“Just-One-More-Page Syndrome. I’m talking about the books that made you feel like you knew the characters.”
I listed these as they came to me, but could have gone on and on.
Books that transport me.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin.
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
- The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye.
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scot Fitzgerald.
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
- The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
- The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling.
- The Rivers of London series by Ben Arronovitch.
- His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman.
I love them all for different reasons and enjoy reading them again and again.
Mixed Up Fairy Tales
by Hilary Robinson
This is an unusual, fun take on twelve traditional fairy tales which leads to lots of giggling. A split page book which allows you to mix and match familiar stories to create unexpected new versions. It’s fun for everyone and particularly useful in engaging both less able children and those who speak English as an additional language.
Four Seasons Cookery Book
This is one of my favourite recipe books and it was one of the Observers’ Top 50 Recipe Books of All Time. It was first published in 1970 in the days before glossy pictures became a standard feature of recipes books and I’m glad to say that when they reprinted it they resisted the temptation to add any. It is packed with recipes, tips and facts. As the title suggests the recipes are arranged by season with chapters devoted to appropriate ingredients or dishes. I refer to this book constantly, either when looking for inspiration or to check traditional proportions and quantities when I am adapting recipes. I’d feel lost without it.
Two more Christmas favourites.
By Judith Kerr
Another delightful Mog story from Judith Kerr. Mog is very disconcerted by the disruption of household routines caused by preparations for Christmas and retreats to the roof. A walking, talking tree is the last straw for her and she takes refuge on the roof and refuses to come down. In the end she returns with and unexpected bump. Poignant and funny.
Slinky Malinki’s Christmas Crackers
By Lynley Dodd
I’m a great fan of Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary series. All great stories which play with words and rhymes. Slinky Malinki started as a minor character in Hairy Maclary stories but has now been promoted to having whole books of his own.
Slinky Malinki watches the Christmas tree being decorated and as you would expect he disrupts the proceedings as only he can. “Slinky Malinki, with mischievous glee, crept from the shadows to climb up the tree.” Very funny.
Both simple stories that revolve around the family home familiar to most children. Children love them!
Harvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Presents
By John Burningham
This was my son’s favourite story for years – and not just at Christmas time, we read it all year round! I knew it off by heart. What better recommendation could there be?
The story starts with Father Christmas arriving home tired, after delivering his presents, only to find that he has missed one. The present is for Harvey Slumfenburger who lives in a ‘hut on top of the Roly Poly mountain, which is far, far away’. Harvey’s parents are too poor to buy Christmas presents so this is the only present he will get. As one of the reindeers is not well Father Christmas sets off on foot to deliver the last present. The story is about his journey, the many types of transport he uses and the mishaps that befall him.
John Burningham’s cartoons are brilliant – perfect for the story and funny. My son loved them. I now read it to my class of 6 & 7 year olds and they love it just as much.
I can only thank John Burningham for the hours of pleasure he gave us over the years.
A Wayne in a Manger by Gervase Phinn
A funny, poignant and captivating collection of anecdotes about Christmas and Nativity plays from Gervaise Phinn the school inspector turned author.
I love Christmas at school and this collection, lovingly retold, capture the excitement, the triumphs and mishaps perfectly. I read my copy every Christmas, the appeal never fades. Whether you are the loving parent of a performer trying to find the costume (in the past I’ve had to make Christmas pudding and turkey costumes) or a teacher coaxing nervous children to say their lines loud enough to be heard or even if you have memories of being in the school Nativity yourself, you will love it!
As my DD started her teacher training in September she will be receiving a copy in her Christmas Stocking.
Resistance by Owen Sheers
This book explores an alternative ending to the Second World War, based in the Home Front of a valley in the Welsh borders. In this version of history the D-Day landing failed allowing a German counter-attack and invasion. Invasion was feared by many, particularly during the summer of 1940, which led to formation of the Auxiliary units of the Home Guard.
At the beginning of the book the able bodied men vanish overnight with no explanation. The bonds between the women left behind grow strong as they pull together to keep their farms running and to cope with the ever changing world of having German patrol stationed in their valley.
The book is beautifully written, from the lyrical descriptions of the Welsh landscapes to the sensitive portrayal of characters struggling with their new reality. A deceptively gentle book which absorbs you completely yet still has the ability to shock.
I really enjoyed it.
Micro Michael Crichton and Richard Preston
This unfinished novel was found on Michael Crichton’s computer after his death and was completed by Richard Preston. Michael Crichton had described the book as ‘an adventure story like Jurassic Park’ and Richard Preston stayed true to that vision. It is the story of a graduate student trying to solve the mystery of his brother’s death whilst visiting the pioneering microbiology company where he worked, as part of a group of grad students, unaware of the danger he is putting himself and his companions in.
I have read a number of Michael Crichton’s novels. They provoke strong reactions – I either love them or hate them. For me there was too much Boy’s Own fighting for survival in the jungle with a cast of unappealing characters and not enough of the far more interesting thriller/detective elements.
The Song of Achilles Madeline Miller
A view of the familiar world of Greek myths and legends as seen through the unfamiliar eyes of Patroclus, a minor character of the Iliad. Patroculs tells his version of the story of Achilles, his companion and friend since childhood. A world away from the version of I was told at school! This beautifully written the book is overflowing with history, romance, superstition, passion, sex and violence. Patroclus, a healer and man of peace, sensitively recounts their life together culminating in the years of the Siege of Troy.
I am so glad I didn’t give up with the tales of boyhood exploits at the beginning because I became totally engrossed in the book and felt a haunting sadness and loss as I read the end. A worthy winner of the Orange Prize.
River of Destiny by Barbara Erskine
Beautifully written, as ever, and full of well researched historical details this novel is set on the banks of the River Debden in Suffolk. As you would expect from Barbara Erskine it skilfully interweaves the lives of Zoe, Ken and Leo in modern day Suffolk and Eric, Edith, Emily and Dan who lived there centuries ago.
I am a great fan of Barbara Erskine. I have read most, if not all, of her novels over the years. This if the first one I can remember in which the story moves between two different periods in the past and which does not seem to have a direct link between the main protagonist in each time period. As a result this novel lacks intensity. The characters are formed with broader strokes so the reader can’t empathise with them very easily. To me it felt more like watching a distant film rather than living through events and emotions with the heroine, particularly with the historical characters. Perhaps this was a deliberate attempt to move away from the slightly supernatural feel of the connections between characters in different time periods of the previous books. If so, it didn’t work for me.
Still an interesting read but if you are expecting something similar to previous books you may be disappointed.