Secret Santa 2015 – Part Two

After Part One, this post finishes our round up of the books that we gave each other to hide under the Christmas Tree…

The LieMichele received The Lie by Helen Dunmore.

The Guardian describes this as a “tender tale” about how the horror of the trenches continues to haunt a soldier after the he returns to his Cornwall village. Michele said this wasn’t a book that she would normally have chosen, but that she had enjoyed it.

The book was from Malcolm, who has been steadily working through Dunmore’s books since being introduced to the author from a Secret Santa of a few years ago (Margaret had passed on Talking to the Dead, which was subsequently also read by several other Book Chat members)!

Michele’s score: an enjoyable 8/10

The Signature Of All ThingsMalcolm received The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, which at 499 pages was one of the chunkiest books in this years Bag. The story revolves around Alma Whittaker – a woman born in the nineteenth century to a wealthy and influential plant trader. These circumstances allow Alma to develop her interest in science and particularly in a detailed study of mosses, which she pursues steadfastly until she meets Ambrose Pike – a talented illustrator with a profoundly spiritual outlook. The two marry but then split after it becomes clear that Ambrose will never meet all of Alma’s desires. But Malcolm noted that this is only one part of the novel, which travels to several locations around the world and also includes a number of other interesting characters and well-written stories.

Malcolm’s score: a chunky 7/10

This was from John, who wasn’t at the meeting but reported back on his book, which was How to be Both by Ali Smith.

HowToBeBothWikipedia explains that this story is told from two perspectives. One is of George, a pedantic 16-year-old girl living in contemporary Cambridge, the other is from an Italian renaissance artist called Francesco. Two versions of the book were published simultaneously, one in which George’s story appears first, the other in which Francesco’s comes first. The separate tales are linked by frescos painted by Francesco, which are later viewed by George.

Unfortunately, John had only read a hundred or so pages before deciding that this novel was too complex for his taste.

John’s score: a straightforward 2/10.

AfterTheFallMargaret has gifted How to Be Both. Her own Secret Santa was After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress.

Margaret was amused to note that this copy of the 2012 novel seemed to have been sourced (stolen)? from Baltimore County Public Library. She described it as a  “desirably slim” book about the apocalypse, looking at life before, during and after the event. It has Gaian overtones and considers a small group of survivors, time travel,  and foraging. There are also two different cultures or worlds explored and the relationships between Peoples in each culture move the stories along. Overall, Margaret enjoyed the book, finding it well-written and easy to read.

Margaret’s score: a desirable 8/10

LamentationMargaret’s book had been from Jill, whose own Santa was Lamentation by C J Sansom. This is one of a series of  novels featuring the character of Matthew Shardlake. Jill described the book as a historical fiction which is set in the time of Henry VIII. This gives the book some parallels with Wolf Hall, although in Sansom’s case the characters are all fictional and the story takes the form of a mystery. The Guardian comments that the Shardlake series is a a dark read, providing a Horrible Histories for grownups!

Jill’s score: not at all horrible, at 8/10


TheHenWhoDreamedSheCouldFlyLamentation had been Jade’s gift. She in turn received The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang.  Jade summarised this as being a “beautifully-written, simple yet wonderful little fable” that she would highly recommend. The book manages to cover some of life’s biggest challenges – love, loss, motherhood, and following your dreams no matter what problems you face. Jade describes the heroine as a “courageous little soul who follows her heart and never gives up”. And the story works on a number of different levels; you could read it to a child or be seriously moved by it as an adult. It somehow manages to be both a tear-jerker and incredibly uplifting.

Jade’s score: an uplifting 9/10.

The Hen was from Helen , whose review of Sally Morgan’s My Place is in Part One.




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