January 2015 Books

My photoshop skills have got no better since last year, but I’m trying, and I thought I’d mix things up slightly with my monthly collage! January was a four-book month, and while really it’s a couple less than I should be reading if I want to spread my 75 out evenly across the year, I’m not too concerned. The start of the year isn’t the time to be worrying that I am running behind with my target!

The Absolutist by John Boyne

The Absolutist is one of two John Boyne novels I read in January, albeit by accident. I grabbed this one off the shelf at the library at the end of last year, because the premise interested me: a young man called Tristan, a veteran of the First World War, is travelling to Norwich to meet with Marian, the sister of his friend, and fellow soldier, Will. He’s returning the letters she wrote to her brother, and in doing so, he wants to tell her his secret, something he hasn’t been able to tell anyone. In the end, the story ending up feeling quite different to how I imagined it, but I did enjoy it very much. Will and Tristan are thrown together in the trenches, and develop a strong bond, but each of them struggle with their ability to be brave, whether that’s physical bravery or an ethical or moral bravery. Will is unable to continue fighting after he witnesses the brutality of one of his fellow soldiers, demonstrating a courage that many other soldiers had to deny themselves. Tristan doesn’t see this decision as brave, yet knows that he himself failed to demonstrate any bravery in his own actions. It’s a thought-provoking read, and one that has made me want to seek out more of John Boyne’s books.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

As I mentioned, it wasn’t my intention to read two John Boyne books in a row, but I had reserved this one at the library after I read a small extract in Only Remembered, and it came in at the beginning of the year. It tells the story of a young boy named Alfie, whose father joins up at the very start of World War I. Years pass, and Alfie is sure that his father has died; he no longer writes, and his mother doesn’t have a very convincing story as to why. Having set himself up as a shoeshine boy to help with the household finances, Alfie spots his father’s name on a doctor’s files, and sets about finding him and bringing him home. John Boyne obviously feels very comfortable writing about this period of history, and using a child’s perspective to write about the First World War is really effective.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I’ve been reading about The Girl on the Train for months, and I knew that I would eventually end up reading it, but when it was announced as the latest Radio 2 Book Club choice, I decided to go for it and download it. I am pleased that I did; it’s a good read, and a very entertaining thriller. Rachel is the girl on the train, and as she goes past a particular row of houses, she picks out a couple, and gradually becomes a little obsessed with them. When the woman goes missing, Rachel is sure she holds vital information, and goes to the police, only to be dismissed. The story centres on Rachel trying to learn the truth. There will be a review of this later this week.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I’m constantly wondering where I got the recommendation to read Station Eleven, and I’m still none the wiser, but I’m really pleased I did! Set almost entirely in a world where civilisation has been brought to its knees by a flu pandemic, it centres on the story of Kirsten, a young woman who was a child at the time of the collapse, and has very little memory of the world as it was before. All of the characters, Kirsten included, are connected to one man, an actor called Arthur Leander, who died playing King Lear on stage the night before the world began to change. It’s a truly fascinating story, and it’s honestly the best book I’ve read in some months. I’m planning a full review, but all I can do is thoroughly recommend it to everyone who reads this!

I’m really pleased with the books I read in January. While I don’t like to put too much stock in star ratings, all of these books were four or five stars for me, and that amounts to a really good month, all told. I’d love to continue this trend, but I know that’s not possible!

As well as keeping a count of the books I read, I’ve also started keeping a note of the pages in each book, to see how I do by the end of the year. I know that Goodreads keeps a count, but I’m not sure it’s always the most reliable, so I’m keeping my own notes. So far, I’m up to 1391 pages.

4 books down, 71 to go in my aim to read 75 books by the end of 2015. Follow me on Goodreads to keep up with all my reading habits.

Mondaying

Right now, I am mostly…

Reading : I went to the library for the first time in ages at the weekend, and picked up more books than I had intended! I had four to collect that had been reserved, and then I made the mistake of looking around a little bit too, and picking up another four. I do have a lot of books to read if I’m going to catch up and meet my target (looking increasingly unlikely!) by the end of the year. I’m really pleased with my haul though, and I’ve already finished one and got a good way through another!

Playing : I had far too much fun the other week with some candy letters and Snapchat while I was listening to Wittertainment. Feel free to judge me.

Listening : Of course I only ordered The Dodge Brothers’ CD because of the Mark Kermode connection, but I was sure that I would probably like it, because I like a good Americana song. It’s a lot of fun; I have only managed to listen to it a couple of times, but I already have a couple of tracks on repeat!

Babysitting : I had three of my nieces to stay overnight on Saturday, which is a twice-a-year regular gig. They are the lights of my life, and I love them dearly, but I can’t cope with them waking me up at 4.30am on Sunday! By the time they went home at lunchtime I was ready to get into bed! I did end up napping yesterday afternoon, which wasn’t altogether satisfactory!

Watching : I went to the cinema last week to see The Imitation Game. It’s as good as everything you’ve read about it; great performances, heartbreaking story, and just really worth the price of admission. I’m so fond of going to the cinema, I wish that I could go more! I try to go on a Tuesday wherever possible, because it’s as cheap as chips, and I can’t really be doing with £11 or more to see the latest releases. Hannah and I are looking into getting the Cineworld Unlimited cards, which would force us to go more (probably once a week to make it worth it).

Drinking : Wispa hot chocolate is about as nice as you think it is.

Watching (again) : I decided to add this in to this week’s Mondaying round-up, because I didn’t manage to do one last week. I went to Alexandra Palace with Hannah to see The Gaslight Anthem, and even though I’m not a huge fan (Hannah is), I really, really enjoyed it. They were really good, and the crowd was great too.

My Thoughts On… Saving Mr Banks

Just a reminder that My Thoughts On… posts may contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film in question, please skip down to Why Should I See This Film? which is spoiler-free!

Synopsis

Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen. (via IMDb)

What I LIked

  • When I’m asked what my favourite film, I might um and ah a little bit, but I usually come down on the side of Mary Poppins. It holds a very special place in my heart, so I was so excited to see Saving Mr Banks when it was announced. I didn’t manage to get to the cinema to see it, but I finally watched it a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. I loved it. For those of us who are fans of the 1961 film, it’s the perfect companion, watching how it all came about, hearing the fabulous songs, and getting an insight (albeit a slightly Disney-fied insight) into the life of the author who created the eponymous nanny.
  • Emma Thompson is amazing in everything she does, and she is so perfectly suited to this role. She manages to bring a huge amount of likeability to a character who is stubborn, rude and cantankerous. We need to feel sympathy for her at the same time as feeling exasperated by her, and it’s hard to imagine anyone as adept at playing this kind of role as Emma Thompson. She was robbed in last year’s Oscar nominations.
  • Similarly fabulous performances come from Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti and Colin Farrell. I particularly loved Giamatti’s performance as Travers’ chauffeur, Ralph. Their relationship really touched me; she trusted him as little as anyone else affiliated with the Disney corporation at first, but he won her over, and it was a beautiful moment when he spoke to her about his daughter’s disability. I also loved Bradley Whitford, BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman, playing the creative team working on Mary Poppins and trying their hardest not to lose their tempers with Mrs Travers.
  • Given that this is a Disney film about a Disney film, there was always the worry that Saving Mr Banks would end up mawkish and sentimental, but it avoids those traps almost entirely. It stirs the emotions, and it did make me cry, but it wasn’t soppy or over the top. It has received some criticism for seemingly showing P.L. Travers as having a change of heart about Mary Poppins in the end, and I think the scene where she ends up dancing to Let’s Go Fly a Kite is rather Disney-fied, and almost definitely never happened. But I think that it does a pretty good job at showing that she entered into the whole endeavour because she had to, and not because she wanted to. I think it’s the perfect mix of real life and dramatisation, and I just loved it.

What I Didn’t Like

  • I am the first person to appreciate a sideways glance at the audience from within a film, especially when it’s a reference to a film that I love. The flashbacks to P.L. Travers’ childhood provided lots of these, and to begin with, I was on board, but by the end of the film, I felt as though they were being shoehorned in just a little bit. By the time little Ginty’s Aunt Ellie was saying “spit spot!” I was just about done. I just wanted it all to be a bit more subtle than that.

Why Should I See This Film?

I feel as though this is one of those films that I am so late to the party with that most people will have seen it already! But if there’s a chance you haven’t, I would say that fans of Mary Poppins need to see it immediately. It evokes such a wonderful sense of time and place – 1960s Disney World – that it’s a joy to watch. And the performances, most notably of Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers herself, are just breath-taking.

Mondaying

Right now, I am mostly…

Choosing : On Friday, I had to go to Maldon on the bus for a meeting, and my phone battery was dying for the return journey, so I nipped into the library to see if I could find a book to read. (Ordinarily I can’t read on the bus, but I always give it a go if I am bored, because even ten minutes of reading is better than no reading.) Initially I picked up a John Steinbeck novel called The Pearl, which is really, really short, but then I saw this monster on the World War II shelf, and changed my mind. It’s called The Second World War by Antony Beevor, and given than it was D-Day, I just fancied it. I haven’t started it yet, but I know that Antony Beevor is a master in his field, so I’m excited to get started.

Shopping : I don’t get the chance to do an awful lot of shopping, but I went out yesterday with a couple of items that I had to buy, and came away with a couple of things that weren’t on my list! I bought another t-shirt in Primark, in a similar style to the Hogwarts one from my recent outfit post. It doesn’t have a design on the front, but I really like the colour (a kind of jade green) and the shape. I also bought a new swimming costume, because hopefully I’ll see the inside of a swimming pool soon, and a River Island bag in a charity shop for £2. What a bargain!

Reading : I am almost at the end of a book called The Interestings, which I am reading for the Waterstones Book Club. I have a deadline to finish it, and for a while, I thought I wasn’t going to get there in time, but I did that thing where I reached a point and it became completely unputdownable. A review will follow soon!

Trying : I bought some hair chalks from eBay, and I picked them up from the post office at the weekend. I gave them a very quick try last night, and it wasn’t an overwhelming success. I knew that this would happen, because these things never work for me, but I’ll give them another go and let you know what happens!

Meeting : Yesterday I met a second cousin (I think), who I have possibly never met before! It’s not a new baby, or anything, it’s a 25 year old man! I have an awful lot of cousins (my dad is one of seven and my mum is one of six), but we don’t see them an awful lot. When you are one of six yourself, your own immediate family is quite big enough without factoring in the extended ones!

Listening : I’m listening to Radio 2 as I write this, just for a change.

Anticipating : On Friday I am going to London to see the queen Mark Kermode. He’s chairing a debate about film critics and their place in the modern world of internet reviews. As you can imagine, I’m pretty darn excited about it. I am hoping to get in a trip to the cinema during the day too, possibly to see The Edge of Tomorrow, as I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

Mondaying

Right now, I am mostly…

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Lighting : I finally got around to lighting the candle I got in my Essex Bloggers goodie bad last month, and it smells divine! I’m not generally one for scented candles in the bath, but it made a nice change. 

Watching : I’m trying to branch out a bit with my the films I’m watching, and I want to dip my toe into the horror genre. Trouble is, I can’t find anything appealing amongst the mountains of dross that has been released recently. I might have to go classic. Any recommendations? 

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Reading : Another trip to the library on Saturday means another four books to add to the reading list. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. 

Drinking : Apparently I drink gin now. Not sure how it happened, but I really like it! What a lush. 

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Fangirling : Mark Kermode tweeted me. Twice. In the same week I spoke to Simon Mayo on the phone. Talk about doing the Wittertainment double.