no, I still don’t think it needs to be there.hand*The mother daughter relationship. This felt flat to me and I personally would have liked more depth – it is clear how important this relationship is for understanding Violet as a character, and I know that the girls are the focus of this narrative and not Violet’s home life, but I still feel there was just much more potential for development there.hand*There was an amount of repetition in terms of descriptive character phrases, of imagery and behaviour. This niggled, especially as I can see the writer is capable of much more.hand*I was really disappointed that the art teacher, Annabel, was not explored further as a character as she was one of my favourite elements; the Miss Jean Brodie-esque figure with her select group of girls. For me, she remained too distant as a character and her story rather fizzled out when there was so much more to explore.

the burning

The Burning by Laura Bates, published by Simon & Schuster

What it’s about: This is the story of Anna, who has just moved to rural Scotland with her mum, completely leaving her old life and everything associated with it behind. A horrendous social media experience and the death of her father have had huge impacts on Anna, and this is the chance for a fresh start. But social media is never truly erased from existence and human behaviour is never that straight forward. As Anna tries to work out what true friendships look like and how she can deal with the soul-destroying challenges she faces on a daily basis, she gets drawn into a history homework project. She is drawn to the story of Maggie, accused of witchcraft centuries ago, who was also targeted for not conforming, and suffered the consequences of other people’s views and actions.

Laura Bates is well known for being the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, which you can find more about here and her feminist non-fiction Everyday Sexism and Girl Up ( both of which I have heard such high praise for but haven’t read yet).  This is her first adventure in translating her work into a YA fiction format, a new way to reach audiences and start those all-important conversations. I had a feeling it would be a fierce, intelligent and engaging read and I wasn’t disappointed!

I think this is an incredible book; powerful, thought provoking and compelling all at the same time. Here are my thoughts…

*Anna: I was utterly engaged with Anna as a character. I was routing for her throughout, worrying about her, feeling proud of her – you name it, I felt it! Bates has written a character that I believe teenagers from all walks of life can relate to and connect with. And do to this well, isn’t as easy as Bates makes it look! I also thought the friendship that develops between her, Alisha and Cat was gorgeous and genuinely captured the essence and complexities of teenage friendships. A younger me would have longed to be part of such a friendship group.match*Maggie’s story is equally as engaging. It is beautifully told and interweaves brilliantly with what Anna is facing in the present day. The witchcraft aspect has clearly been thoroughly researched and I like that a teenager could go into this knowing very little of this part of women’s history and truly learn something through the narrative. I read an interview with Laura Bates on the Bookseller website, where she speaks of the message she wants to put across through these two young women separated by time, When I talk about the reality of what girls are facing in UK schools, people have a tendency to shake their heads sadly and bemoan all the problems the internet has caused for young people. But looking at Anna and Maggie’s stories side by side, I hope it becomes clear that these are not new or ‘technological’ problems: this is the way we have always treated women and girls and it won’t change unless we act!match*Bates tackles the dark side of social media head on – once Anna’s photo has been posted without her permission it is beyond her control as the image takes on a life of its own, fuelled by viciousness. The portrayal  of online abuse and real-life bullying is raw and real. Those who bully either don’t care about their impact or are there for the thrill of the ride regardless, or just don’t stop to consider the impact they are having. Here it is worth noting that, because of the issues this book addresses, the language and imagery is honest, sometimes brutal and explicit. It has to be. But I think it is only fair to warn you if you are giving this as a gift so that you are aware of the content and are prepared to address any arising questions.match*The handling of grief is explored so well: how loss winds its way into every aspect of your life, the vacuum that is left when someone you love dies, how difficult it is to find a way forwards and how easy it is to get lost along the way, how hard it can be to communicate grief and especially  if others are hurting too.match*The ending: It is very much a statement ending, a couple of rich scenes that really leave a lasting impression in different ways. Some reviewers have said how this may not have been the most realistic of ways to end the book, but I disagree. Reading this ending is inspiring and inspires action, it is positive without a sugar-coated happy ending, it gives hope and will hopefully help young women to not feel so alone. I think it is also a disservice to young women, to assume they are not capable of Anna’s determination and strength at the end because there are incredible young women out there.matchTo finish, here is a quote that pretty much sums up this reading experience for me:

‘The Burning lights a fire in you – one that makes you want to fight for change and ignite sparks in others so the fire spreads and spreads.’ HOLLY BOURNE 

 

The Last by Hanna Jameson– stepping/leaping outside of my comfort zone

Imagine the world’s major cities have just experienced a nuclear apocalypse and you are lucky enough to have survived, staying in a once grand Swiss hotel in the middle of a vast forest. This is the situation that Jon Keller, historian and narrator, finds himself in and, as a collector of stories by profession, he decides to document the months following the end of the world as we know it. During this time, he finds the body of a young girl in one of the water towers and makes it his personal mission to find out what happened to her…

71-kbiLYCHL

For me, The Last is an intriguing mixture: part exploration of the human psyche, part character driven murder mystery and the odd element of 80s era horror thrown in for good measure. It’s about as far away from my reading comfort zone as I could get but I LOVED IT!

Here’s why I loved it…

The concept of recording history in the making so that your experiences are not forgotten, so that your life has meaning in the middle of chaos, really spoke to me. And the fact that it has to be written on paper as technology, including the instant history provided by the internet, is no longer accessible somehow appeals to me (I am a Luddite at heart). In connection with this, there is also a poignant section about the value of printed photographs: what happens if all you have left are digital copies of your collected memories and the people you  care about, and you can’t see them anymore? It certainly made me go through my photos, make lists and start the process of ordering paper copies. Photographs are so important in my opinion as they hold memories, precious treasures, and our brains can’t always hold onto them without help.last circle 2The characters: The hotel hosts a truly quirky cast of misfits and I think Jameson explores the social group behaviour as well as the individual motivations of the characters really well. I felt that the characters were kept at a bit of distance, as they would be with Jon as the person documenting, and usually a lack of engagement wouldn’t work for me, but somehow, I felt really intrigued and I enjoyed trying to figure them out alongside Jon (and indeed figure out the man himself, as he is far from being a reliable narrator).last circle 2The big, thought-provoking questions: These are interwoven into the conversations the characters have and the stories that they tell. They are often understated or very matter of fact yet incredibly powerful. Is there an afterlife or a duality in this world? What defines what is right and wrong in a world without structure? What does democracy actually look like and does it work? Is there such a thing as collective responsibility? How do you find meaning in life when all you had is gone and what makes a person valuable to society? This book really got me thinking!last circle 2The children and small acts of kindness: I love that there are interludes when the only two children in the hotel provide reminders of how all is not lost and that there is still wonder and joy to experience even in the most difficult of circumstances.  There is also a section when Jon is given a small ornament as a gift, which has a huge impact on him,

“The only meaning we might have left as a species – indeed the only thing left that might matter, that might keep us motivated to get up in the morning – is in the small acts of human kindness which we show each other…” 

I strongly believe that despite (or indeed because of) the shambles our world is in, kindness matters more than ever.last circle 2How our perception of “the end of the world” very much depends on what we have experienced before: One of the characters, Yoko, talks of her parents having grown up under occupation , how, after the Second World War, Tokyo was in ruins in every sense of the word, everything had to be built out of this nothing and it was.  Because actually, the earth is still spinning, it’s just not following the rules of a western world.last circle 2The “Is Jon one of the only truly sane characters or is he having a mental breakdown?” factor: As the story progresses, you are left questioning more and more whether Jon’s documentation accurately reflects what is happening at the hotel and whether his investigation into the girl’s death has turned into an obsession affecting his mental health. Sometimes he even questions himself. I love that element of uncertainty where you are compelled to keep on reading, trying to find and work out the clues.last circle 2The cause of the attacks: we never find out the details of the attacks themselves and I liked this deliberate vagueness as the emphasis falls on general political behaviour, making the issues universal; politicians making the wrong decisions and citizens not being proactive  enough or having enough power to prevent disaster, and the extensive impact of this on the survivors but also physically on the Earth– sound familiar?last circle 2

A couple of things that I personally wanted more of/less of:

The gore! I think that the explicit moments are there as a shock factor and a nod to 80s horror fiction, but for me personally they felt a bit disjointed, disconnected and just personally not my cup of tea.

The hotel’s mysterious and possibly sinister past: I really enjoyed the premise of this; the dodgy deals, the high level of deaths and the capturing of a serial killer during his stay there in the past, but I found that there just wasn’t enough depth to this. There were moments when the hotel almost had a personality of its own (the kind of creepy I like) but they faded away. So basically, I just wanted more!

The ending felt like a bit of an anti-climax to me: I must say that this is just my own preference of what I wanted to read really and I can totally see why Jameson chose to end it this way (I can’t really say much more without spoilers!)

last hotel (2)

I wonder if Jameson has a sequel planned?  There is so much there just waiting to be explored- I need to know what happened next!

Getting to know Agatha

getting to know agatha 2

Agatha Christie has fascinated me for as long as I can remember, yet somehow, I’ve never really pursued my curiosity in any depth. As I’m reading a Poirot mystery a month this year for one of my 2019 bookish goals, this felt like the perfect opportunity to get stuck in to all things Christie! I thought I’d share what I’ve come up with so far- I’ve stumbled upon some proper AC treasures😊

Shedunnit-Artwork

The Shedunnit podcast: I came across this podcast by sheer coincidence recently and it is as if  the creator and host, Caroline Crampton, has created a podcast just for me – themed episodes focusing on the golden era of crime fiction – yay! Each episode is so thoroughly researched, so interesting and beautifully broadcast – I highly recommend a listen. Anyway, the podcast episode titled The Lady Vanishes, is one based on the much-deliberated disappearance of Agatha Christie for 11 days in December 1926 and it was a great way into Christie’s world.

Two fascinating articles online: “How Agatha Christie’s wartime nursing role gave her a lifelong taste for poison” (The Guardian) and “Agatha Christie shaped how the world sees Britain” (BBC Culture). Both were incidentally recommended on twitter by @ShedunnitShow.

The Agatha Christie website: quite an obvious one to mention really but an informative source for all things Christie, including themed reading guides and a Read Christie 2019 challenge.

Agatha-Graphic-Novel-GalleyCat

A graphic novel: Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie by Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau and Alexandre Frank. When searching for books on AC and wanting to go beyond the usual biography type affair, I found this promising looking graphic novel – I’m really getting into reading graphic novels as portals into non-fiction. I’ve only had a quick flick through so far but the artwork in itself is fabulous. I shall report back.

51ObAu2wf9L._SL500_

The autobiography: Well, it’s got to be done hasn’t it! I’m really intrigued to see what she wanted people to know about herself, her writing and the life she led. I think I’ll borrow this book from my local library (because libraries are fantastic places for finding non-fiction if you’re not by nature a non-fiction enthusiast and book funds are lacking).

talent for murder

Just for fun: Agatha Christie as a special agent! I’ve just started listening to the first audio book of a series by Andrew Wilson, called A Talent for Murder. I love the premise so much and am keeping everything crossed that this is a series I can get addicted to. Book two, A Different Kind of Evil is out now in the UK.

mousetrap

One last thing: The Mousetrap is coming to Nottingham at the Theatre Royal -I’ve never seen it nor know anything about it despite its status as longest running West End play. Time to purchase a ticket I think 😉

The Stone Circle. Dr Ruth Galloway Series: Elly Griffiths

The Stone Circle is number 11 in the Dr Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths and was the first book I managed to read when I was recently recovering from flu. Not being able to focus on words and concentrate enough to read is horrible enough but when you’re desperate to get stuck into the latest book of a favourite series upon release it is beyond frustrating! Still, being at the stay-in-bed stage was perfect when I did feel up to reading – no one to interrupt me as I just sat and read for hours (with nurse Poppy Cat making sure I was alright😉).

Pops and Circle

Synopsis: Forensic archaeologist Ruth becomes involved in the archaeological discovery of a second stone circle on the North Norfolk Coast (the first circle being a central theme in the first book). The unearthing of a young Iron Age girl’s body sets off a chain of events to reveal a second body buried only thirty years previously. Mysterious, sinister letters are delivered to DCI Nelson and the appearance of a familiar looking face brings past events firmly into the present. Family secrets are revealed and not only for those, who are part of the murder narrative. A spark amongst tangled feelings remains, ready to catch fire.

stone circle image

What I thought…

Old friends: I am so invested in these characters that it really does feel like spending time with old friends and catching up with their news. A lot of reviewers, who love the series, write along similar lines – I love it when books give you that sense of belonging, when stories and characters become a part of  life.

Ruth: Ruth Galloway continues to be one of my absolute favourite female leads for so many reasons. She is incredibly strong, fiercely intelligent plus she has such a perceptive sense of humour. She struggles to fit into the world around her and I relate to this being on the outside of things in a major way. She makes sure her daughter Kate gets to listen Harry Potter audio books at night and reads her His Dark Materials. She loves the beauty and solitude of the Saltmarsh where her cottage lies. She has a very forthright cat called Flint, who makes wonderful cameos in the story and always steals the show. She feels very real, very human  and I especially like how Griffiths has chosen a character facing middle age, who has so much to offer the world.

Engaging writing: As a rule, I don’t really do contemporary crime fiction but there is something so engaging about Griffith’s writing, the mixture of science and ‘the other’ (superstitions, myths, the unexplained) works incredibly well and although there is a murder to be solved in each book, it is the character development which drives the narrative.

A stunning sense of place: The stark contrast of the Norfolk marshland is so well written –  you really get that sense of vast, exceptional beauty as well as an underlying potential of darkness and danger. For those who know me, it comes as no surprise to  say I’d rather like a cottage like Ruth’s please.

Continuing chemistry: Oh, Ruth and Nelson (she types, sighing)! It is such a delicious mess of a relationship; the intensity, the stubborn sparks, the multitude of repressed feelings and insecurities.

Moments of humour: There are some really subtle, wry moments of humour amongst the darker moments. Griffiths has a knack of maintaining a well-crafted balance that enables the good to prevail in the bleakest of times and I love her for it.

The Stone Circle stormed into the HB Fiction Top Ten as no.7 after only three days on sale and this makes me beyond happy as I feel Elly is finally getting more of the recognition she deserves. Apart from her books being such great reads, she as an author who goes above and beyond to connect with her readers. On the 2nd of May she is releasing her first children’s book, A Girl Called Justice, and I CANNOT WAIT! Here is the blurb from the Hachette Children’s Group website:

a girl called justice

“Missing maids, suspicious teachers and a snow storm to die for… For a fearless girl called Justice Jones, super-smart super-sleuth, it’s just the start of a spine-tingling first term at Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. For fans of Robin Stevens, Katherine Woodfine and Enid Blyton.”

…just my bookish cup of tea 😊

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

I honestly don’t know how I feel about Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss; I’m finding it difficult to organise my thoughts and feelings but try I shall! This is the first book I have read by Sarah Moss, I’ve heard so many people talk about how much they love her work and thought it was high time that I formed my own opinion.

51WWWSzTqmL

Synopsis: Set during an unusually hot week in summer in rural Northumberland, this is the story of 17-year-old Silvie, whose father has decided his family will take part in a university research project to recreate and experience Ancient Briton life – an exploration of rituals, foraging and very stripped back living conditions. Silvie’s working-class father, an amateur historian when not driving buses, has approached this experiment in all seriousness, passionate about the past and intent on making it an authentic experience at all costs. His intensity causes increasing friction between the participants and a dark sense of unease develops – his opinions and actions have far reaching consequences. It is also the story of a nameless Iron Age girl, who is sacrificed as a part of an ancient ritual in the opening scenes and how her death weaves into the characters’ contemporary narrative.

What I loved/ found intriguing…

gwhall flourish

The portrayal of the natural world: Moss creates an in-depth sense of place so that I felt I was walking the paths of the present-day characters as well as their ancestors over two thousand years ago. Nature is that close, that powerful, that rich and that crucial to survival. I also really liked that Moss sets this story just before the explosion in technology that took over towards the end of the 90s. Mobiles, laptops and tablets are missing and this is such a clever way of allowing the plot to feel contemporary in so many other ways whilst also creating a sense of intense nature-focused isolation.

The complex, deep and often twisted daughter father relationship: This was so interesting to explore and figure out. There is pride and connection and even fondness as well as manipulation, coercion and violence. It makes for uncomfortable reading and challenges readers to examine our own perceptions.

Silvie as a character: I loved Silvie as she comes of age, how her strong passion for nature and curiosity about the world beyond her experiences develops and how she finds her sexual identity too. I think Moss portrays Silvie’s position so well as a young woman still dependent on her parents in terms of everyday life and still with a need for approval yet also longing for independence and the opportunities to challenge others and express the person she is becoming.

The northerness of Silvie’s family: I could literally hear the voice of Silvie and her father as they spoke and really connected with the snippets of their life back home. In connection with their background, I also really liked the questions Moss explores regarding class and education- gritty, relevant stuff indeed.

The intertwining of past and present until they merge: This was so well written; the haunting, eerie connection between Silvie and the Iron Age girl gives me the shivers just thinking about it and it is so subtly crafted that it never tips into a fictional time travel type plot device. The exploration of what being British actually means in terms of the present interpreting the past is also so poignant when viewed from our  Brexit-filled days. Silvie’s father is intent on finding his ideal “Britishness” away from any outside influences – he is desperate for a sense of place and power and channels all of this into a project, which ironically cannot be as pure as he desperately wants it to be because of the very present-day rooted students involved and the fact that the Britons were made up anyone present at that point in time – mostly immigrants in fact.

The suspense: I really enjoyed the way Moss makes us constantly question what is in fact going on, only giving a tiny bit away at a time and leaving so much to our interpretation. The dynamics between the characters in general also adds brilliantly to this suspense, the friction and intensity becomes increasingly tangible as the story progresses.

The elements I personally struggled with…

gwhall flourish

The mother: The portrayal of Silvie’s mother left me angry and so frustrated as she felt stereotypical and I couldn’t get near her as a character because of this. This was such an opportunity to go deeper than the trope of the abused wife, who stands by as her child is abused, who often tries to lessen the impact yet so frequently makes excuses for her husband’s behaviour.

The violence and coercion displayed by the father: This is very much a personal perspective as I try to stay away from this kind of violence in my reading due to my own experiences. And because of this, Ghost Wall often felt too personal and hard to digest. From an objective perspective,  I know there is a point to the violence being there, it certainly adds to the narrative’s power and produces a very visceral reading response.

It. Was. Too. Short: Yes, I know it is a novella and a tight narrative structure has been crafted on purpose– it grips and takes you along on a tense ride, leaving you feeling almost breathless at the end. I read it in an afternoon.  but there was so much more I was desperate to find out more about. Whilst some themes and events are wonderfully rich and detailed like the landscape, others are only briefly mentioned, meaning that sometimes I was absolutely gripped and other times I was left feeling detached from the narrative.

The dialogue doesn’t have speech punctuation: Although this is a minor stylistic point, it never the less affected my experience as I was unsure who was speaking at times and, as a result, had to reread certain sections, losing the flow of the text in the process.

So, what do I think about Ghost Wall overall?  It was haunting, deeply disturbing, mesmerizing and thought provoking. But at the same time there just wasn’t enough depth for me, I wanted so much more, and the abuse was hard to read on a personal level. One thing I can say with certainty is that Ghost Wall has stayed with me since I finished reading it; I’m still thinking about it, digesting, questioning – and that in my opinion is a sign of a strong piece of writing! I first marked it as a 3-star read on Goodreads but have since changed it to a 4 for this reason and  I will definitely pick up another Sarah Moss book to see where it takes me.

P.S. I read a really interesting interview with Sarah Moss about her motivation behind Ghost Wall over on the Waterstones blog. Here is the link, it is well worth a read.

My Poirot project and other plans

This year feels like a year for reading projects!

I’ve had the first one in mind for ages: The Poirot Project: I absolutely love the 1920s and 30s and am also rather fond of Agatha Christie! Though I have always been rather obsessed with the Poirot tv adaptations starring David Suchet, I’ve only ever read a couple of the actual books – the shame! So, I’ve decided to read at least one Poirot mystery a month; here is my plan for the next few months:

befunky-collage

I’m also intrigued by Christie as a person and fancy reading some non-fiction about her. Any recommendations are appreciated😉. And look at the covers for January and February – I’m in love with these vintage looking, naked hardback editions!

Project 2: World War II fiction and nonfiction: As I have German roots and have lived here in the UK for most of my life, I have a very personal interest in this time period and therefore like to read as much as I can  from both sides of the channel. I’ve built up quite a themed collection of books on my tbr shelves and would like to dedicate significant time to immerse myself properly. Here’s a list of my books so far- some I’ve already read and will review in the near future:

9781474942386-orphanmonsterspy_fc

Orphan Monster Spy: Matt Killen. This was on the Costa children’s category shortlist this year and is the story of a Jewish teenager, who loses everything but survives because of her Arian appearance. By chance she meets an English spy and a bond develops, leading her to enter a Nazi elite boarding school to fulfil a crucial mission.

heimat

Heimat: Nora Krug ( Belonging is the translated title). This is Nora Krug’s memoir of her journey to discover the stories of her family’s wartime past in Nazi Germany and to understand how her life as a German woman living in America today has been shaped by her personal past and that of the German people. It is absolutely stunning in its layout – mixed media, graphic novel storytelling, significant artefacts from the past, reflection on what it is to be German…

mrs bird

Dear Mrs Bird: A J Pearce. Emmy wants to become a war correspondent, to make a real difference during difficult times. But instead, by mistake,  she manages to land herself a job as a typist assistant for Mrs Bird, the agony aunt of a failing women’s magazine. She secretly begins to answer the letters deemed unsuitable by the imposing, extremely conservative Mrs Bird.

salt

Salt to the Sea: Ruta Sepetys. Told from multiple perspectives, this tracks the journey of several refugees desperately seeking freedom in East Prussia towards the end of World War II. A ship, the Wilhelm Gustav promises them survival…Salt to the Sea is based on a real event that I haven’t come across before.

dabei

Ich war dabei. Geschichten gegen das Vergessen: Gudrun Pausewang. (sadly not translated into English as far as I know. A collection of short stories about childhood in the Third Reich.)

Project 3: Read some classics from on my shelves that I haven’t read before: I’ve read a fair number of classics and definitely have my favourites but I also love collecting classics (only the ones that speak to me though, you won’t find any Dickens) and so there are a fair few waiting to be read! In 2019 I want to read:

*Something by Nancy Mitford (I have Love in a Cold Climate, Don’t ask Alfred and The Pursuit of Love)

*Something by Virginia Woolf (Orlando, To the Lighthouse, The Years)

*Something by Elizabeth von Arnim (Vera, Elizabeth and her German Garden, Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther, The Enchanted April)

*Stella Gibbons: Westwood

*Barbara Pym: Excellent Women

Have you got any projects planned for this year? If so, tell me about them – I am loving all the booktube videos featuring reading plans for 2019 😊

P.S. I nearly forgot: Project 4: Read some German books!!! Looking through  my goodreads from last year I realised how few German books I actually read. I am a translator by profession and spend a significant amount of my days reading German as part of that. Yet somehow, I’ve near enough stopped reading in German for pleasure. This must change! So, I’ve invested in a couple of books to get me back on track:

fotografin

Die Fotografin: Petra Durst-Benning. This is the first in a new series following the adventures of Mimi Reventlow, who becomes a photographer in 1911 despite the odds being stacked against her.

haus

Deutsches Haus: Annette Hess. In 1963, a young translator called Eva  is asked to translate during the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trails, giving a voice to victims and learning about a time in her country’s past that she has until this point known little about. For any German TV series lovers, Hess wrote Weisensee and Ku’Damm 56/59 – so I know this is going to be brilliant.

nesthaekchen

Nesthäkchen und der Weltkrieg: Elsy Ury. I have very fond childhood memories of my Omi reading me the Nesthäkechen series of children’s books at bedtime during my summer holidays in Bayern. It follows the life of Annemarie Braun, from being a little girl in Berlin during Kaiser times, all the way to old age. This one concerns the First World War and is the only one I don’t know – it wasn’t reprinted after World War 2 due to its nationalist content being seen as inappropriate. This version has a preface by Marianne Brentzel, who has researched the life and work of Ury in great detail.