It’s with a heavy heart I write this, as the legend Judith Kerr has sadly passed away. My favourite book of hers was The Tiger who Came to Tea for its beautiful drawings, simple yet heartwarming story and for making me wonder if supermarkets really did stock Tiger food….
(c) Judith Kerr/ BookTrust
Judith Kerr- The woman behind the stories
Born in 1923, Kerr grew up in Berlin. She was forced to leave and escape the growing rise of Nazism. This time of her life had a profound effect on her of course and she even wrote about it in the book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. This book presents the horrors of that time so strongly and so simply, through the eyes of a child, that it’s one of the strongest images I have about that time. I can’ even begin to imagine what it would have been like to have written that story – to share your most raw memories with the world. Thankfully, she did and others can learn from it, share it and vow that it never happens again.
(c) Judith Kerr
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
Judith Kerr is well known for her picture books of course. My all time favourite is The Tiger Who Came To Tea. For years after reading this, I would wander around supermarkets for my mum trying to find tiger food. When the tiger knocks at the door….when he eats them out of house and home, then they go for tea at a local cafe….LOVE IT ALL!
And how apt is this final page from that book today? For another apt image, just take a look at Mog…I still tear up when I read this…
(c) Judith Kerr
Bless this cat! Mog was the most accident-prone cat ever. It was lovely when Mog became a star of the Sainsbury’s ad on TV, and I still have the battered old copies from my own childhood I will never give away. I might even have bought a Mog toy cat.
I was so lucky to meet this lady at a literary event a few years ago and I have never felt more nervous! What did I do? Just smile and mumble ‘thank you for the tiger’ and she smiled and said she loved writing it. I bought an edition that day which she signed. I will treasure that for ever. The moment and the book.
Thank you Judith for all the memories, stories and hugs at bedtime with your characters. I shall go to a supermarket today and check the pet food aisle again…just in case…..
Stealing Roses by Heather Cooper – 1862. Growing up in the small seaside town of Cowes on the Isle of Wight, free-spirited Eveline Stanhope feels trapped by the weight of expectation from her well-to-do family….Eveline wants more for herself, and the arrival of the railway provides just the cause she’s been searching for.
This is a story of personal wishes, hope for a better future and excitement as to what changes the railway will bring to the people of the Isle of Wight. A debut author and a local one too who has studied the history of the island and the heritage of the railways..
A lovely visit to the Isle of Wight at a time when the railways were being built. I love stories like this which take you back to a real point of history and then fictionalise the events around it. We are immediately introduced to some of the locals who live in the small seaside town of Cowes. I immediately warmed to Eveline who wishes to escape this rural place. Her wishes could soon come true as the railways are to offer her and others like her the chance to move around, or even to escape.
There are some lovely mentions of how books provide a way to escape. “Anyone who reads widely is a citizen of the world, my love, and you are a reader.”
There’s also a dinner party where a major point of discussion is the latest of Mr Dickens novels. Families drive in horse-drawn carriages, there’s walks along the harbour, talks about going to Newham for the latest fashions. The houses where the families live are posh, mansion style homes with large gardens. Some of the nearby countryside is under threat with the expansion of the railway and this is also a major overriding theme of the novel. Imagine your idyllic home being ‘ruined’ by this new invention of the train!
There’s also the topic of photography weaving its way through the book and it’s lovely to see the birth of both photography and the railways which together will transform travel and life in many ways.
It’s a fascinating time period and I really enjoyed meeting the characters and wondering in which direction the story would take. I wanted Eveline to travel with her!
Travel to some of the world’s dangerous places via books!
Five explosive thrillers set around the world – It’s always fun to see where you end up travelling to when you start a book. Sometimes you can go to a new country, a new town, discover a new beach…There’s a selection of thrillers out there though that allow you to travel into a world you hope never comes true….one where nuclear weapons rule, where terrorists have taken over and where the end of the world is closer than you think.
Nuclear energy, chemical warfare, terrorism are all sadly relevant issues in today’s world. Experiencing them via fiction however allows you to stay safe whilst being in some of the most dangerous landscapes on earth..
Jeepers, if you’re afraid of the way the world is going regarding nuclear weapons then you might (not) want to read this! Mattias has taken the worries, dangers and fears, mixed them all together and then grown them into something else entirely. What I loved about this novel is that he has set it in Sweden, where there is a long history of nuclear energy research and development. There are underground tunnels under Stockholm, a hotel with a secret passageway and a race against time……
Claymore Straker works as an oil company engineer in the wilds of Yemen when he is hijacked at gunpoint by Islamic terrorists. There’s mysterious sickness afflicting the village of Al Urush, close to the company’s oil-processing facility so Clay wants to find out how they are connected. It’s interesting to find out about these issues in a thriller as you get to the heart of the action – the author is an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. An author with a unique background writing about unique and fascinating situations.
Starting off in Teeside (where the book notes that this is where ICI, the famous chemical company was located in its heyday), the book follows a truck of chemical produce across Eastern Europe. The book focuses on the events and the journey of the chemical products to Chernobyl. This of course was the infamous nuclear plant where there was a major explosion in 1986.
The author works in the chemical trade in Teeside herself so she know what she’s talking about!
What happened after Chernobyl? What happened to the people who lost their family? What happened to those who survived? Forced to leave their contaminated homes? Try to survive despite their poisoned bodies? What life was there left if any in that zone around the nuclear factory? Take that background and add a thriller of a detective looking for someone still missing, and you have a cracking thriller on your hands.
We all fear a city being the victim of a major attack. It’s already happened – planes hitting the world trade centre, poisonous gases released on the Tokyo Tube, mass shootings in schools and cities. What would happen if someone tampered with the water system, our energy supplies, turned the very technology we rely on and take for granted, to work against us?
In this thriller, someone wants to avenge all those who died and suffered at Hiroshima…..
Whichever book you read, it’s going to be one heck of an explosive ride!
Competition to win one of three copies of Those Who Are Loved
If you’re dying to get your hands on the new (and not yet released) novel by Victoria Hislop then why not enter The BookTrail’s competition!? Those wonderful people at Headline have offered us THREE copies up for grabs for three lucky readers. UK only.
What’s the book about?
Athens 1941. After decades of political uncertainty, Greece is polarised between Right- and Left-wing views when the Germans invade.
Fifteen-year-old Themis comes from a family divided by these political differences. The Nazi occupation deepens the fault-lines between those she loves just as it reduces Greece to destitution. She watches friends die in the ensuing famine and is moved to commit acts of resistance.
In the civil war that follows the end of the occupation, Themis joins the Communist army, where she experiences the extremes of love and hatred and the paradoxes presented by a war in which Greek fights Greek.
Eventually imprisoned on the infamous islands of exile, Makronisos and then Trikeri, Themis encounters another prisoner whose life will entwine with her own in ways neither can foresee. And finds she must weigh her principles against her desire to escape and live.
As she looks back on her life, Themis realises how tightly the personal and political can become entangled. While some wounds heal, others deepen.
It’s as fascinating as it is exquistly written and researched.
To enter: go to either Instagram, Twitter or Facebook and follow, like/share and then answer one questions:
Where in Greece would you like to go to and why?
Competition ends May 26th at 5pm
Hislop’s novel of Athens, Greece during the Nazi occupation
Those Who Are Loved – Victoria Hislop – A novel set in the time of the German occupation of Athens and Greece at large. The struggles of Athens, the small coastal towns are well documented but it’s the personal experiences of the time that shines through with Victoria’s novel. She takes you back in time, to the human heart of the story.
Eleftheria is the main character whose voice we hear, whose story is told. She has a crumbling house, her husband spent years at sea over the years and her four children created chaos and noise. But it’s this setting where this lady holds firm, holds family together and where she tells her story… the story of the German occupation of Greece and what that meant to the people…
You can always rely on Victoria Hislop to take you away to another time and place. She has that magic touch where she mixes well researched history and a personal love of a country and its people and paints a vivid, raw and fascinating picture.
The story starts in Athens in 2016 . It’s here we meet Themis who is an old woman and is gathering her family around to tell them a story. Her story, Their story. This then takes us back to the 1930s as we take Themis’s hand and go with her as she opens her heart and soul.
Get the tissues read – this is a tearful and often painfully emotional journey. Themis and her siblings are growing up and the world is one of excitement and wonder. At least it should be. War is looming and the communists are ruling Greece. The family is divided over the rights and wrongs of this war.
Later on, Themis joins the communists fighters but ends up as a prisoner. Her experiences and story at this point will make you read slower. The raw emotion rise up from the page on each and every word. There is violence, injustice, hard labour and worse. These parts of the book were very raw and as she tells the story, you can only imagine what her family are thinking and going through with her. This is the pain she carries with her to the present day. There is so much to learn about the German occupation of Greece. I admit I knew practically nothing of this. A fascinating yet painful period of history. Hislop presents this in a very accessible way which has more impact than any history book could ever have. This has the Hislop personal touch.
You have to find out what happens for yourself as Themis is such a wonderful character. Her voice must come to you when it’s just you and her via this book. I was moved throughout and stunned at the level of research involved. It never felt like I was reading a history book though such is the skill of the author. Hislop manages to mix fact and fiction and create a tapestry of history and human soul. When you look, you don’t see the individual stitches, but step back and what an overall picture of heritage and history presents itself to you.
Set against the stunning backdrop of Sammezzano Castle, past meets present in the glorious Tuscan sun! If ever there was a novel to transport you to a real life location of a gothic castle high up in the Tuscan hills, with years of secrets in its walls…. then this is the novel for you.
Allegra O’Brien has never forgotten her Italian grandfathers tales of the mysterious Peacock Room which inspires her to travel out to Tuscany to learn more about her heritage….and of course the mysteries within that room and castle….
One of the strongest and most striking locations I’ve ever come across in a novel in a long while. I had trouble believing such a fairytale like castle and room could exist. Happily it does. Although it’s fallen into disrepair now, the castle is very much a real fixture in the Tuscan countryside.
Allegra heads out there from England after her marriage collapses. Her grandfather has dementia but in his lucid moments often talks about a castle in Tuscany and so she heads out there to investigate. She needs a break and decides to spend her time looking into her family’s past. There’s a few dubious moments and bad decisions when she first arrives (Allegra, really) However, the mystery soon gets going and draws you deeper inside that castle and that room with the peacock colours….
It was the story about the family history and that gorgeous peacock room which grabbed me from the off. The grandfather had an interesting past! Sometimes this was overshadowed by family dramas and some very bad decisions on Allegra’s part but, on the whole, the mystery stood firm. I do think it would have been even stronger had it not been for the many moments of Allegra’s rather tangled love life though!
I will never forget this visit to Sammezzano Castle. How much time have I spent looking at the gorgeous Peacock Room and all that it represents. It’s a very clever idea for a novel as it’s real, mysterious, crumbling, gothic and has that dark fairytale vibe about it.
The vivid description of the castle and its many unique rooms (365 one for every day of the year!) is a character in itself, one that will make you want to transport yourself there immediately.
And in a book where a location is such a strong feature and character, that’s no bad thing.
Meditations on Time and a City. The Bells of Old Tokyo
Book set in Tokyo – The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman – Not a novel but a book which explores in depth, the colourful history, culture, people and language of Tokyo. It’s a very beautiful and thought-provoking exploration of the history and culture of this bustling city and its residents that is a mix of memoir, cultural history, and more.
“The book is structured around Anna’s search for the eight lost bells that once surrounded the city. These bells marked the city’s neighborhoods and kept time for its inhabitants before the introduction of Western-style clocks. The bells are tangible vestiges of a much older Japan—one that believed in time as represented by animals and the zodiac, rather than minutes and hours, a circle rather than a forward line.”
A very interesting concept for a book and a guide book to Tokyo. It’s not a novel , guide book or any one of these things, but a mix of many and that’s what so appealing. We travel and discover the land and its people with Anna, who as an outsider, has an interesting view of this fascinating country and city.
I loved the idea of the bells and the concept of time. Something we take for granted now, but which started off very differently in other countries is something which always fascinates me. Time seems so set now, but it’s actually one of the most changeable and fleeting concepts. I am still amazed when they change the clocks for daylight saving time and the idea of time zones, but that’s another story.
The language is lyrical and fascinating. The author manages to blend the ideas she has and places she comes across in the most lyrical of ways:
“I would take not the elevated expressway routes, or the Yamanote Line railway that rings the heart of Tokyo, but trace areas in which the bells could be heard, the pattern that on a map looked like raindrops striking water. Winds could carry the ringing notes far out into Tokyo Bay; or the rain silence them as if they had never existed.
A circle has an infinite number of beginnings. The direction I walked would change, just as the circles on the map could change.
There were boundaries, but they were not fixed.”
Sherman’s Tokyo is a compelling one at that. If I could afford to, I would fly there right now, this book in hand, and use it as the most unique guides and insights I could ever hope to find. It’s essentially a travelogue mapped out by the city’s bells through time. If this book were a clock, the hour hand would be the one showcasing the main ideas and areas of the city, with the second hand whirling around with interesting facts. Anna takes us with us on the journey and we visit the bells that still exist. I found this to be a very enticing way of introducing someone to a city or even guiding them around one you might know. It’s an extremely clever way of travelling around a city and getting to know it in so many interesting ways.
This Travel Tuesday what better prize to have than a book entitled If You Could Go Anywhere? Where would you go? Which destination would you choose? Would it be somewhere a book is set or somewhere you’ve always wanted to go?
Paige Toon’s latest book (out later this week) asks a very important question:
How can you find where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’re from?
Angie has always wanted to travel. But at twenty-seven, she has barely stepped outside the small mining town where she was born. Instead, she discovers the world through stories told to her by passing travellers, dreaming that one day she’ll see it all for herself.
When her grandmother passes away, leaving Angie with no remaining family, she is ready to start her own adventures. Then she finds a letter revealing the address of the father she never knew, and realises instantly where her journey must begin: Italy.
As Angie sets out to find the truth – about her family, her past and who she really is – will mysterious and reckless Italian Alessandro help guide the way?
PS I LOVED IT!!!!
For the chance to win One of THREE copies of this fantastic read……
Where would YOU like to travel to the most and why?
Answer the question via twitter or instagram – RT and Like the post too!
To celebrate the publication of @PaigeToonAuthor’s beautiful new novel next Thursday, Paige will be doing a Facebook Live at 8pm on publication day, taking all things #IfYouCouldGoAnywhere! Don’t miss it… https://www.facebook.com/PaigeToonAuthor
If you could go anywhere, where would you go? asks Paige Toon
Book set between Australia and Italy – If You Could Go Anywhere by Paige Toon – Now there’s a question it would take me ages to answer. Anywhere in the world? There are so many places at number one on the list! If you’re Angie in the story however, then she has one choice when she finds out she has family connections in Rome. Having lived out in the middle of nowhere in Australia, she’s keen to travel. But her wings have been clipped by circumstance. Now, she gets the chance to fly and so fly she does.
Going half way across the world to uncover some family secrets however is not the journey she dreamed of.
I loved this book so much! If this doesn’t awaken even the smallest bit of wanderlust as you read it, then why not? You’ll certainly add to the airmiles with this novel alone. A girl living in a very rural town in Australia, most famous for opal mining, dreams of life elsewhere. She then finds out she’s got family connections to Italy and once there, she travels around, meets her family and finds out a lot more than she could have ever imagined.
Australia and Coober Pedy
I was with Angie from the start. I felt her confusion, pain and regret at not being able to travel but that coupled with her guilt of the death of family members was very emotional. She liked the small mining town of Coober Pedy where she lived (it’s like living in Fred Flintstone’s house apparently or the planet where Luke Skywalker did in the films). Those facts alone would make me want to go there! There was some gorgeous scene setting here, and interesting facts about opal mining! Even before she set off on her travels I was hooked.
Rome and travel around Italy…
And then, well things got even better. She goes to Rome to find out about the family she never knew she had. That cliched phrase about someone going on a journey is very apt here. Not only does she navigate her family connections, but she also gets the chance to tour many cities in Italyu whilst doing it. This was the part of the novel that really excited me. There were actual mini tours around Rome, Tivoli, Pompeii, Venice and Florence and it all slotted in so well with the story that it never felt out of place. She travelled, and discovered gems in Italy and so did we, the reader.
The locations were wonderfully evoked and provided extra meaning and relevance to the story. There’s a lot to discover for this girl and the fact she’s come from a remote part of Australia and now finds herself in Italy is an interesting contrast.The locations cleverly reflect her character development.
There’s more than one thread to this family mystery and there’s no spoilers here! Suffice to say that there’s a lot of unexpected drama and discovery. I loved the romantic element too, the discoveries about family members and secrets from the past. All in all, the threads of one mystery unravel, linking one location to another, forming a very interesting pattern!
It’s a brilliantly written story and everything ties up nicely. The ending is just right and the sense of wanderlust is palpable. I think a great many holidays will be booked after reading this!.
The story of CS Lewis and Mrs Lewis, their letters and love
Who was the man behind such great childhood reads as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? CS Lewis brought joy to millions across the world when he created Narnia and made climbing into wardrobes more fun than ever before. What was the great man like himself however? Did he have a happy life? In this Novel set in Oxford – Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan, the story becomes clear…
This is the fictional story, but one based on true fact, of the marriage of CS Lewis to New Yorker Joy Davidman, seen through her eyes….
I always enjoy these stories where someone has fictionalised a story that is based on the life of a great literary figure. In this case, it’s CS Lewis and his wife Joy Davidson. They were penpals and wrote letters to each other before she emigrated from the USA and moved to Oxford to be with him.
She brings with her two sons and she’s looking for happiness after everything she’s been through. She is a strict Christian and seeks answers she can’t find elsewhere. She finds something in CS Lewis, and he, in her. I found this part of the book to be really uplifting – when Joy begins to explore and test her faith. This is how she starts writing to C.S. Lewis, about questions of faith, but their letters, going back and forth across the ocean soon bound them in ways no one could have imagined.
This is the story of their lives and the obstacles they both face along the way. There’s some very emotional scenes here so be aware! It’s fascinating to see behind the scenes of such a famous author and his wife. The man who brought so much joy to readers and still does: you want him to have been happy and settled himself. The man behind Narnia! There is some magic in his life, but a lot of sadness and seen through the eyes of Joy, this story allows you to see a lot of what you might not see if this story had been written by Lewis himself.
This novel however is not just the love story of Joy and Jack. It’s an ode to literature – their ode to books and stories everywhere. There’s a lot to enjoy here and it’s a fascinating insightful read into the world of books, love letters and one of the greatest writers of his time and his wife – she who was so important to him in so many ways. I love it when the story of a writer’s life tells a story of its own!
Very interesting and a great way of mixing fact and fiction!