Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Rockin Around The Christmas Tree

From the first of December I like to dig out my Christmas CDs and play them almost continuously up until ( and definitely including! ) Christmas Day. I love the traditional carols but over the years I've collected a real eclectic mix of music.
The CD that I play again and again, is James Taylor At Christmas. I love his voice and this is a great collection of jolly and some melancholy tunes, he does a great cover of Joni Mitchell's "River" and a fun rendition of "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Natalie Cole. This is such a mellow album, it makes really effective background music for Christmas dinner and other festive occasions.
Last year I bought Carol King's "A Christmas Carole" which is a very pleasant collection of old and new, there are some non-traditional tunes on the album that make a nice change to the usual Christmas songs. Similarly Enya's "And Winter Came.." mixes old and new, I love her version of "Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel", it is my favourite Christmas carol of all.
I do love Zooey Deschanel and her album with M Ward "A Very She & Him Christmas" is a delightful indie take on Christmas, really joyful. Tracey Thorn's recent release "Tinsel And Lights" is slightly more melancholy ( it includes an obligatory cover of "River"!) but I really like her voice from Everything But The Girl days and this cd is a great addition to my Christmas collection.
Finally, I caved in this year after complaints from everyone at my birthday tea party about my James Taylor overkill, and I bought the Michael Buble Christmas cd. I like his voice but find him incredibly cheesy, however, as Christmas is the season of cheese, this album does the job!
My absolute favourite Christmas songs are Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas" and "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses. Which songs make your Christmas special?

Monday, 17 December 2012

Birthday treats

It was my birthday last week and I decided to throw an afternoon tea party. Afternoon tea is my favourite thing and for the past two birthdays we have been to Harvey Nichols and Cloud 23 in Manchester's iconic Beetham Tower. I have had marvellous times but in these belt-tightening days, I thought I would invite more people but do an "at home". I baked scones, my daughter baked her delicious lemon drizzle and my friend Pat baked a lovely chocolate cake. There was a superb cupcake bouquet from Stuart Thornley Bakers and finger sandwiches and wraps from M&S ( I didn't want to be bogged down too much in the kitchen!). The Prosecco and tea were poured all afternoon and the jolliest time was had by me, my fantastic friends and my dear family. It was a "ladies only" event so my husband took my nephew to see "Skyfall". I did save them some crumbs!
I had some great gifts too, I love my "Go Away, I'm Reading" mug ( someone knows me TOO well!) and my daughter bought me a new collection of Sylvia Plath's poems edited by Carol Ann Duffy. I will smell divine, be well-read, eat sweetly and be supping champers for a long time! Oh, I DO love birthdays!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

My November Reads

November is such a busy month, with both my husband's and daughter's birthday arriving, and Christmas shopping starting in ernest. However, I can always squeeze in some reading!
My book club read this month was "The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje. A young boy from Sri Lanka ( Ceylon as it was then) is sent to England on a liner in the early 1950s and finds himself amongst the characters of the cat's table, that is the one furthest away from the Captain's table. The book describes his experiences on board and how they affect his adult life. This was a bit of an odd read, beautifully written as one would expect from Ondaatje, and the characters were very well drawn. However, not an awful lot happens, and the constant flip-flopping from the past to the narrator's present, made it rather disjointed. It was a bit of a "meh" read really.
Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Remains Of The Day" was excellent in comparison, again, not a lot actually happens but oh, how beautiful and tragic it is. Stevens, a butler at a stately manor in the 1950s, drives through the English countryside to visit Miss Kenton with whom he used to work. It is such a haunting novel, I found it very moving and the final pages had me in tears. Ishiguro is a wonderful writer, his prose is so vivid, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Monica Ali used to attend my daughter's school so I always keep an eye out for her books, I really enjoyed "Brick Lane". "Untold Story" is a strange tale, Princess Diana isn't dead, she faked it in a boating accident and is now living incognito in Kensington, America. She has a contented life, working at a dog sanctuary, until a former paparazzo coincidentally arrives in town and recognises her, this received poor reviews and I can see why. I kept on reading as I wanted to see what would happen, but it really isn't very good. The characters were all cliche-ridden, the plot full of holes and even for a work of fiction, it was exceedingly far-fetched. A strange book from such a talented writer.
Another writer I enjoy is Ian McEwan, I think "Atonement" is one of my all-time favourite books. "The Child In Time" is one of his earlier works. It is a deeply sad tale of a couple whose three year old daughter goes missing from a supermarket and the effect this has on the lives of the mother, but the father, children's writer Stephen Lewis, in particular. It takes place in a world that isn't quite contemporary Britain, and this sense that everything isn't quite right is enhanced as Stephen's deep grief can even play tricks on time. This isn't an easy read, in any sense, but it is interesting to see McEwan's development as a writer.
John O'Farrell is a very funny writer and "The Man Who Forgot His Wife" has some very amusing lines in it. Vaughan finds himself on a train with no idea who he is, he has had a "fugue" and the story follows him as he tries to find out who he is. When he comes across his wife, he instantly adores her, but discovers they were about to divorce. I enjoyed this book, it's light hearted but also deals with deep themes of love and loss and what makes us "us".
Benjamin Wood's debut novel is "The Bellwether Revivals", set in Cambridge it is an odd tale of Eden Bellwether who thinks he can cure illness through the power of music. I don't really like the plot device of putting the denouement right at the start, a lot of the tension is lost in such a way as we know what will happen. However, this was well written and I was drawn into the privileged world of the Bellwethers and the care worker, Oscar, who falls in love with Eden's sister. It has been compared to Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" and I can see the parallels. Worth a read when it appears in paperback, I got a cheap hardback from The Book People!