Here I am!

Hello and welcome!

To those of you who have followed me over from Helen Loves Books, you’ll see that all my old content is still here (including your comments) – I wanted a fresh start with a new name and new look, but I didn’t want to lose all those reviews I’d worked so hard on!  If you’re wondering about the new name, see the quote at the top of my sidebar (it’s not completely true because I do sometimes read the Sunday papers, but I’m much more likely to spend my Sundays with a novel).

There is one other change that you might notice – I’ve made the decision to remove my five star rating system.  From now on my reviews will not be given conventional ratings, but if it’s a book I particularly enjoyed it will be marked as either Recommended or Highly Recommended.  Other than that, everything else is the same.

To those of you who are visiting for the first time and are wondering what I’m talking about, I have just moved from Blogger to WordPress.  I’ve successfully imported my old Blogger content but there may still be some broken links or things that just don’t look right – don’t worry, I’m going to be working on tidying things up over the next few days.

I hope you all like the new blog!

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Review and Giveaway: Our Promised Land by Michael T. Darkow

Our Promised Land by Michael T. Darkow is a book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the Holy Land. Keep reading for your chance to win a copy.

My review:

Our Promised Land follows the lives of two families, each on different sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The story begins during World War II when we see Ellie Liebowisc, who is a Jew, being herded onto a train with his mother and a group of other Jews from their town, having been told that they were going to be ‘resettled’ (‘resettlement’ being a euphemism for the concentration camp and gas chamber). However, Ellie is one of the lucky ones who survives the war and makes his way to the newly created Israel, determined that his people shouldn’t have suffered for nothing.

Next we are introduced to Yasif, a Palestinian boy whose family and neighbours are growing increasingly unhappy about the arrival of the Jews. Yasif is given the chance to go and study in America, but even there he can’t escape from what is going on – and a mysterious voice refuses to let him forget…

Before I started to read this book I thought I might have difficulty understanding it, as the Palestinian-Israeli situation is a subject I know very little about. However, I felt I came away from the book with a better knowledge of the origins of the conflict and why the people involved feel the way they do.

One of the things I really liked about the book was that it is told from both the Israeli and the Palestinian viewpoint, so that the reader is able to see things from two different perspectives. Whilst I was reading Ellie’s sections of the book I felt saddened and angered by the treatment the Jews had received and I could understand his feelings. The opening scenes when he and his mother arrived at the concentration camp were very moving and stayed in my mind even after finishing the book. On the other hand, during Yasif’s part of the story I could sympathise with the Palestinians. This was a good approach for a neutral reader like myself who has no personal involvement in the conflict. The only characters I didn’t sympathise with were those who unfortunately thought the way to solve things was through violence and terrorism.

The book has an unusual structure being told in a series of vignettes, or snapshots of particular moments, moods and ideas. This means it’s sometimes necessary for the story to jump forward in time quite abruptly, but overall I think it was an effective structure. The author also provides a time line at the front of the book to help clarify the historical background.

I would recommend this book to readers who want to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Publisher: Synergy Books/Year: 2010/Pages: 192/Source: I received a review copy of this book from the author.

Giveaway (Open worldwide)

Would you like the chance to win a copy of Our Promised Land? Michael T. Darkow is kindly offering 5 copies of the book to readers of this blog.

To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post, including a valid email address. Only one entry per person please.

This is an international giveaway and will end on Thursday April 29th.  Good luck!

Read-a-Thon: Final Update

Well, the April 2010 Read-a-Thon is almost over. I hope everyone enjoyed it! I’ve been reading some more of The Warden this morning and am almost finished now, so my total for the read-a-thon is one and three-quarter books. I knew I wouldn’t read as much as a lot of other bloggers, so I’m quite happy with that. It was fun anyway – I took part in a few mini-challenges and was even chosen to win a prize in Hour 11!

Thanks to all the read-a-thon co-hosts, mini-challenge hosts, cheerleaders and everyone else who was involved in making this such a great event!

Hour 10 Update

Hour 10 already! The book I’m currently reading is The Warden by Anthony Trollope. I’ve been wanting to read something by Trollope for such a long time but for some reason have just never got round to it until now.

I’m going to have to go to bed soon, but since the read-a-thon doesn’t finish here until 1pm tomorrow afternoon, I should have plenty of time to continue reading in the morning. Good luck to everyone in a different time zone or who is planning to read all night!

Mini-Challenge

This hour I also took part in another mini-challenge – Where in the World Have You Read Today? hosted by nomadreader. We were asked to place a pin on a map to show the location where the book we’re reading is set, so I posted one in England which is where The Warden takes place.

Hour 6: Update

1/4 of the way through the read-a-thon now – and I’ve finished my first book, Our Promised Land by Michael T. Darkow. You can look out for my review of that one later in the week, as I’m not planning to post any reviews during the read-a-thon.

Mini-Challenge

I couldn’t resist taking part in this Mini-Challenge hosted by Bart’s Bookshelf. For this challenge we were asked to put together a sentence formed by the titles of three or four books – here’s what I came up with:


Wild Swans Haunted The Italian

I hope everyone who’s taking part in the read-a-thon is having fun. I’m going back to my books now!

The Read-a-Thon Begins!

It’s 1:00pm here in the UK which means the April 2010 Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon has begun! This is the first time I’ve participated – I had only been blogging for a few days when last October’s Read-a-Thon took place and I didn’t know about it until it was too late. I’m very excited about being able to join in this time!

Here are my answers to the Hour 1 Meme:

Where are you reading from today? I’m at home and at the moment I’m in my nice peaceful bedroom away from the noise of the TV! It’s a lovely sunny spring day here, though, so I’ll be spending some of the day reading outside in the garden.

3 facts about me…
1. I work in admin.
2. I have one younger sister.
3. My middle name is Louise.

How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? I haven’t decided exactly which books I’ll be reading, but I have about 10-15 that I’ll be choosing from depending on my mood.

Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? No – as this is my first read-a-thon I didn’t want to set any goals for myself. I just can’t seem to read as quickly as a lot of other bloggers and I don’t want to feel under any pressure. I’m also not planning to go without sleep – I work full time during the week so I look forward to being able to catch up on some sleep at the weekend!

If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time? No – not a veteran.

Good luck to everyone else who is taking part!

I’m planning to spend most of my time actually reading rather than blogging etc, but I’ll post a few updates throughout the 24 hours to let you know how I’m doing.

The first book I’m reading is Our Promised Land by Michael T. Darkow.

Review: The Doctor’s Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Isabel Sleaford lives in a dream world filled with characters from novels by Dickens, Scott and Thackeray. She longs to break away from her boring existence as a children’s governess and live the exciting life of one of the heroines in her favourite books. When parish doctor George Gilbert proposes to her, she accepts but quickly finds that her marriage isn’t providing the drama and adventure she’s been dreaming of. George is a good man, but he’s practical, down to earth – and boring, at least in Isabel’s opinion. After meeting Roland Lansdell, the squire of Mordred Priory, she becomes even more discontented. Roland is romantic, poetic and imaginative – in other words, he’s everything that George isn’t…

This is the second Mary Elizabeth Braddon book I’ve read – the first was the book that she’s best known for today, the sensation novel Lady Audley’s Secret. Apparently The Doctor’s Wife was Braddon’s attempt at writing a more serious, literary novel, with a plot inspired by Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. The Doctor’s Wife is not very ‘sensational’ – apart from maybe the final few chapters – and although it’s interesting and compelling in a different way, if you’re expecting something similar to Lady Audley you might be slightly disappointed. At one point in the book, Braddon even tells us “this is not a sensation novel!”

The focus of The Doctor’s Wife is the development of Isabel Gilbert from a sentimental girl with her head permanently in the clouds into a sensible and mature woman. I didn’t like Isabel much at all, though I’m not really sure if I was supposed to. Throughout most of the book she was just so silly and immature – wishing that she would catch a terrible illness or some other tragedy would befall her, just so she could have some excitement in her life – although as several of the other characters pointed out, she wasn’t a bad person, just childish and foolish. It was sad that her own romantic notions and ideals were preventing her from having any chance of happiness.

I thought some of the minor characters were much more interesting and I would have liked them to have played a bigger part in the story. I particularly loved Sigismund Smith, who was a friend of both George and Isabel, and a ‘sensation author’ – probably a parody of Mary Elizabeth Braddon herself. Sigismund (whose real name is Sam) is a writer of ‘penny numbers’ – cheap, serialised adventure stories. His enthusiasm for his work and his unusual methods of researching his novels provide most of the humour in the book.

Due to Isabel’s reading, almost every page contains allusions to characters and events from various novels, plays and poems – most of which I haven’t read – so I found myself constantly having to turn to the notes at the back of the book (until I decided I could follow the story well enough without understanding all the references to Edith Dombey and Ernest Maltravers).

Overall, this was another great book from Mary Elizabeth Braddon, although not quite what I was expecting.

Highly Recommended

Genre: Classics/Pages: 431/Publisher: Oxford University Press/Year: 2008 – originally published 1864/Source: My own copy purchased new

The Sunday Salon: Easter Edition

Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate it – and Happy Sunday to those who don’t!

On Thursday the winners of the Book Drum tournament were announced. You may remember a few months ago I mentioned that I was working on a profile of The Far Pavilions for the tournament. I didn’t win, but that’s okay because I wasn’t really expecting to – my profile should hopefully still be going online eventually and I’ll let you know when it does.

So what exactly is Book Drum? It’s a great new website with the aim of bringing books to life. Each book has its own profile – members can create a new one or add to the existing one – with pictures, videos, maps, reviews and anything else that will help other readers to understand and enjoy the book.

The winning profile was Victoria Hooper’s profile of The Odyssey. I have never actually read The Odyssey, although I’m familiar with the story, but if and when I do read it I’m sure Victoria’s profile will be very useful.

I posted two reviews this week – the first was O, Juliet, Robin Maxwell’s retelling of Romeo and Juliet which I gave 3.5 stars. The other was a re-read of one of my all-time favourites, Watership Down. The book I’m currently reading is The Doctor’s Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I read Braddon’s most famous book Lady Audley’s Secret a few years ago and loved it – I’m only four chapters into The Doctor’s Wife but so far it’s proving to be almost as good.

Next weekend (starting April 10th) it’s Dewey’s 24-hour Read-a-Thon! This will be the first time I’ve had the opportunity to take part in the Read-a-Thon since I started blogging, so I’m really looking forward to it.

Until then, have a great Easter and a great week!

Review: Watership Down by Richard Adams

I first read Watership Down when I was about 10 years old. It immediately became my favourite book and I re-read it many times. However, it’s been a long time since my last re-read and I wondered if I would still love it as much as I used to.

I know some people may consider a book about talking rabbits to be silly and childish, but Watership Down is not really a ‘children’s book’. It’s one of those books that can be enjoyed on different levels by people of all ages. In fact, the writing style and vocabulary used in this book is of a higher standard than many ‘adult’ books. It’s also not just ‘a book about rabbits’ – it’s a book about friendship, leadership, freedom, adventure, happiness, sadness and so much more.

Hazel and his brother Fiver are two young rabbits living in the peaceful Sandleford Warren. When Fiver has a premonition that the warren is going to be destroyed, he convinces Hazel and several of their friends to embark on an epic journey to find a new home. During their search for Fiver’s ‘safe, high place’, they encounter a number of problems and dangers including humans, predators and even other rabbits. The biggest obstacle of all, however, comes with the realization that as the group consists solely of male rabbits, they urgently need to find some females – this leads to a daring attempt to rescue some does from the overcrowded enemy warren of Efrafa…

Hazel and his friends are not cute little bunnies. They are intelligent, resourceful animals capable of solving almost any problem that is thrown at them. When faced with having to cross a river, for example, they observe that a plank of wood is floating on the surface of the water and they figure out how to use it as a raft. The rabbits are given such human thoughts and emotions that you can easily forget they’re actually not human! However, from a physical and behavioural point of view, they always behave like real wild rabbits. Richard Adams used R. M. Lockley’s The Private Life of the Rabbit as his reference.

Each rabbit has their own individual personality – Hazel is the leader, Fiver the sensitive prophet, Bigwig the fighter, Blackberry the brains, Dandelion the storyteller, Bluebell the clown, and so on. This allows every reader to identify with at least one rabbit and to choose a favourite (mine was always Bigwig, who at the beginning of the book was overbearing and aggressive but learned some important lessons during the journey to Watership Down and ended as one of the most highly respected rabbits in the warren).

One of the things I love about this book is the way Richard Adams has created an entire rabbit world. This includes:

  • A rabbit language, known as Lapine. Even before I began my re-read of the book, I could still remember that hrududu is the Lapine word for car, that a lendri is a badger, and Elil means enemies.
  • A rabbit religion. Rabbits are taught that Frith created the world and is represented by the sun. Inle is the word for moon, and the Black Rabbit of Inle is a grim reaper-type character who appears when a rabbit is about to die. The rabbits often talk about “ni-Frith” – noon – and “fu Inle” – after moonrise.
  • Rabbit folklore. The rabbits love to listen to stories about their hero, the legendary El-ahrairah, ‘the Prince with a Thousand Enemies’.

I think the author’s wonderfully detailed descriptions of the English countryside also deserve a special mention. As almost all of the places he writes about – the farms, hills, valleys and meadows – are places that really exist, it would be possible to follow the rabbits’ journey on a map or even to visit them yourself.

So, did I still enjoy this book as much as I did when I was 10? Yes, of course I did. No matter how many other books I read, Watership Down will always hold a special place in my heart.  I’ll leave you with a favourite quote from the book:

“‘Animals don’t behave like men,’ he said. ‘If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don’t sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures’ lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.'”

Highly Recommended

Genre: General Fiction/Pages: 478/Publisher: Penguin/Year: 1972/Source: My own copy

This review is part of my Great Books series.