Sunday 31 July 2011

Sunday Salon: Six Months of Streatfeild

Happy gorgeous, sunny Sunday, everyone! My year of reading as much Noel Streatfeild as possible is over half way through, so I though it was time to do a roundup post...Before I do that, though here’s a short review of my latest read.
The Painted Garden (also published in the U.S as Movie Shoes)
As a young child, Apple Bough was undoubtedly my favourite Streatfeild, as it was the first one I remember reading to myself, but my favourite bedtime story that I ever had has to be The Painted Garden. This book was definintely one of the more exciting, plot wise. Because each child has an individual plot line, Streatfeild keeps the story very diverse, and the book is never boring. She is also, as always, great at getting inside a child’s head, and explaining very clearly exactly how a child would feel and react in certain situations. I love that reading her books always takes me absolutely back to my childhood. There are points in the book where I remember similar things happening to me as a child, and responding to them in exactly the same way as Rachel, Jane, and Tim do. It was a quick read, and very pacy. Almost by the time I’d got everything straight in my head, the Winters’ were back on the boat to England! The Painted Garden stood up to the re-reading very very well, and if I ever have kids, I’ll definitely be reading it to them!
Loosely promoted as the sequel to Ballet Shoes (it isn’t, really, despite briefly featuring a couple of the Fossil girls), The Painted Garden is about Streatfeild’s trademark three children, Rachel, Jane, and Tim Winter. Rachel is a talented ballerina, and Tim a talented pianist. As is also trademark with many of Streatfeild’s books, Jane, the awkward middle child, is seemingly talented at nothing. As the story begins the children’s father John is suffering a nervous breakdown following a car accident. In order for him to recover, the doctor orders him to warmer climates. As a result the entire family – John and his wife, Bee, the three children and their nanny, Peaseblossom – are invited to California to stay with Aunt Cora. Starting with the six day boat trip from Southampton to New York, the Winters’ embark on an exciting journey, via boat and train, to pastures new, where great things await for all of the children. Rachel meets Posy Fossil, the famous dancer (and of Ballet Shoes fame) who takes her under her wing, and brings her to Saturday dancing classes with a world-renowned ballet troupe, Tim finds a piano to practice on in the Antonio’s drugstore, where he is noticed and put on Hiram’s Hour, a weekly radio programme, and Jane, who dreams of one day being a lady dog walker, manages to get herself (via way of a ‘neglected’ dog named Hyde Park) the part of Mary, in a film of The Secret Garden.
So, that was a very mini review, but if I’m honest I do find it hard to write long reviews of most of Noel Streatfeild’s books. It tends to be issues around reading that they make me think about, rather than the books themselves. For instance, this most recent book made me think about the value of reading as adults, the books we loved as children, and what it is that makes certain books enjoyable as re-reads, and others book which really do only work when you’re a child. When I’ve mulled this over a bit more, there’ll probably be a post on it. In the meantime, does anybody have any ideas?
I’ve read ten of Noel Streatfeild’s books so far this year, and have another seven on my shelf. I’ve also started searching for more. The books I’ve read so far are:
·         The Growing Summer (re-read)
·         White Boots (re-read)
·         Dancing Shoes (re-read)
·         Apple Bough(re-read)
·         When the Siren Wailed
·         A Vicarage Family
·         Away from the Vicarage
·         Beyond the Vicarage
·         Meet the Maitlands
·         The Painted Garden (re-read)
I really can’t pick a favourite, so my top three are The Painted Garden, The Growing Summer, and White Boots.
On my shelf, I have still to read:
·         Thursday’s Child (re-read)
·         Far to Go (re-read)
·         Party Frock (re-read)
·         Tennis Shoes
·         Saplings
·         Curtain Up
·         Ballet Shoes for Anna
This challenge has been really good for me – it’s like the best kind of comfort reading. Every book is like curling up with a massive mug of tea and a big slice of cake with some awesome kind of icing. I love it!

Also, don't forget to visit tomorrow for the UK and EU Giveaway Hop that I'm taking part in! Free book, you know you want to! :-)

Sunday 24 July 2011

Page to Screen Challenge - Eat, Pray, Love Film Review

This is the first thing I’ve managed to complete for the Page to Screen Challenge! I’m annoyed at myself for not doing better, as I love movies and this was probably the challenge I was most excited about, but in my defence I have had a lot on, and not time to re-read Lord of the Rings and watch the films like I wanted to! This is my (not quite so epic) substitute.
So a while back, I read the book of Eat, Pray, Love, and really enjoyed it. It seems to be one of those books which polarises – while some people love it, others absolutely despise it as narcissistic self- involvement, and while I can see where they’re coming from, I fall into the other, loving it as fantastic escapism, in an ‘I wish I could do this’ kind of way. My review of the book can be found here, and for those who are unaware, the basic plotline is as follows:
Elisabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) is unhappily married. After coming to the conclusion that she wants out- of both her marriage and the life that she thought she wanted- she goes travelling in order to save her mental health, and rediscover herself. Spending time in Italy (eat), India (pray), and Indonesia (love), the film follows her through three beautiful locations and a multitude of new friends in her quest to be happy with herself.
What I Thought: I did enjoy the film, despite initially thinking I might not. When reading the book, I couldn’t imagine Julia Roberts as Liz, and this held true for the first 20 minutes or so of the film. In all honesty, I never got totally comfortable with her but I don’t think that was her fault. For me, Julia Roberts will always be as she was in Pretty Woman; big-eyed, naive, so in the right place at the right time. For me, Elisabeth came across as being harder – more experienced, funnier, and more worldly. Through the whole ‘Italy’ part of the film, I was uncomfortable with Roberts in the role, but that changed in India, probably with the arrival of ‘Richard from Texas’ (played by Richard Jenkins). Whether it was because he played the character so exactly how I imagined him, or because he gave Roberts somebody constant to play off of, I suddenly started to get immersed. I even had tears in my eyes when he talks about his alcoholism and the loss of his family.
The one thing I missed from the India part of the trip was how intensely spiritual it is for Gilbert in the book. I can understand why they would want to downplay that aspect of it in order to Hollywood it up, but as I said in my review of the book, the spiritual scenes made me think about my own feelings about religion which I needed to do at the time, so I missed that. Other than the lack of spirituality, though, it was a fairly accurate adaptation. Most of the major events took place in surprisingly accurate form, and the overall mood of the film was consistent with the way the book made me feel. Although I know that’s kind of a crappy, overly sentimentalised way of ‘reviewing’, for me, Eat, Pray, Love (both book and film) was all about the feelings it inspired: happiness, inspiration, calmness, and envy....
I’m not afraid to embrace the fact that I’m incredibly jealous of the fact that Gilbert was able to just take off around the world, not least of the fact that she was able to do so partly through getting a book of her experiences commissioned. This is one of the major dreams of my life. Having not travelled very much, and wanting to travel very much more, and to write about it, the envy this film created knows no bounds. I think that a major reason to dislike Eat, Pray, Love is inability to embrace jealousy and move past it to enjoyment of the book. Of course, there are probably many people who disliked the book for other reasons, and that’s totally valid. Personally, I see how the film could have been annoying. I also didn’t like how much of the female friendships were cut out, especially Liz and Wayan’s friendship, which I didn’t feel got as much space in the film as it deserved – it seemed, fairly unsurprisingly, to lose out to the love story.
I do like to think of myself as somewhat of a feminist, and I’m definitely prone to ranting, so I have to admit that I did feel a little bit let down by the whole ‘meet a guy, fall in love, rearrange your life for him’ thing, which probably makes me the world’s biggest hypocrite because that’s pretty much exactly what happened to me, but still! I really liked the way that Gilbert was discovering herself and learning to be happy alone, and then (in my eyes) she went and ruined it all! That said, it was a lovely ending, and I did really like Javier Bardem as Felipe, it just lacked the strength of other parts of the story.
All in all, I much preferred the book. I did enjoy watching the film though, and I thought that most of the characters were very well cast. I wouldn’t rush out and buy it or anything, but if I stumbled across it on TV, I’d probably happily sit through it again.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Scene of the Blog!

Evening, all. I'm hoping my internet connection will hold up long enough for me to share some really exciting news with you. Tomorrow An Armchair by the Sea will be featured on Scene of the Blog at Kittling: Books. For anyone who doesn't know, Scene of the Blog is a weekly feature, where Cathy shares photos and words from different bloggers about the places that inspire their blogs. It's an amazing feature, and I'm totally honoured to be part of it! Hoping I won't sound like a total idiot, but I'm sure that she will have done a great job with the feature, so don't forget to go over and take a look! :-)

Sunday 17 July 2011

Fairytale Feature: Why You Don't Want a Godmother! (but you do want the book)

The most fitting poem I could find to start this month’s feature is from Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes. It’s too long to put up here without it taking over the entire post, so instead you can read it here, and my challenge to you is try to get through it without laughing madly. I bet you can’t.
Originally, Cinderella was going to be my inaugural feature. I was planning to compare it with either the Disney film of the same name, the Drew Barrymore film Ever After, or both. I didn’t purely because I went to see Tangled that first month, and so talked about Rapunzel instead. I think Cinderella and I would both have lost out had I reviewed it then, as I would have missed the chance to read Godmother: A Cinderella Story, and Cinderella would have lost the opportunity to be enriched by it. After reading Mermaid and Godmother, Carolyn Turgeon is going on the list of authors whose every word I must immediately devour. You’ve been warned – I loved this book.

The first recorded version of Cinderella came from China sometime between 1850 and 1860; the next version, published in 1697 was Charles Perrault’s. The Grimm Brothers’ got to the party quite late. Their version was originally called Ash Girl or Aschenputtel  in the original German, and does not feature a fairy godmother at all, but rather birds who drop down dresses and other such wish –fulfilling items from the hazel tree which Cinderella has planted on her mother’s grave.
During my (continuing) studies of women, feminism, and fairytales, the vast majority of the academic texts I have read make heavy reference to the figure of the fairy godmother. I find this really interesting, considering that the godmother doesn’t appear in the original tale, and of the three tales I’ve discussed Perrault’s is the only one in which such a character appears. I wondered why Perrault would add a magical woman into the mix when in other versions, animals suffice for all the purposes she fulfils. Is it purely because she is human? Having not read Perrault’s version, I’m going purely on the Godmother from the Disney film (probably not the best idea I’ve ever had...), who surely is there to provide the maternal element which is so lacking from the step-mother. The film provides Cinderella with many nurturing friends of the animal persuasion, but at the end of the day, none of them can give her a hug and tell her not to worry like the godmother can. Part of the Godmother’s magic is in her ability ‘make everything better’ for Cinderella, in much the way that a child goes to its’ parents for reassurance, relying on them to fix things. It is the failure to fulfil this maternal and nurturing role that tortures Lil throughout Godmother.
Coming to it from this angle (which the more I think about it, seems to make sense), makes for very interesting comparisons with Godmother.
As I’ve mentioned, I liked Godmother. In fact, it was absolutely so amazing that the word amazing does not suffice, and I cannot find a word that’s strong enough to express the intensity of the feelings that I have towards this book. The story was absolutely riveting – involving, unbelievably vivid, full of bright colours, beautiful dresses, and stunningly lifelike characters. Writing about it is frustrating me, because my vocabulary is NOT BIG ENOUGH TO EXPRESS THE AWESOME! I need word a day toilet paper or something...
The godmother of the title is Lil, banished from the world of faerie for failing to get Cinderella to the ball. Living in New York City and spending her days sorting second hand books at the used bookstore she works in (dream job – dreamy sigh), the novel follows her story, through flashbacks, as she attempts to atone for her failing of  Cinderella, by sending another beautiful girl, Veronica, to the ball. Lil’s story is poignantly told through interspersing chapters taking place in New York with chapters occurring in the faerie world, leading up to the tragedy which resulted in her exile, the reason for which is revealed in stages, so you do not realise the full awfulness until the very end of the book, but Godmother definitely plays on and develops the potential darkness contained in the original. The idea of concepts of femininity kept returning to me as I was thinking about this feature, as Turgeon plays around with them a lot. Although when we meet Lil she is obviously an old woman, during the part of the story involving Cinderella, she is young and stunning. Turgeon is then able to use this to explore ideas of sisterhood and rivalry; what if the Godmother fell in love with the prince? What if Cinderella wasn’t the perfect, beautiful, happy princess she’s always portrayed as being? What is she was, as the novel states, broken? Do only undamaged people get to have happy ever afters?
It was Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber which got me interested in the idea of reworkings of fairytales in general, and specifically from a feminist point of view, and I really enjoy the way that Carolyn Turgeon’s novels, like much of Carter’s, really play with ideas of what people  are capable of, and the potential that they have for darkness. If you’ve not read The Bloody Chamber , I highly recommend it although it’s not for the faint of heart. Throughout the collection Carter uses the genre to subvert and question concepts of femininity, and it’s just so clever. Turgeon’s writing is similar in its intentions, but provides more room for forgiveness, redemption, and hope.
“All my old loves will be returned to me” is a quotation written in French inside one of the old volumes in Daedalus Books, where Lil works, and it completely sums up the mood of the book while encapsulating the quest to belong present in the original story. In the case of Lil, the loves she has lost are many; she is filled with regret for loss of her sister and friends, the faerie realm, Cinderella, and the Prince. For Veronica, the sharp witted, vivacious young hair artist Lil befriends, her losses are less tangible, but there’s a bad breakup in there somewhere, and she has in some ways lost her sense of self, and for George, Lil’s employer and owner of the bookshop, his loves are the books that he collects, but although he has a shop full of books, his life appears to be devoid – he has suffered a bad divorce, and gives off a great feeling of isolation and sadness throughout the novel. I liked the cyclical nature of the book, and the way that, in the end, everybody’s loves were returned to them.
For me, Turgeon’s finest moment in Godmother was its triumphant ending. She brings the ideas of belief and perception to their extreme: Veronica cannot see Lil’s wings, begging the question of whether Lil is truly a faerie, or a crazy old lady. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you believe. You have to decide, as J.M Barrie so rightly said, whether or not you believe in fairies, and for me that was the most amazing thing. I love that the story wraps you up and twists you around and engrosses you in Lil and her life and her secrets and the fact that nobody must ever find out, and then turns around and goes OH WAIT, HANG ON, IT MIGHT NOT EVEN BE REAL!!! Mindtrip!
My ‘original’, being as how it’s a Grimm Brothers version, does not have a happy ending. In fact, at Cinderella’s wedding the birds that substitute for the fairy godmother come and peck out the stepsister’s eyes as payment for their crimes against Cinderella. Where Godmother ends with the possibility of forgiveness, the Grimms are all about the judgement. It’s also interesting to note that in this fairytale, as in many others, it is other women repressing Cinderella and preventing her from fulfilling her true destiny. Women hold her back, while the Prince (a man, duh!) saves her. And yes, I am up on my ranting high horse, sorry about that! The Grimm’s Cinderella is held back by her family and saved by the Prince, where Turgeon’s Cinderella is held back by herself and destroyed by a combination of the Prince and her Godmother. In Turgeon’s version, love and destiny are not all – conquering, and sometimes the destruction of self can be so total that it’s impossible to see a way to be happy.
If you read Godmother in the way I did (basically, I believe in fairies!), the ending is a very happy resolution for all concerned: Lil finds forgiveness and escape from her self-torture, and Veronica and George each find their own happiness. It’s lovely, and personally I prefer it to the ending of the original – give me forgiveness over judgement any day!

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Readathon Update #2

Today, my plan was to get loads of reading done, as I had the day off. Unfortunately I forgot that not only did my fiancé also have the day off, but that we had a car on loan for the next few days.... Suffice to say, we ended up going on a road trip, and I didn’t get much reading done! That said, I have managed to get to page 197 of How I Became a Famous Novelist, and I’m really enjoying it! It’s a totally satirical and very funny deconstruction of the process of writing, selling, and marketing novels. I do wish I’d got to read more for the Readathon, but it’s mostly been my own fault that I haven’t, and hopefully I’ll do better next time. Crappy internet hasn’t helped, but I have got very excited about reading again.  I’ve had so much fun participating, and I’ll keep reading right up to the deadline. Next time, I will go away from home for at least part of the time, as it’s just not  fair to ask people not to disturb me when I’m sat at home.
Mini – Challenge Entries!
I’ve been really excited to enter some of the mini challenges going on, and have been getting all antsy to post my entries!  So, for Monday’s mini challenge hosted by IB Book Blogging, here are my answers!
Question 1- What is your favourite type of myth? (Greek, Roman, Egyptian etc)
This is a difficult question, as mythology and folklore is my specialist area, and I really really love most of it! However, I think if I have to pick a favourite, it’ll have to be Greek, purely because I’ve got more engrossed in the Classic literature surrounding it, and love how sneaky the Gods often are!
Question 2 – What is Your Favourite book with some type of mythology in it?
Again, difficult, but got to be American Gods by Neil Gaiman! I love it, although having finished Percy Jackson, I’m fairly sure that if the rest of the books are as good, the series will be making it onto my favourites list as well!
For  Tuesday’s mini challenge, hosted by YABliss, here are my top 3 Love Triangles (it doesn’t say they have to be YA based, so mine aren’t all, hope that’s ok!)
1)      Katniss/Peeta/Gale from The Hunger Games.
2)      Jo/Laurie/Mr Bhaer in Little Women
3)      Bella/Edward/Jacob in Twilight (sorry! I can’t help loving it!)

Tuesday 12 July 2011

Readathon Update 1

This was going to go up yesterday, but my internet, which I am growing to gradually loathe more than I loathe most other things, refused to play ball. I spent a while getting mad at it, but then realised that not only did it solve nothing, but also that it lost me valuable reading time, so I stopped, and went back to reading Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. As of this moment, my stats for this readathon stand thus:
I have spent approximately six or seven hours reading.
I have started and finished Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, which I very much enjoyed.
I have also read 46 pages of How I Became a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely, which I’m still making my mind up about.
Late last night, after finishing Percy Jackson, I read another 45 pages of Monica Ali’s In the Kitchen, which is really engrossing. I like her style of writing, and enjoyed Brick Lane a lot, so I’m hoping I’ll love this.
So far, it’s not going as great as I’d hoped, but it could be a lot worse! I started reading 8am yesterday morning London time, and having finished Percy Jackson, I now feel incredibly unsettled as to what to read next, hence the jumping from one thing to another... I think I’m just going to try not to restrict myself too much, after all, any reading is good J
I’m having a really great time with this, and I’m wickedly gleeful about having an excuse to read loads and ignore everyone (and everything ) else. Tomorrow is my day off, and we’re taking  a trip to a couple of second hand bookshops, but apart from that, I plan to get loads of reading done! How’s everybody else doing?

Saturday 9 July 2011

My Very First Readathon!

I'm so excited! From Monday to Wednesday (11th - 13th) of this coming week, I'm going to be participating in my first ever readathon. For the last 7 months I've been blogging, I've seen people getting all hyped up about readathons, and been extremely jealous, but never actually joined in with one, so I decided it was time to change that!

Lori at Pure Imagination is hosting the Once Upon a Time Read-a-Thon, and despite the fact that I'm working all day Monday and Tuesday, I'm still hoping to read as much as I possibly can! It's been a while since I've been able to read uninterrupted, and as my fiance cleaned the house thoroughly today, I'm hoping to get by with as little housework as possible. If the weather's sunny, I'll be taking my stack of books to the beach on Wednesday :-)

I've set out a preliminary list, but having never done one of these before, I've no idea how much I can realistically read in the time. I've probably wildly over-estimated! Anyway, here's what I have:

  • Finish off A Clash of Kings by George R. R Martin
  • Finish In the Kitchen by Monica Ali
  • How to be a Famous Novelist by Steve Hely
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
  • How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Looking at it, I feel there's not much chance I'll get through those, but hopefully I'll make some progress with some of them. My couple of backups, in case none of these appeal when we get to Monday, are Happily Ever After (edited by John Klima, introduction by Bill Willingham), as it's short stories and I'm SUPER excited about it, and How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, which Hanna sent me as a surprise today. (Yet another reason why she is amazing!)

If you haven't signed up to join in the fun yet, you can do so HERE

Let the games begin! :-)

Thursday 7 July 2011

A Poem - Don't worry, I didn't write it!

While rediscovering all my old teenage angsty poetry today, I also had the good fortune to come across a couple of poems that I absolutely adore, and as I've not shared any poetry lately, here's one for you!

As I Walked Out One Evening 
As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
'Love has no ending.

'I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

'I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

'The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.

'In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

'In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

'Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver's brilliant bow.

'O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you've missed.

'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

'Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

'O look, look in the mirror?
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.
W.H Auden

Auden is actually the poet who introduced me to the beauty of poetry, and so I have much to be thankful to him for. It was his poem Funeral Blues in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral that made me want to read poetry (so I guess I also owe some thanks to John Hannah and his beautiful voice), enabling me to realise that I actually have a great fondness for this often overlooked genre. Admittedly, I don't read anywhere near as much poetry as I should, and since graduating, hardly at all, and I feel bad about that. There are certain passages in poetry that are just so perfectly worded that I end up sitting and thinking about three or four lines for an hour at a time - the fifth stanza of this poem is a good example of that. There's very little that makes me feel as good as really well formed poetry does. Geeky, probably, but true. It's also (interestingly, I think) about the only time I don't make vomit noises at sentiments of love. Generally, I'm really not into the whole over the top 'I love you so much I can't live without you, you are my entire life' kind of expression. Those kind of feelings, I'd rather keep private, but when it comes to poets putting that kind of thing into (gorgeous) words, I just love it!

I'm hoping to feature more of my favourite poems, both old and new, on the blog as I get back into reading poetry again, wish me luck!

How do other people feel about poetry? Got any favourites?

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Review: - Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry

I’ve been putting off reviewing this novel, as it’s not out until September, but something about having just rearranged all my bookshelves, along with now having a gorgeous new six shelf beauty sat next to me only half full of books, inspired me to sit down and compile my thoughts. It also inspired me to buy more books, but I'm resisting that impulse for now! 
Coming Up for Air is Patti Callahan Henry’s seventh novel. It follows Lillian, known as Ellie, through the grieving process after the death of her mother. While sorting out her mother’s things, Ellie finds her diary, which she wrote in once a year on New Year’s Eve, and discovers that her mother was heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement one summer when she was younger. The mother that she knew was a very repressed and controlling woman, so she is shocked to discover that her mother had an all- consuming love affair with another man during that summer, following which, she suddenly married Ellie’s father. While at college, Ellie was in a passionate relationship with Hutch, but her mother’s disapproval and conviction that Hutch was wrong for her eventually caused the relationship to end. On the rebound from the greatest love of her life, Ellie agreed to marry Rusty. Now at a crossroads in her life, with her marriage failing, Ellie takes a trip to her mothers’ friends’ beach house in an attempt to uncover the truth. With her husband strongly asserting his claims over her, and a trip down memory lane with Hutch, Ellie must decide if her mother’s choices will be her own.
Following my trend of judging books (initially, at least) by their covers, this novel has a cover which very much reflects the mood of the book. The big, old house is blurred at the edges, as the majority of book takes place either through stories, or memories. It’s also reflective of the hazy summery beach setting of the novel. Coming Up for Air was a great title, although initially it brought to mind the Orwell novel of the same name, but the name is where the comparison ends!  The title reflects the theme of the novel – of a woman who has been buried for so long in being a wife and a mother, that she isn’t really sure who she is anymore, or if she made the right choices when she was younger. It is about Ellie rediscovering herself; what she wants, and how (and with whom) she wants to live her life.
My favourite passage of the novel, and one of my favourite passages that I’ve read in a while I think, was the description of the jubilee. This is something which happens in the ocean in certain parts of America, and like Ellie, I had no idea what this was, or that this kind of thing ever happened, so for anybody that doesn’t know, here’s a description:

“All of them – the shrimp, the flounder, the crabs – they’re all coming up for air. Somehow, for reasons that take a scientist to explain, the oxygen level at the bottom drops too low and everything rushes to the surface”p81
As I’m fascinated by the sea and marine life, I was completely absorbed by this part of the book. The image of all of the sealife just rushing to the surface in such abundance was amazingly strong for me. The entire two pages describing it are just full of beautiful writing, and it completely swept me away. In parts, I was unsure about the style of the novel, as sometimes it felt a little stilted and unrealistic to me – like occasionally characters said or did things that I didn’t feel they actually would say or do in that situation, but by the time I reached the jubilee, I was immersed and loving it! It’s also a prime example of what I’m always telling people – that reading teaches you things. Ok, usually they’re really obscure things, but it’s surprising how often they come in useful!
I may well go back and read the book again purely because I think that there’s probably a lot more that I can get from the descriptive passages that I missed the first time because I was concentrating on the storyline. And speaking of the storyline, it impressed me. Although from the angle of the romance it is fairly obvious what will happen, the parallel storyline concerning Ellie’s mother’s youth was a constant surprise. I found it very interesting, as it just illustrates how much events can affect people, and how radically people can change over the course of their lives.
Another thing I liked about the novel was the complexity of Ellie’s husband, Rusty. Because of what Callahan Henry was trying to do, it would have been easy for her to just make him horrible, giving Ellie a clear cut answer to whether or not to leave him, but she didn’t do that. Instead, she showed all the ways in which he could be wonderful in conjunction with his not-so-nice side, and she portrayed Ellie’s confusion about her feelings really well. Although getting a review copy is always amazing, often when I finish them I don’t love them enough to keep them, or I love them, but feel that reading them once was enough. I have to be ruthless with what I keep, as our flat is small, and I have a LOT of books! I know that I will keep hold of Coming Up for Air, and both re-read and recommend it, and not because I straight up loved it from start to finish and haven’t got a bad word to say about it, but because it drew me in in spite of myself, and made me love it without me realising. I will be hunting out her other books now.
I received a review copy of Coming Up for Air from St Martins Press. The novel is out in September 2011, and may well be featured in a giveaway on this blog, because I liked it that much in the end!

Rating: ****

Sunday 3 July 2011

The Sunday Salon - June Sum up Part One...

I’ve got various reasons why I’ve not posted much this month, but if I’m honest, I think I’m just feeling slightly overwhelmed. Lately, I’ve been requesting lots of titles, and accepting lots more books for review, and I’ve also discovered Netgalley. All this has conspired to make me feel like I’ve lost a lot of the freedom to read what I want, rather than what I feel I should read. It’s a bit silly, as all of the books which have come into my house for review purposes, whether they’re ones I’ve requested or been asked to review, have done so because I’ve been very excited to read them, but there are also so many books I already own that I want to read, that I’m finding it difficult to prioritise the books I have to review. And the more I don’t read them, the more guilty I feel, and then I avoid them more, which leads to yet more guilt. It’s a very viscious circle.
The discovery of the genius of Netgalley this month was amazing fun, but also re-introduced the problems I have previously anticipated with ebooks. In the past I’ve got up on my high-horse about losing the magic of the traditional book format, and above all, the inability to smell ebooks, but I overlooked the critical problem, which is my terrible eyesight. While I adore the concept of Netgalley – quick, free access to lots of advance copies of awesome books, which I can store in no space at all – I actually find it really difficult to read books on my PC screen. After about 20 minutes my eyes start to hurt, and a few minutes after that, I start to develop big headaches. Because I’m stubborn, I’ll probably persist with the format, but I’m not sure how successful I’ll be! Also this month I’ve been chronicling, here and on twitter, my ongoing internet woes, which still aren’t over. My home internet is still being horribly temperamental and patchy, so I’m just hoping that it will allow me to do all the things that I need to do in the next few months!
Which brings me to the fun stuff!! Over July and August I have some wicked stuff coming up here on the blog, and I’m very excited. The schedule is currently as follows:
July 20th – An Armchair by the Sea will be featured on Scene of the Blog! This is a brilliant feature over at Kittling: Books, spotlighting a different blogger each week, and looking at the different places that are important in their everyday blogging lives.
August 1st – 8th UK and EU Blog Hop. Lots of blogs are participating in this, just head over to the website to check out the complete list. I’ll be giving away at least one (possibly more) great book during the week, so make sure you check it out!
August 6th – I am part of a blog tour for Pam Allyn’s Your Child’s Writing Life: How to Inpsire Confidence, Creativity and Skill at Every Age. Although I don’t currently have children, I’m looking forward to reading this, as I do feel really strongly about the amount of children I’ve met who just aren’t interested in books, stories, or reading at all.
August 7th – Guest review of Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades as part of Georgette Heyer Gems at Stiletto Storytime. This will be a re-read for me, as I was a huge Heyer fan in my early adolescence, so I’m excited to see if I still feel the same about this book!
Also at some point during August I will be partaking in The Classics Circuit John Steinbeck Tour, for which I will (hopefully) be reading East of Eden.
So yes, lots of things, lots of deadlines, lots of excitement! To balance this, I’ve decided that much as I’d love to commit to having two monthly features on the blog (The Fairytale Feature, and my new Beyond the Graphics graphic novel\film adaptation feature), I don’t think that realistically I can commit to religiously posting both of them every month. AS you will see, we are now in July and I’ve not posted the June Fairytale Feature, or the first Graphics feature. I have read the books and done the research and even started writing both, but they’ve not made it up yet. Because of this, I’ve decided that both these features will now be ‘as the mood takes me’. I will post them as regularly as I am inspired to, as I think that will make me feel less pressured!
Yeesh that’s a lot of stuff! I will hopefully be back to regular reviews this week, provided the weather’s not too nice! Here's my roundup for June, and I've decided to introduce three 'awards' for each month, more for me to recap what I've read and how I felt than anything else!
Books read in June –
1.    A Game of Thrones – George R.R Martin
2.    A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
3.    Bright Young Things – Scarlett Thomas
4.    Case Histories – Kate Atkinson
5.    Coming Up for Air – Patti Callahan Henry
6.    Ghost World – Daniel Clowes
7.    In Your Face – Scarlett Thomas
8.    The Fry Chronicles – Stephen Fry
9.    The Summer We Read Gatsby – Danielle Ganek
10. When You Reach Me – Rebecca Stead
Most Enjoyed Book: -
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson!

Most Anticipated Book: -
IN YOUR FACE by Scarlett Thomas (which was also great!)

Most Unexpected Book: -
When You Reach Me – Rebecca Stead

And finally, happy 4th of July to all the Americans!