New Read: Our Zoo

Our Zoo

Last year I watched the BBC’s charming drama series Our Zoo (2014) which dramatised the life and work of George Mottershead and his family who created Chester Zoo. At the end of the series though I was left wanted more so it was fortuitous for me when I spotted the memoir Our Zoo by June Mottershead.

Our Zoo chronicles the up and downs, successes and failures of the Mottershead family. George Mottershead is a determined and hardworking man who has the vision to create a zoological garden for the people, not just the rich, to enjoy where the animals would live in comfortable enclosures without bars. George decides to create his vision at Oakfield Manor in Upton but it is to face many obstacles; funding issues, protests from villagers, sickness, bombing raids, rationing, escapee animals and death. George and his family never give up though and Chester Zoo is still going to this day.

The family consists of George, his wife Lizzie, and their daughters Muriel and June. George’s parents Albert and Lucy also move to Oakfield Manor to help. They are a nice, strong family unit. June our narrator was only 4 years old when they made the move to establish the zoo so has never known any other life. There is a large age gap between June and her sister Muriel, who is virtually an adult and becomes the first keeper at the zoo. Meanwhile June’s friends and playmates become the animals themselves, in particular the cheeky chimpanzee called Mary. I enjoyed hearing from the innocent perspective of June and found it interesting to see how she grew physically and emotionally.

I picked up Our Zoo by June Mottershead because I had enjoyed the BBC’s drama so much. I am pleased to say I enjoyed this just as much. It was wonderfully nostalgic to see what it was like to work in Britain of the 1930’s and 1940’s, touching to see the troubles and deaths they endured but still never lost hope, and inspiring to see how this working class family finally built their dream. There are differences between real life and the TV drama but mainly to do with scope, the real life story is much longer and more intricate than I think the TV drama could have ever covered. I am pleased to have got to know the Mottershead family more closely.

Our Zoo is a nostalgic, touching and inspiring memoir of June, her family and their zoo. I recommend to those interested in memoirs, family, animals, and history. Good read.

Thank you to Headline for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Did you watch the BBC drama?

Re-Read: The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring

With the release of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) Peter Jackson’s epic film franchise based on J R R Tolkien’s novels has sadly now come to an end. While I regularly re-read The Hobbit I haven’t read The Lord of the Rings in over 10 years! So the start of February saw me reaching for The Fellowship of the Ring as I thought it was high time for a re-read.

The Fellowship of the Ring takes us back to Middle-Earth 60 years after Bilbo Baggins’s original adventure to the Lonely Mountain. In the quiet and beautiful Shire, Bilbo and his heir Frodo are celebrating landmark birthdays. Frodo now comes into his inheritance which includes Bilbo’s magic ring. Some troubling information has come to light about the ring though that sets Frodo on a dangerous mission in a fellowship with men, hobbits, elf, dwarf and wizard. Bilbo didn’t just find any old ring he has in fact found the one ring of power that Sauron himself forged in Mount Doom, and only there can it be destroyed.

What I particularly love about Tolkien’s work is the unlikely protagonists of hobbits. Small creatures with curly hair, pointy ears, large hairy feet and brightly coloured clothes; who live comfortable lives full of food, walks and routine. In The Fellowship of the Ring we have 4 hobbits Frodo, his gardener Sam, and his cousins Merry and Pippin. They are joined later on by Gandalf the Wizard, Legolas a woodland elf, Gimli a dwarf, and two men Boromir and Aragorn. I love the mixture and diversity of the members of the fellowship, and find it compelling how they journey and interact with each other.

The Hobbit is my favourite book from childhood and I have read it more times than I can count! However I have only previously read The Lord of the Rings trilogy twice and while I have enjoyed them they don’t quite hold the same sort of place in my heart. On re-reading The Fellowship of the Ring I found it to be an intricate and enchanting tale. Every word is precious to Tolkien and again he uses them here perfectly to really bring Middle-Earth alive. The Fellowship of the Ring is probably the longest of the reads from the trilogy because there is a lot of characters to introduce, history to relay, and adventure to establish. I found on this re-read though the slowness and familiarity of it to be very comforting.

The Fellowship of the Ring is a slow but intricate, epic, and enchanting tale. I highly recommend to those who enjoy epic fantasy. I look forward to re-reading The Two Towers next. Great read.

Have you read this? Have you watched the films?

New Read: The Book of Jonah

The Book of Jonah

January was a month of art, history, love, adventure, the old world and even a little magic. Looking to mix my reading up I turned to The Book of Jonah by Joshua Max Feldman, a contemporary fiction based in the USA with an Old Testament twist.

The Book of Jonah introduces us to Jonah Jacobstein a corporate lawyer living the high life in Manhattan. Jonah is working every hour God gives to become a partner in one of the largest law firms in New York by doing the dirty work of a large pharmaceutical company. Whilst also juggling between the affections of two beautiful women; one a long-term girlfriend and another who is sexy and fun. Life couldn’t get any better, then Jonah has a chance encounter with a Hasidic Jew who tells him God has other plans for him.

Jonah Jacobstein is young, handsome, ambitious and not likeable at all. He is the author Feldman’s modern equivalent of Jonah from the Old Testament; who was swallowed by a giant fish (whale) when he tried to run away from God’s mission for him. So predictably it takes a lot of trouble and strife before Jonah Jacobstein begins to pay attention. As Jonah begins to change his life it is to become entwined with Judith. A young, attractive and highly ambitious woman who has been hurt and has utterly lost her faith in life. Jonah and Judith are not easy characters to read about but I was interested in the transformations they go through.

The Book of Jonah is the debut novel of Joshua Max Feldman. I don’t read a large amount of contemporary fiction but I was intrigued by the idea of a modern retelling of the well known tale of ‘Jonah and the Whale’ from the Old Testament. I think Feldman has done a clever and imaginative job of transplanting characters, events and places to the modern world. For example Jonah’s journey in the belly of the whale has become a drug fuelled stay on a canal boat in Amsterdam and instead of God sending Jonah to Nineveh he is sent to Las Vegas. This was a slow read for me as half way through I lost my impetus for it because inevitably this is a dark, gritty and sad tale which depressingly highlights many of the negative, cruel and selfish aspects of modern society. After a break though I returned and finished this novel, and I am pleased I persevered.

The Book of the Jonah is a modern and imaginative retelling of an Old Testament story. I recommend to those interested in contemporary fiction and Biblical retellings. Okay read.

Thank you to Henry Holt and Co for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Have you read any other Biblical retellings?

The Classics Club: Meme February 2015

The Classics Club #1

A new month means a new meme question for The Classics Club. I was slack on these in 2014 but I would really like to get back into doing them regularly in 2015. This month’s question is:

What about modern classics? Pick a book published since 2000 and say why you think it will be considered as a “classic” in the future. Contributed by Teresa.

When I first saw this month’s question I thought interesting but hard however when I sat down to write this post one book came to mind straight away; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. A British novel published in 2003 with an unusual and eye-catching title (which is actually a quote of Sherlock Holmes from one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories).

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the tale of Christopher a young man with a behavioural disorder. Who is amazing at mathematics, obsessive about order and routine, and struggles to form and maintain relationships. Christopher is shaken from is obsessive routine with the murder of his neighbour’s dog as he goes out into the world to discover the truth. This is beautiful book about a fascinating character; that alone could be a reason for this to become a classic. It also I feel, like many classics do, portrays the society and culture of its time and discusses the universal issues of difference and exclusion.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time has been a best-selling novel read by adults and younger readers a like. It has been adapted into a highly successful play and there are plans to make it into a film too. Also in a BBC survey for World Book Night it was voted one of “the top five happy endings” with the industrious company of  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. All of which I’ve read and are now classics.

What novel published since 2000 do you think will become a classic?

The Classics Club: Tender is the Night

Tender is the Night

I decided in January to try to always have a classic novel or short story collection on the go, alongside one fiction and non-fiction. Starting as I mean to go on after finishing Shirley by Charlotte Brontë I picked up Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald.

Tender is the Night takes us to the beautiful south of France in the summer of 1925. Wealthy, American couple Dick and Nicole Diver, and their social clique are enjoying the sun, sea and beach from their villa on the French Riviera. The equilibrium is to be altered with the arrival of the young movie star Rosemary Hoyt and her mother. This new friendship will go on to reveal the cracks in the Divers’ friendships and even their own marriage. I love the 1920’s world of Fitzgerald’s novels; the clothes, parties and glamour while in this novel the beautiful French setting was an extra bonus.

While the setting is intoxicating I often find the society, outlook and opinions of the age unattractive and in turn so are the characters in Fitzgerald’s novels. In Tender is the Night Rosemary and many of the Divers’ other friends and family are over privileged, aloof, shallow and live with no thought of consequence. When we first meet the Divers they too come across like this however when you come to the middle of the novel we are taken back in time to when they first met. Nicole was in a mental illness institute and Dick a young doctor. Knowing the hardships they have been through and the love and need they once had for each other did make me soften to them.

Tender is the Night is the third novel I have read by F Scott Fitzgerald, the previous being The Great Gatsby and The Beautiful and the Damned. I find Fitzgerald’s writing to be detailed, eloquent, but quite meandering. Fitzgerald is certainly not a direct writer. Rather than this annoying me though I find this style adds to the precocious, aloof, and flamboyant mood of the age and setting. Again it particularly works in this novel because of the mind sets of the Divers. Dick is a man who is coming to think too much while Nicole has her mental illness to come to terms with. Again not sure this style would work for me in anything but a Fitzgerald novel.

Tender is the Night is a glitzy and gritty look into the lives of 1920’s American socialites in Europe. I recommend to those interested in the 1920’s and classic American literature. This is my 28th read off my Classics Club list. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or another of Fitzgerald’s novels?

Adaptations: January 2015 (2)

Adaptations #3

I absolutely love adaptations. I know this can sometimes be a controversial subject with book lovers but not for me. I think my real love of them came from my time studying performance at university. There I became fascinated with taking a story and telling it through a different medium; whether that be book, film, TV, or on the stage.

Here are some more adaptations I watched during January:

Boardwalk Empire (2014)          Not Read     TV Series     Television
The fifth and sadly the final series of the gritty, gangster drama inspired by Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson. I have been enjoying this series since 2010 and I am sad to see the end of it, a bittersweet but appropriate ending to it all. Great watch.

Sleepy Hollow (2014)          Not Read     TV Series     Television
First half of series 2 of supernatural drama based on Washington Irving’s short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. An up-to-date retelling where the headless huntsman meets the modern world. A fun and dark series. Good watch.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)          Read     Film     Television
Animated family adventure/drama which is the third adaptation by Disney of Charles Dickens’ classic novel. I have very fond childhood memories of The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). With the snow outside it felt a good time to watch this newer version. It has some stunning animation and special effects, and some great voice performances from Jim Carey and Gary Oldham. Good watch.

The Book Thief (2013)          Not Read     Film     Television
World War II drama based on Markus Zusak’s novel of the same title. A poignant and beautiful tale of a young bookworm growing up in Nazi Germany. With touching performances from  Geoffrey Rush and young Sophie Nélisse. I also enjoyed the interesting narrator choice. Great watch.

Maleficent (2014)          Read     Film     Television
A live action adventure following the antagonist of Disney’s classic animated film Sleeping Beauty (1959), inspired by the fairy tales Little Briar Rose by the Brothers Grimm and The Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault. I thought this was a really interesting twist on the classic tale with amazing special effects and Angelina Jolie is an awesome dark fairy. Great watch.

That’s another 5 watched which when added to the previous 6 makes the grand total 11 adaptations for January. I love adaptations but even for me that is a lot! I was unable to watch one of ITV’s regular Bond film showings on Sunday, otherwise my total could have been even more. I am looking forward to seeing what adaptations I watch in February however I doubt it will be this many again!

What did you watch in January?

New Read: Love So Amazing

Love So Amazing

I am a relatively new Christian having come to faith in my late teens. Now in my twenties I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and to hear what other Christians have to say.I like always having a piece of non-fiction on the go so I chose Love So Amazing by Pam Rhodes from my Kindle to-be-read folder.

Love So Amazing is a collection of short reflections on forty of the Rhodes’ favourite hymns, many of which are also some of the nation’s favourites. In each reflection Rhodes discusses the author and history of the hymn, what inspired the hymn, and sometimes what the hymn went on to inspire. Some of my favourite hymns discussed in this are What a Friend We Have in Jesus, In Christ Alone, Amazing Grace, Be Thou My Vision, Abide With Me, Be Still, for the Presence of the Lord, and How Great Thou Art. I was so pleased to see so many of my favourites discussed.

Love So Amazing is the first book I have read by Pam Rhodes, and like many people here in the UK I know her best as a presenter on the BBC’s long running Songs of Praise show. Rhodes herself admits she was surprised when she was approached about writing this collection. She felt their must be more qualified writers however it was her vast experience on Songs of Praise that was important. I thought Rhodes did a lovely job on this book; the style is simple, down to earth and friendly. Very much like you were chatting about favourite hymns with a knowledgeable friend over a cup of tea and biscuits.

Love So Amazing is a delightful look into some of the nation’s (UK) most beloved hymns. I recommend to those interested in hymns and Christian non-fiction. Good read.

Thank you to Lion Hudson Plc for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? What is your favourite hymn?