Thursday, 20 October 2016

Favourite Authors: Noel Streatfeild

I've decided to start doing a series on my favourite authors, probably focusing more on lesser-known authors, but including some better-known ones as well. I'm not sure how often I'll post these, but I'll try to keep it fairly regular.

By Source, Fair use,
Mary Noel Streatfeild (1895-1986) was an author who wrote a great many children's books (and also some adult books, although I haven't read any of those). Recurring themes in her books include: family (most books focus on a group of siblings or cousins); children who are especially talented, mostly in the performing arts (acting, dancing, or music), although other talents and interests such as sports (swimming, tennis, skating) also appear; dealing with financial difficulties (sometimes in creative ways). The best known of her books is Ballet Shoes, her first children's novel, published in 1936.

What I like about her books:
  • Portrayal of family life: her families are mostly fairly realistic (except in terms of the amount of talent possessed); they don't always get on but are mostly loving families still. There is a lack of parents in quite a few of her books (as in many children's books), but the sibling relationships tend to be very well done.
  • Wish fulfilment: many of the children are very talented, and get to dedicate a lot of time to doing what they love, perhaps even making money from it from a young age, and a few become famous. Even if you've never really wanted to be an actor or a dancer, it's easy to fee like you do when you're reading the books.
  • Details of everyday life: I like that she often tells you how various details are organised, how much things cost, and so on. For example, Party Shoes goes into quite a lot of detail on the difficulties of creating costumes for a pageant the children are putting on, when rationing was still in place. It makes the books feel more realistic, in spite of the amount of talent the children possess; and despite this, they still have to work hard to be good at what they do and to overcome various difficulties.
  • Her books cover quite a long time period - from the 1930s to the 1970s; most of her books are set pretty much exactly when she wrote them. So from a historical viewpoint it's interesting to see how things changed over this time; in Ballet Shoes for example we have characters who are quite poor (or consider themselves to be) but still living in a big house with servants; which is certainly not the case in later books. Several books take place during the war and rationing of food and clothes also presents problems in some books. In the later books, the characters travel a lot more, often by plane, film acting becomes more common as opposed to stage acting (although both are there), and the children sometimes attend comprehensive schools (when they aren't at stage schools), rather than just private or grammar schools. And there are lots of little details and attitudes that change over time, that make it quite interesting to read some of her books from different decades.

Some of my favourites of her books are:
(some of these have been published under more than one title)

Ballet Shoes: The best-known of Noel Streatfeild's books and probably the best, this is the story of three orphans who are adopted by Great-Uncle Matthew (Gum). Pauline, Petrova and Posy are very different girls who attend a stage school (not all willingly) and discover their respective talents, performing in plays etc. to help earn money which they are struggling for. Meanwhile hoping for Gum to come back and sort things out. Despite the title, it's more about acting than ballet, although that does feature since Posy, the youngest, is obsessed with it.

Theatre Shoes (Curtain Up!): This is a sort of sequel to Ballet Shoes, set in wartime London. Another trio of siblings are given scholarships by the Fossil sisters to attend the stage school that they went to, giving them the chance to discover their talents (or, perhaps, lack of).

Skating Shoes (White Boots): Harriet is advised to take up ice skating as a form of exercise to help her recover from an illness. To her surprise, she turns out to be very good at it, and makes friends with another girl, Lalla, who is the daughter of two skaters and has been raised to be a star in it. Unusually for a Streatfeild book, Harriet's siblings don't feature much in the story, but there are some good home scenes in it too.

Ballet Shoes for Anna: This is another book about a ballet-obsessed girl. Anna and her two brothers are orphaned by an earthquake in Turkey, and have to go and live with an aunt and uncle in England, who are unsympathetic to Anna's ballet dreams (and to the children in general). Since they won't pay for Anna to have ballet lessons, she and her brothers have to come up with inventive ways to make some.
Travelling Shoes (Apple Bough): This is my second favourite of her books. Another family of four children, all named after famous musicians; Sebastian, the second oldest, is a world famous violinist, despite being a child - but since he isn't old enough to be allowed to perform in England (he has to be twelve), he and his parents and siblings travel the world so he can play in lots of other countries. The other three, especially Myra, the eldest, are getting fed up of this and want to settle down somewhere, but their parents are keen to keep the family all together (rather than leaving the others with their grandparents for example). So the book follows Myra's desire to find a home for them, whilst Wolfgang and Ethel (the two youngest) discover talents of their own.

Have you read any of Noel Streatfeild's books? Which ones did you enjoy most?

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Book Review: Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber


Summary (from Goodreads):
A "girl-meets-God" style memoir of an agnostic who, through her surprising opportunity to study at Oxford, comes to a dynamic personal faith in God.

Carolyn Weber arrives for graduate study at Oxford University as a feminist from a loving but broken family, suspicious of men and intellectually hostile to all things religious. As she grapples with her God-shaped void alongside the friends, classmates, and professors she meets, she tackles big questions in search of love and a life that matters.

This savvy, beautifully written, credible account of Christian conversion follows the calendar and events of the school year as it entertains, informs, and promises to engage even the most skeptical and unlikely reader.

I thought this was a good book. It contained lots of interesting reflections, and provided a lot of food for thought. I enjoyed following the author's journey to faith, and the literary allusions and Oxford setting definitely helped as well. There was also a little bit of romance.

I did have some minor issues; I found that some of the dialogue in the book didn't quite feel real, but I realise that, since the author was writing fifteen or so years after the events described, obviously she wasn't going to remember exactly what was said. I also sometimes found the thread of the story and the different characters difficult to keep track of; there are quite a few sidelines into reflections on various topics, which I enjoyed, so this isn't really a criticism (and may also have been because I read the book over a few months; it would probably have been easier to follow if I'd read it a bit more quickly).

Anyway, I enjoyed this book; I intend to re-read it at some point, and would definitely recommend it  Here are some quotes I thought were especially good:
Anything of real value lies in relationship, and yet relationships are where we find ourselves the most vulnerable. (p. 185)

Dying to despair, dying for us in spite of despair, so that despair may die. (p.280)
(on Good Friday)
Poetry does befriend you if you take it to heart. (p. 234)
It is a delicious and dangerous time, this honeymoon of the soul. All sweetness and light. (p. 278)
(on the time following conversion)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Anne of Green Gables Week Tag

Evie at Over the Hills is currently hosting an Anne of Green Gables week, so I thought I'd join in by filling in the tag.

1. How did you get introduced to Anne of Green Gables?
I don't actually remember, but I know I read it for the first time when I was about ten. Probably my mum recommended it to me.

 2. Are you more like Anne or Diana? Why?
I don't think I'm very much like Anne - my imagination certainly can't compete with hers and I'm generally quite a quiet person (as opposed to Anne who talks nearly all the time in the first book). So I'm probably more like Diana.

 3. If Rachel Lynde called your hair as red as carrots how would you react?
I would be quite surprised, since it definitely isn't. Although ironically I wanted to have red hair like Anne's when I was younger.

 4. Gilbert or Morgan Harris?
So I had to look up who Morgan Harris was ... it's been a long time since I've watched any of the films. I think I vaguely remember him actually, but at any rate I can't imagine I'd choose him over Gilbert :)

5. Honest opinion on the third Anne film.
I only watched a bit of it, and that was long before I'd read any of the books after the first. I'll probably watch it sometime, but I'm not anxious to.

 6. Have you seen the New Anne film?
No; I wasn't aware there was one. I'll have to check it out :)

7. What in your own words is a Kindred Spirit?
Someone who "gets" you, who understands your viewpoint and has a similar view of the world. It helps if you have lots of interests in common, too.

8.  Movie Gilbert or Green Gables Fables Gilbert?
Movie Gilbert, although I liked them both.
9.  Does anyone know where we can watch Road to Avonlea online?
Nope, sorry.

10. Favourite book cover?

There are lots of editions with pretty covers, so it's difficult to choose! The one on the left is probably my favourite, but there are quite a few I really like.

11. The Films or the Books?
Definitely the books! Anne of Green Gables is probably my all-time favourite book. Although it has been a long time since I watched any of the films (like, about 11 years), so I definitely need to watch them again :)

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Mini-Reviews #2: August 2016

Yes, this post is rather late; I wrote it quite a few weeks ago and then mostly forgot about it. I didn't do a monthly wrap-up for August though, so if you want to know my thoughts on some of what I read then, read on!

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
This is outside of my usual genres and I didn't know that much about the book prior to reading it (other than that it was a Cinderella retelling set in the future), but I'd heard a lot of good things about it so decided to give it a go. I thought it was really good - I was really drawn into the story and it definitely kept me reading wanting to know what happened next. The connection with Cinderella is clear, but the book deviates quite a bit from the original story (which was good, because it kept me reading to find out what would happen next). The story does end on a bit of a cliffhanger though with quite a few loose ends not resolved so now I really want to get the next book in the series, Scarlet.
Rating: 4 out of 5
This was a fun, quick read. Axel, the narrator, reluctantly accompanies his professor uncle on a seemingly crazy attempt to reach the centre of the earth by travelling down through a volcano; a third companion is their mostly-silent guide Hans. I found this book a bit slow to start off with but I was later swept up in the excitement of the journey and the wondrous things that the three travellers encounter on their journey (but I won't spoil it for you). It's a short book, and didn't take me long to read, but it was definitely worthwhile reading.

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith
Rating: 3 out of 5
I enjoyed reading this, and it was quite a quick read, but really not very much happened in the story. It's the kind of story where the main conflict is that the characters just don't really communicate with each other, and if they would just talk about stuff it would make everything a lot simpler (but then there wouldn't really have been much of a story). So it was a bit frustrating at times. But still it was an enjoyable read, and just what I needed at the time.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Review: Chronicle of a Last Summer


This is a book about a girl growing up in Egypt. It is divided into three sections, each one set during a particular summer, respectively those of 1984, 1998, and 2014, covering the time from when the narrator is a young child, a university student, and an adult. It's written basically as her thoughts during each particular summer.
Personally, I didn't feel this book really connected with me on the whole. The first section I found very slow, and very little seemed to happen in it. The book did pick up quite a bit after that, but still it was more focused on an internal monologue, which is not really my favourite style of writing. I think the main problem I had was that I just wanted to know more about the narrator's life; we are not given many details, and few of the characters are even mentioned by name. I would have been interested to know a lot more about what it was like when she was studying film at university, but we are not told very much about this. I also found the narrative quite confusing at times; there is not really much in the way of plot, and the timeframe jumps around a bit since there are quite a few bits where the main character is remembering something that happened in the past, and it is not quite clear what is happening when. There are also references to people and events in Egypt's recent history which I didn't really know anything about, and there wasn't much explanation given about these things, so if you don't know much about Egypt then some of the conversations can be hard to follow.
I don't think it was a bad book though; it just wasn't particularly to my taste. I did enjoy some things about it; I enjoyed the glimpses into the main character's life that we did get, I just wanted to know more about her and what her life was like, and more perhaps about what was going on in Egypt at the time. So don't let this put you off, if you think you would enjoy this book.
I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Classics Club Spin Result + Update

The result of the Classics Club Spin has been announced - the number was 1, which means I will be reading Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. I've been meaning to read this for ages (since I read Eight Cousins, which was over three years ago) so I'm glad that I've finally got an incentive to get on with it. It's also not too long, so it shouldn't be difficult to finish by the deadline, which is December 1st.
As far as reading books on my list is going in general, I haven't been making a great deal of effort with it lately, but I'm hoping to get around to reading more of the books on it soon. I'm currently reading The Fellowship of the Ring (after watching the Lord of the Rings films for the first time a few weeks ago, I've decided I need to get around to reading the books too), which I'm about 75 pages into, and am enjoying, although it's quite a slow-paced read. As well as Rose in Bloom, I'm also hoping to start Clouds of Witness soon, since I currently have it out from the library. After that, I'm not sure - I'll see where my inclinations lie.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

What I Read in September

It's October already - I'm not quite sure how that happened! September was a pretty good reading month for me in all - I finished nine books in total and there were some really good ones among them.


Precious and the Mystery of Meerkat Hill by Alexander McCall Smith: This was a very simple story, which was enjoyable, but it was definitely aimed at quite a young audience.
Robin Hood by David Calcutt: This was quite enjoyable. The stories were fairly basic retellings of Robin Hood legends, but the illustrations were what made it really.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers: I thought this was really good - there's a link to my review below.
Outcast by Rosemary Sutcliff: This is the second book I've read by Rosemary Sutcliff - I didn't particularly care for The Eagle of the Ninth, but after hearing good things about her books for ages I decided to give them another go - which I'm glad I did, because I really enjoyed this book! I will definitely be seeking out more of her books.
My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows: The alternative story of Lady Jane Grey - with a different ending, and also people turning into animals. It's very entertaining and I would recommend it to all fans of YA and/or historical fiction (although this isn't strictly historical, there are lots of historical delights in store).


Behind the Chalet School by Helen McClelland: This was quite an interesting read (as a fan of the Chalet School books), although I didn't feel it was terribly well written.
Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians by Chris Armstrong: This was really good - it gave me a lot to think about. I might do a post about it soon.
Waking Up by Ted Dekker: This was very short; I think it made some good points, but it would have been better if things were explored in more detail.


The Illustrated Book of Romantic Verse: This was a delight; I find poetry a bit hit and miss, but I really liked most of the selections in this book, and the artwork was also good - there were some really lovely pictures. If you like poetry, I would recommend this book.
Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
Non-Review Posts:

I participated in Top Ten Tuesday twice - sharing ten of my all-time favourite mystery books and ten books I'm hoping to read this autumn.
I also participated in Classic Remarks for the first time - this week's topic was about favourite Jane Austen adaptations
I listed twenty selections for the next Classics Club Spin - come back tomorrow to find out which book I will be reading!