The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel

It’s not often that I do a book review here. I am a part of the team at Hanging on Every Word, and I spend a lot of time on Goodreads (too much time, probably), so most of my reviews go up at either of those places.

But last week I finished a book that I really wanted to post about, and because it’s not strictly a review, I decided to post it here. I heard about The Monuments Men a while ago, when I was looking for new books to add to my to-read list. It tells the true story of a group of people who dedicated themselves to preserving the cultural heritage of the world during World War II. In reality, there were around 350 men and women who served on the Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives section (MFAA) of the Allied armed forces, and this book tells the story of eight of them.

I have read a lot about World War II, but it has always been social history, with a bit of military history thrown in. But this is a story that I’ve never heard before; how millions of pieces of artwork were stolen from all across Europe by the Nazis. After D-Day, when the Allies had invaded and were on their way through Germany, the MFAA began to find out where many of the artefacts were being stored, and set about retrieving them.

It really is a fascinating story; whilst reading the book you really start to feel as though you know these soldiers who are risking their lives to safeguard some of the most important cultural treasures of the world. Included throughout are letters from the soldiers to their loved ones at home; one soldier wrote to his wife to tell her that he had refused some gold pieces, because he had “absolutely no greed for it”, and that her “poem means more to me.”

The book came to my attention because I found out that its film adaptation was George Clooney’s next project. He is co-writing, producing and directing the film, as well as starring in it as George Stout, one of the Monuments Men, and my favourite ‘character’ from the book. George Clooney never seems to take anything on half-heartedly, and we all know what a talented writer and director he is (he’s been Oscar nominated for both in the past). And this is truly a thrilling and interesting story. So I’m really, really looking forward to seeing the film. It also stars Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Hugh Bonneville and Jean DuJardin. They have been filming in Europe, and have just recently arrived in England to film some scenes here. Yesterday, they were filming in Rye, and they have apparently taken over some 85 rooms at Pontins in Camber Sands. I can’t even begin to tell you how frustrating this is; I was right near there on holiday just a couple of weeks ago! I want to go back!

83 Books in 2012

As you probably know, at the beginning of 2012 I set myself the challenge of reading 75 books. I had managed 70 in 2011, so I knew it was possible, and I’ve pleased to say that I managed 83!

I wanted to do a collage of all my reads, but there were too many for just one collage, so I had to break it up a little bit! This is what 83 books looks like:

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A few stats:

  • Goodreads tells me that I read 29,339 pages in 2012. I am not sure how accurate that is, because I didn’t necessarily read the same editions as they have on there, but it’s more or less right. Maybe I’ll aim for 30.000 next year! 
  • My most read author was George R.R. Martin. I read all seven of the as yet published books in the Song of Ice and Fire series, starting with A Game of Thrones in May and ending with A Dance with Dragons: After the Feast in October.
  • I also read six books by Sophie Hannah, four by Nora Roberts, four by Lynda la Plante, and four by Judy Blume.
  • As well as the Song of Ice and Fire series, I also read the Bride Quartet (Nora Roberts), and the Millennium trilogy (Stieg Larsson).
  • I got an eReader for my birthday in November, and my first eBook was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ve read four more since then, all of them in the last three days!
  • Only two of my books this year were rereads (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Nippy), compared to 17 in 2011!
  • I gave eight books five stars out of five on Goodreads: The Hunger GamesThe Girl With the Dragon TattooBossypantsThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest11-22-63A Storm of Swords: Blood and GoldI Remember Nothing and Other Reflections, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I’m really pleased with myself; I like being able to say I’ve completed a challenge, but also I’m just really glad that I’ve done lots of reading again this year. My goal for next year is 75 again, so stay tuned!

Looking for Books

Books are a big part of my life. I sometimes think that if I was forced to pick one form of entertainment, I’d pick books. Then I remember how much I love television, and I thank my lucky stars that nobody is ever going to force me to make such an awful choice. But I love books, and reading, and libraries, and I love hearing about new books that I should read. My favourite way to discover  a new book is to have it recommended to me, and that’s where my lovely readers come in!

As part of my 31 Before 31 list, I have set myself an alphabetical challenge. Every time I try to describe I fall over myself with too many words, but I’ll try again. I want to read 26 books, each one by a different author that I have never read before, and each author has to begin with a different letter of the alphabet. Since my birthday, I have managed two; Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman, and Killing Floor by Lee Child. You can see my list here, I’m keeping it updated as I go along.

So earlier on Twitter, I asked if anyone had read any good books recently that they would like to recommend, and I got a few replies (thanks to Steph, Jacquina and Laura). I am hoping that if I repeat the request on here, I might get a wider response.

The challenge with the A-Z challenge is, of course, those awkward letters. I don’t suppose I’ll have any trouble with most of the alphabet, but I anticipate problems with I, Q, U, X, Y and Z. I’ve never read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro or Christopher Isherwood, so they are a definite possibility for I, and there’s Markus Zuzak for Z.

Have you got any ideas? For any of the letters, really, but specifically for those six blighters that are more than likely going to stand in my way! Leave me a comment, or tweet me @janeylambert to let me know.

Books Q&A

Hello all

Terri-Jane over at twoninethree answered this questionnaire on Friday, and I thought I’d do the same!

The Rules:

1. Post these rules

2. Post a photo of your favourite book cover

3. Answer the questions below

4. Tag a few people to answer them too

5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them you’ve tagged them

6. Make sure you tell the person who tagged you that you’ve taken part!

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What are you reading now?

This morning I started reading Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. I got it from the library to read before the television dramatisation airs, but I have to say that I am struggling a little bit with it. I don’t know if I’m going to continue with it!

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?

I have Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah to read, also from the library. I heard about it on the radio when the author was on the Simon Mayo book club, and I reserved it. It has taken ages and ages to come, but I have it now!

What books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?

Currently there are about fifty books on my bookshelf that are unread, so there are lots and lots! Labyrinth (Kate Mosse) and Gone With the Wind (Margaret Mitchell) are two that spring to mind as having been there for a while though.

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?

I’m not a huge magazine reader, but I often get passed copies of The Lady to read, and I like having a flick through that. Other than that, if I can afford it, it’s Empire or Total Film.

What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?

I’m not really one for persisting with books I am not enjoying; if I don’t like it then I will probably give up. There are too many books in the world that I want to read to waste time on ones I am not enjoying! Having said that I read May Day (Scott F. Fitzgerald) earlier this year, and it wasn’t really my cup of tea. It was only a novella though, so once I was about halfway through it seemed silly not to finish it.

What books seems really popular but you actually hated?

I recently read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I waited for ages for this one at the library too, because it was awarded the Man Booker Prize, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Obviously it’s a very well written book, and who am I to say that I didn’t enjoy a book that was singled out for one of the most important and prestigious literary awards in the world? But I didn’t really enjoy it.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?

I don’t think that there is one book that I would recommend to “just about everyone”, simply because I know people have such widely different tastes when it comes to reading. But I will always recommend American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld if I think it’s going to be a welcome recommendation.

What are your 3 favourite poems?

Where do you usually get your books?

If I’m buying, it’s charity shops. I can’t afford to buy new books these days, unless it is something that I desperately want or need. But I actually use the library far more than charity shops now, because it’s free! I reserve lots of books; as soon as I hear about a book that I think I might want to read, I add it to my reservations list and wait for it to come in. It may take months, but there are plenty of other books to read in the mean time, and I’m happy to wait in most cases! A library is honestly one of my favourite places to be.

Where do you usually read your books?

In the bath! That’s where I do most of my reading, though I do read before I go to bed too, and on the train. I try to read on the bus, but I can’t do it for long before I start to feel really ill.

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?

I read a lot; I was reading before I started school, and I’ve never stopped. I don’t think I had any particular habits as such, just that I did a lot of it!

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?

It was probably The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson. It was a great conclusion to a fantastic trilogy, and I couldn’t stop until I’d finished!

Have you ever “faked” reading a book?

Similar to Terri-Jane’s answer (and probably anyone who has ever done a degree with a literature element), I am ashamed to say that I have! Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to read all the books that you have to, and you have to cheat a little bit. I always told myself that it was much better to use an online aid rather than turn up to the class without having any idea what the book was about!

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?

I’ve never bought a book just because I liked the cover. I do think that a good cover is very important, but if I pick up a book because I like the cover and then read the back and discover it’s probably not my thing, I won’t buy/borrow it. It’s needs to be the full package!

What was your favourite book when you were a child?

I’ve written about this in blog posts before; I was (and still am) a huge fan of Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books, along with Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series. I also liked the Puddle Lane books, and Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

What book changed your life?

I don’t think a book has ever changed my life, as such. Mansfield Park changed my reading habits, because I had never even thought about reading Jane Austen before I read it for my A-Level English Literature class, and that led me to find Pride and Prejudice. The seven Harry Potter books changed my life in a way, I suppose. Not to sound too cheesy, but my best friends and I love them deeply, and I think they provide a bond between us that we will always have. When we are eighty, we will look back on the years when they were being published and released (along with the films), and have very fond memories.

What is your favourite passage from a book?

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.” The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

“She was the reason I was a reader, and being a reader is what had made me most myself; it had given me the gifts of curiosity and sympathy, an awareness of the world as an odd and vibrant contradictory place, and it had me unafraid of its oddness and contradictions.” American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

“The pause makes you think the song will end. And then the song isn’t really over, so you’re relieved. But then the song does actually end, because every song ends, obviously, and THAT. TIME. THE. END. IS. FOR. REAL.” A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times because of those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope they feel it’s enough. I really do because they’ve made me happy. And I’m only one person.” The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

There are loads more, but I’m going to restrain myself!

Who are your top five favourite authors?

I simply can’t, and won’t, restrict myself to just five favourites. But here are five that I like.

  • Jennifer Egan
  • Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Agatha Christie
  • Enid Blyton
  • J.K. Rowling

What book has no one heard about but should read?

I wouldn’t deign to suppose that I know about many books that are especially undiscovered, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a good book that a lot of people seem to have ignored.

What are your favourite books by a first-time author?

  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (sorry to repeat myself here!)
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

What is your favourite classic book?

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

5 other notable mentions?

  • The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth

Let me know if you do this Q&A!

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