Miss Prudencia Prim is new to the village; a isolated village in the outskirts of France. She has taken the position of librarian and quick sets about organising the gentleman’s library which is filled with dusty tomes of years gone by. However, Miss Prim quickly realises that not all that goes on in this village is what it seems.

The story focuses on Prudencia Prim and how she adjusts to the people and their (often strange) customs. Miss Prim is always proper and conscientious about the things she says or does. She is fiercely independent and firm in her beliefs and initially finds it hard to adapt or change for anyone or anything; nonetheless, she does find herself warming to the quirks and foibles of the residents in town – even when they make it their town mission to find her a husband.

For me, The Awakening of Miss Prim has echoes of literatures past embedded in the story. I couldn’t help but find that the people of the village came across a bit Stepford Wives, almost like the rules had been changed and the people who live their conditioned to act a certain way. The banter between Prudencia and the man in the wingchair reminded me of Elizabeth and Darcy – quick, cutting and chock full of wit.

However, it was an extremely curious read. The narrative paralleled Miss Prim’s attitude and countenance but what it also did was keep you at arms length. You are watching the story unfold but never fully immerse yourself in it. I think this is supported by the fact that you never learn the male leads name. Everything seems to be kept at a distance. Whether or not that was to replicate some of Miss Prim’s personality is up for interpretation.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was different from what I was expecting and entertaining in its strangeness.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera is available now.

The awakening of Miss Prim

A trio of women all living in different periods of the 20th century are all held together by a genetic link. One that will see them pass in and out of each other’s lives over the course of sixty years.

Our first heroine, Jessie is living in France. After being abandoned by her husband she begins to rely on kindness of strangers to get by; transforming herself from Jessie to Perdita – muse, socialite and lover of a famous artist.

Next comes Baba McCleod aka Lisa La Touche, a Hollywood starlet, maker of her own destiny and big dreamer. Her success comes during the pre-World War II period but after she has been left in a delicate way from an affair with a married actor Lisa has some big decisions to make. Can she leave the glitz and glamour of Tinsletown behind?

And finally there is Cat. She is the most strong willed and independent of the three; a photographer who throws herself into the most dangerous situations. Her adventures happen amidst a backdrop of sixties decadence along with the darker side of the decade – focussing on the political unrest of a period of history that saw dramatic social and political upheaval.

Kate Beufoy’s stunning novel was based of letters that her grandmother had written just after the First World War. She was working in France and fell in love with painter. The letters, along with a dress from Liberty’s of London and other artefacts became the premise of this story.

This is a wonderful novel; the three generations of remarkable, strong willed, determined women that had to fight against societal constraints to stay afloat is one that we all should want to read. Beaufoy has managed to capture three very distinct voices and separate them into three different historical backdrops (that in my opinion acted as tertiary characters throughout the novel) and makes you empathise and fight for each one of them. It truly is a love story in both the conventional and non-conventional sense.

I loved this Liberty Silk. From the very first page I was transported into a different world. I was both titillated and impressed with how seamlessly Beaufoy mixed fact and fictionby introducing famous figures of the 20th century – such as Zelda Fitzgerald and The Beatles et al – into the story like they had a purpose in the narrative. However, I was more in awe of how much heart this story had. It was heartbreaking and heart warming in equal measure and I am genuinely sad that I have finished reading it.

Liberty Silk by Kate Beaufoy is available now.

liberty silk

Today, July 3rd 2014, saw the release of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. The story centres on Nella Oortman who has left the comforts of a country life that she knows and loves because she has married a successful merchant from Amsterdam. This union, arranged by her mother, is the complete antithesis of what Nella believes to be a good marriage. Her childhood dreams of marrying for love and doing everything that is expected of a good wife are quickly shattered when she enters the home of her husband, Johannes Brandt. She is quickly reminded of her place by her formidable sister-in-law, Marin and she can’t quite get the measure of Johannes who refuses to share their marital bed and only converses with Nella when he is forced to. The only sign of affection (and indeed acknowledgment of their nuptials) comes in the form of a dollhouse that Johannes has specially made as a wedding gift for Nella; one that replicates the Brandt household.

Things aren’t quite as they seem in the Brandt household and Nella finds herself trapped in a world whereby she doesn’t know anyone, she isn’t being supported by her husband or his sister. She has no control over anything. That is until all the secrets and lies begin to unfold.

Admittedly, it took me a while to get fully immersed into The Miniaturist. I could appreciate straight away how atmospheric the novel was and that there was a story itching to be told, I just found it a little slow to begin with. However, as the story begins to unravel it became very hard to put the book down. The parallels between Johannes and Marin’s story are captivating and complex and are held together through both of their burgeoning relationship with Nella, who swiftly becomes the glue to a family that is crumbling around her.

This multifaceted novel explores themes of betrayal, lust, race, sexuality and loyalty. It is hard to determine which of these themes takes precedent. However, the underlying paradox that it is all taking place in a macrocosmic allegory of a dollhouse. Burton manages to make you care about each of these issues. Much in the same way that she makes you care about these characters, even when you don’t necessarily agree with their actions.

Overall, The Miniaturist is one of those books that will stay with you once you have read it, however, for me personally it was a slow burner.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is available now.

The Miniaturist cover

As you may have seen (if you have read my previous post A Month in the Life of a Book Addict) I am addicted to books. I am not ashamed of this addiction…although I am slightly worried about my inability to stop buying books and also the structural integrity of my home under all the weight of the paper. I love books of all kinds and from most genres. If there are words on something I will give it a read – there is no prejudice here. An often told anecdote in my family is how I used to take forever with my breakfast because I would be reading the cereal packet.

It has been said (although not over my aforementioned breakfast table) that when you see someone reading a book you like it is the book recommending the person…or something to that effect. What I have noticed about myself recently is that a new reading habit has emerged. I like reading books about books. I am drawn to knowing what authors are recommending, why they liked the book, what was going on in their lives during this time. Frequently, the books that they mention make it to my book wish list even though I have far too many to read as it is. My Kindle books are in the thousands, my NetGalley downloads are becoming silly and my actual physical copies already manifest two small shelves, one large double layered shelf and I have had to purchase a further six tier double layer shelf for the overspill.

Quite frankly, this amount of literature is daunting. When you think about it and you do the maths I will probably never read all the books that I own. This will not be through lack of trying. At thirty years old, let us say that I am (optimistically) a third of the way through my life. Let us also imagine that I average one book a week (this is a very conservative estimate) that means I only have approximately 3,120 books left to read. This is terrible. In those optimistic sixty years that I have left there are bound to be more books that are released that I want to read. I am mathematically screwed.

However, that does not stop me reading books about books which kind of negate the whole point of reading books; books which deserve to be read.

That being said, here are three of the best ones that I have read recently.

 

The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

As some of you may or may not know, I almost died this year. If you didn’t know then you can read all about it here – My IBD Story. However, I didn’t die but recuperation has taken (and is still taking) a long time. Since being out of hospital I have spent my days reading; consuming books with a vociferous appetite. A book that I happened to stumble across was this delightful little gem – The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails.

Broken down into its simplest form it is a book that looks at what illness or condition that you have and directs you to the best literature to make you feel better. So say you are fatigued or you suffer from insomnia or you are an alcoholic or you have period pain this book has the answer for you. It is great because you can dip in and out of it or you can do what I did and read it from A to Z. A lot of the joy comes from seeing the writers mention a book that you have read.

This is definitely the quirkiest book that I have read this year and one that I will probably be giving out to my friends at Christmas time.

 

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller

Ok. I admit it. I was seduced by the title. Escaping near death made me hungry for adventure; safe adventure mind, nothing more daring than perhaps a paper cut from a new book purchase. Also, having nearly died this year (have I mentioned that I nearly died?) I wanted to see if literature could save my life too. Heck it had already cured my ails; and it had also cured my boredom – seriously sitting in bed getting better for a few months takes its toll on the levels of boredom. So with eagerness I picked up this tome from Andy Miller and you know what, I am awfully glad that I did.

Why you may ask. Well let me tell you. This book was special. The premise being that we all fib a little bit about literature. We have said we love a book when never having really read it just so we can stay in the conversation or even just to make ourselves look smarter.

I myself have never lied about this…well that is technically not true. I have a mini confession. Well two really. The first is that I have never made it all the way through Anna Karenina. I got to the book about the fields and I just kind of gave up. Yet on my Goodreads account I still have this Tolstoy classic listed as a book that I am currently reading. I have technically been currently reading it for near on fourteen years. I will finish this book one day. No. I will start it afresh. I will not be beaten by a man and his love for his fields.

My second confession is that I can’t actually remember if I have read Little Women or not. I know what you are thinking. How could someone not remember reading a classic like Little Women? The thing is that I know the story so well. I just can’t remember if that has come from watching the movie or reading the book. Therefore I have added this to my ‘to-be-read’ list. At least then I will know that I am not a literature fraudster.

What I liked about this book was that Miller allowed you to see how and why books mean so much to him and how they shape aspects of his life. I both respect and relate to that. Again, the titillation came from knowing that I had read certain books. Miller did have a lot on his list that I had never even heard of and so I am now keen to read some of them too.

My book wish list had increased by at least 20 at the end of reading it. This does not bode well for me.

 

Stuff I’ve Been Reading by Nick Hornby

I have recently found myself on a Nick Hornby kick. I read Juliet, Naked and A Long Way Down among others. I even did a crazy eBay order which mean accidentally purchased two copies of High Fidelity. I loathed the film even with my bizarre crush on John Cusack but I wanted to give the book a whirl.

Anyway, when I was in my local library I saw this book and I thought to myself “Hey, I like Nick Hornby’s writing. I wonder if we have any books in common.” Out of the plethora of books featured in this book (which happens to be a collection of his articles from Believer magazine – which is, to my knowledge, not affiliated with Justin Bieber or his fan base) I had read three of them. Three. Now I consider myself well read so this low number is shocking but I guess this is what happens when you read books about books rather than reading book books.

1996. Back in New York having studied in England, Joanna Rakoff lands into the real world with a bump. She takes a job in a publishing agency performing menial tasks for her outdated boss, whose sole client is JD Salinger. Unfamiliar with his work, Rakoff fails to see the importance of Jerry (how JD Salinger is referred to throughout the memoir) or the impact that any of his writing as had on his followers.

And having not published anything recently, JD Salinger’s stories seems as archaic as the office in which Joanna works. She has to copy dictation by an old typewriter as computers are strictly forbidden. Her office is like a museum, steeped in the history of the publishing world and not as fast paced or as modern as it should be. That is until Salinger decides that it is time to publish another piece of writing and things slowly start to change.

Rakoff’s year of working in the agency is chronicled in My Salinger Year. Rakoff explains her time there with heart warming candour and sentimentality. Her relationships with the people around her – her parents, her boss, her colleagues, her boyfriend and indeed, the man himself JD Salinger – all shape and define her during this period. Throughout her story you cannot help but see parallels between Rakoff and some of Salinger’s characters, for me this was mainly due to the theme of growing up which is ever present. Rakoff is likeable and so easy to relate to, especially if you yourself are in that transition period of becoming a fully fledged adult.

I loved this book. Really loved it but what I felt more of was the desire to know the author. A strange similarity (that even I have to acknowledge) to some of the Salinger fans that Rakoff found herself writing to. I wanted to ask her questions about her experiences; to know what part of the book she would choose to do a reading of; to hear more of her anecdotes from this time in her life.  I loved My Salinger Year for the intimacy that Rakoff created between herself and me, the reader. However, I will point out to all who read it or who are contemplating reading it that this book is dangerous. You will start it and lose hours of your life because it is difficult to put down. Don’t say that you haven’t been warned.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff is available now.

My Salinger Year Cover