The Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann (Review)

The Nutcracker by E. T. A. Hoffmann, illustrated by Robert Ingpen, translated by Anthea Bell

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About the author

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Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann was born in 1776 in Konigsbarg, Prussia (which is now Kaliningrad, Russia). His educational background was law, but his real love was music. As a young man he moved to Germany hoping to begin a musical career, he went on to become a composer, director and conductor. As a way to help his income he took up writing in his thirties. He wrote four novels and approximately fifty stories and novellas and was possibly one of the most influential writers of his time. He passed away in 1822.

About the illustrator

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Robert Ingpen was born in 1936 in Geelong, Australia. He studied illustration art and book design at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. In 1986 he was awarded the Hans Christian Anderson Medal for his contributions to children’s literature and he has been honoured with Membership of the Order of Australia.

About the translator

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Anthea Bell was born in 1936 and was an English translator of literary works, her speciality was children’s literature. She translated French, German and Danish into English. She is best known for translating the Astrix comics into English. She past away on the 18th October 2018.

Blurb

The Nutcracker is well-loved by many, and is perhaps best known as the inspiration for Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, performed as a favourite Christmas spectacle the world over. The ballet was based on a French retelling of the story, and Hoffmann’s German original is rarely translated in its entirety. This version includes the familiar tale of the gentle young girl and her love for the enchanted Nutcracker – a Christmas gift from her enigmatic Godfather Drosselmeier – who leads the toy soldiers in a dramatic battle against the sinister Mouse King, and whisks her away to the Kingdom of Toys. But it also retains the original ‘story within the story’, told to Marie by Drosselmeier when she is ill in bed: The Tale of the Hard Nut, about the cursed Princess Pirlipat, which explains the background of how the poor Nutcracker came to be.

Review

I do love reading Christmas stories on the run up to Christmas as amongst the chaos of preparing for Christmas they provide some calm. Very sorry this review is rather late. I actually forgot to do this review with the chaos of Christmas and New Year and it was only when I started sorting and tidying up books that I realised I had not written the review.

Anyway back to The Nutcracker by E.T.A Hoffmann and translated by Anthea Bell with the wonderful illustrations by Robert Ingpen. I love the story of the Nutcracker and have previously read the translated versions by Alexander Dumas and Joachim Neugroschel. However I found Dumas’ translation very difficult to follow as it lacked fluency and did not have the story within a story. I believe the ballet is based on Dumas’ translation. Bell’s translation however flows beautifully and made the book a joy to read, including The Tale of the Hard Nut also helps the story make sense and helps the reader understand how the Nutcracker came to be.

The Nutcracker is a wonderful fairytale story for all ages young and old with some very subtle morals hidden in there. I loved Marie’s young innocence and Godfather Drosselmeir’s kindness with a hidden layer of something sinister. Fritz, Marie’s brother however is a little trying for me and is clearly just a spoilt child, who probably due to being the only son has been allowed to get away with a lot more than his older and younger sisters. Luise the older sister I feel for, as she is not mentioned much and her character is not greatly expanded and she seems to be rather ignored by her siblings and parents.

The beautiful illustrations in the book are stunning and really aid your imagination in visualising the story. And of course the main lesson that you learn from Marie at the end is a lovely ending to the story. It really is a timeless story that can not help bring a smile to your face and make you look forward to Christmas.

I highly recommend this book and translation and look forward to reading it again on a future Christmas. I have given this book a very fiery 5 Dragons out of 5 Dragons.

Lady Book Dragon.

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Enid Blyton: Five at the Office Christmas Party by Bruno Vincent (Review)

Enid Blyton: Five at the Office Christmas Party by Bruno Vincent

About the author

Bruno Vincent is the author of several humour titles, including The Famous Five Series, he has also written two volumes of gothic horror stories for children which were adapted for the stage.

Blurb

Join Julian, George, Dick, Anne and Timmy the dog as they try to prepare the perfect office Christmas Party, with no budget at all. Will they succeed, and make everyone happy? Or will all the emergency services be called before the night is out?

Review

I have read most of the Famous Five parodies by Bruno Vincent but I had been saving this one to read over the Christmas holidays and I was pleased I did. I read most of the Famous Five series when I was a child and have always enjoyed reading about the five’s adventures, especially George as I was also a tomboy when I was young.

The four children are now adults and are blundering along trying to get adult life correct. Timmy is now very mature and does not take such an active role in the adventures although he is still present, watching over the four. The story begins with Julian getting fired from his job and managing to get another job working with Dick, George and Anne at the business that their rogue cousin Rupert owns. None of them particularly enjoy their work apart from Julian who finds the simple data input work a lot better than his previous job as he used to over think that job.

Just before Christmas Rupert pulls the four into his office and asks them to organise the Christmas party to help raise morale in the company. This does not end well, especially when the workers sample Julian’s punch.

The story is hilariously funny and well written, Vincent has obviously done his homework and read a great deal of the original Famous Five books because he has each of the five perfect, their childhood characters come through in their adult life. Anne is still homely, petite and pretty, George is still stubborn, bad tempered and boyish, Julian a know it all but now has a drink problem, Dick who is always happy to follow everyone’s lead and is happy to just potter around playing Pokemon Go. Vincent has been nothing but respectful to Enid Blyton’s work and legacy and I think she would have rather enjoyed his version of the adult five.

The only reason this book did not get 5 dragons was because the ending was a little bit disappointing for me and it finished a bit too soon on a cliffhanger no less. This book was a brilliant read I would recommend for anyone who wants a good laugh over Christmas and who enjoyed the Famous Five series as a child. A big 4 out of 5 dragons from me.

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Lady Book Dragon

Review 22: Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien

Letters from Father Christmas by J. R. R. Tolkien, illustrated by J. R. R. Tolkien

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About the author and illustrator

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John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born on the 3rd January 1892 in Bloemfontein. He moved to England when he was three years old and was home schooled with his younger brother and taught by his mother. Tolkien served in the First World War and after the war he established a distinguished academic career and was recognised as one of the finest philologists in the world. He is best known as the creator of Middle Earth and the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was awarded a CBE and an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Oxford University in 1972. He died on 2nd September 1973 at the age of 81.

Blurb

Every December an envelope bearing a stamp from the North Pole would arrive for J. R. R. Tolkien’s children. Inside would be a letter in a strange spidery handwriting and a beautiful colour drawing. They were from Father Christmas, telling wonderful tales of life at the North Pole.

  • How all the reindeer got loose and scattered presents all over the place.
  • How the accident-prone Polar Bear climbed the North Pole climbed the North Pole and fell through the roof of father Christmas’s house into the dining-room.
  • How he broke the Moon into four pieces and made age Man in it fall into the back garden.
  • How there were wars with the troublesome horse of goblins who lived in the caves beneath the house!

Sometimes the Polar Bear would scrawl a note, and sometimes Ilbereth the Elf would write in his elegant flowing script, adding yet more life and humour to the stories.

Review

I got this book off my best friend for my birthday as she knows I love all things Tolkien and she knew I had not got this book. I am so pleased I saved this book for Christmas as it really put me in a Festive mood and made me smile from ear to ear.

The first letter in the book is sent in 1920 to John, Tolkien’s oldest child and we meet Father Christmas, the letter is only short but there is a beautiful drawing of Father Christmas that could easily be made into a Christmas card. There is then a gap and the next letter is in 1923, then basically from then on there is a letter until 1943 when Tolkien’s children are all too old for Father Christmas.

The first letters are sent to just John and then Michael and Christopher are added and finally Priscilla, although as each child reaches a certain age and they stop writing to Father Christmas they are dropped off the letters. Although good old Father Christmas always asks after the older children and pets in the house, so they are not forgotten.

Some letters are very short if Father Christmas is busy that year and some are very long, especially if Father Christmas has a tale to tell the children. Father Christmas has a helper called Polar Bear who is in fact a Polar Bear, a very special bear who does not age and is very strong but also rather clumsy and causes poor Father Christmas a great deal of extra work. Eventually Father Christmas also gets some Elves to help him get everything ready for Christmas.

The effort Tolkien put into the letters is amazing, the handwriting is unique to Father Christmas and is shaky like a very old man is writing and the illustrations are stunning. I loved reading all the letters and I can imagine how Tolkien’s children must have been so excited when the letters arrived each year. It really is like magic, Tolkien made sure his children believed in the wonder of magic and fairytales, the things all children should believe in and let their imaginations run wild.

This edition of the book is beautiful, it has all the pictures of the original letters so we can see all the handwriting Tolkien created and opposite is a typed up version so the reader can read the text with ease. Then there are also all the illustrations in colour with the letters. The fact that the book is also printed on excellent quality shiny paper is perfect for showing off Tolkien’s work.

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I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars because of the magic and beauty it had but it did not get the full 5 stars because it made me sad at the end when the children were too old for letters off Father Christmas. In my opinion you are never too old for Father Christmas and believing in the magic.

Lady Book Dragon.

The Nutcracker

It’s nearly Christmas!!!

Last night I finally started The Nutcracker. I must admit I usually start this a lot earlier in December but due to being ill for a week and catching up with work and Christmas decorating, my reading has fallen a big behind but I hope I will be back on track soon.

Yesterday I had a lovely day spent with my husband and parents. It began with my husband and I performing a recital for a Christmas Tree Festival at the church my husband plays organ at. Then we came home for a quick breather, I even managed to do a bit of reading. I finished one book and read another very short book. Then we picked my parents up and went to see the new Mary Poppins film, followed by dinner out. The film was fantastic and it was wonderful to spend time with my husband and parents and not be having to rush off somewhere. It was a chance to relax, smile and share a laugh.

I have two reviews waiting to be written but I promise they will be up soon. I decided to watch Father Ted last night instead of writing reviews. Apologies but it was the first ever episode and I had never seen it before.

I hope you all have a wonderful day and are all ready for Christmas.

Lady Book Dragon.

Review 20: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

The Snowman (A new story inspired by the original tale by Raymond Briggs) by Michael Morpurgo and illustarted by Robin Shaw

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About the author

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Michael Morpurgo has written over 130 books, many of them award winning. His best known work is War Horse which has also been turned into a stage play and a film. In 2003 he was made Children’s Laureate. He set up a charity with his wife called Farms for City Children and in 1999 he was awarded an MBE for his charitable work. In 2017 he was awarded a Knighthood for his charitable work and literature.

About the illustrator

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Robin Shaw is an award winning animator and illustrator, he is also a director of animated commercials. He has worked closely with Raymond Briggs in the past and was part of the directing team of The Snowman and the Snowdog. In 2017 he designed a series of animated sequences for Paddington 2.

Blurb

When James wakes to see snow falling one December morning, he rushes outside to make a snowman. With coal eyes, an old green hat and scarf, and a tangerine nose, the snowman is perfect. James can hardly bear to inside that evening and leave him. But in the middle of the night, he wakes and creeps out to see his snowman again- and to his amazement, the snowman comes to life…

Review

Firstly, I have a confession, I have never read The Snowman by Raymond Briggs but I have watched it on television many, many times. I have only seen The Snowman and the Snowdog once and it almost destroyed me emotionally so I have never seen it again. So when I saw this book sat on the supermarket shelf I immediately picked it up. I was a little worried as I always fear rewrites as most of the time they are never as good as the original, but then I saw it was done by Michael Morpurgo and realised I should have no fears because the man is a genius.

I was so pleased I trusted my instincts, as the story was wonderful, another triumph by Morpurgo. The story is based around James a little boy who suffers with a stammer and who is desperate to have a friend. James lives with his parents on a farm and for Christmas his grandma is staying with them at the farm. Grandma’s favourite story to read James at bedtime is The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.

During the night James’ wish is answered and it snows and so he builds a snowman, a giant of a snowman who towers above everyone wearing a green scarf and hat with a big tangerine nose. James loves this snowman and wants to spend all day with him, he is also really proud of his new friend and is desperate for his family to meet the snowman. Finally at nighttime he leaves the snowman but then in the night something magical happens, and James is not the only one to witness the magic of the snowman.

The story is very similar to the original but with a few subtle differences but this is what makes it a different tale to stand on its own. The story is full of magic and is very respectful of the original, this is just like a sequel to the original in fact. I also loved that when Morpurgo was approached to write this story he was worried and so approached Raymond Briggs who thankfully gave his blessing. The respect that Morpurgo has for Raymond Briggs’ story is humbling and comes through in his version of The Snowman.

I loved the character of James, I felt sorry for him, happy for him and he just made me smile and think aww. I also really liked Grandma, she is a Grandma who still believes in magic. I think this is a fantastic book for children and adults and a perfect read for around Christmas. The illustrations were also beautiful and really added to the story. I hope it gets turned into an animated film, as I think it would be perfect. I gave this book 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Plus I loved the extras at the end of the story, the Christmas traditions from other countries and the perfect method for making the best snowman.

Lady Book Dragon

Friday Poetry

As we near Christmas I have gone for a poem by Thomas Hardy. I love the work of Thomas Hardy, I have read many of his books and a few of his poems in the past. I think in 2019 I will try and read a bit more of his poetry as I rather enjoy it. Maybe my challenge is working and I am starting to enjoy reading poetry.

The Oxen

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.

“Now they are all on their knees,”

An elder said as we sat in a flock

By the embers in the hearthside ease.

 

We Pictured the meek mild creatures where

They dwelt in their starwy pen,

Nor did it occur to one of us there

To doubt they were kneeling then.

 

So fair a fancy few would weave

In these years! Yet, I feel,

If someone said on Christmas Eve,

“Come, see the oxen kneel,”

 

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb

Our childhood used to know,”

I should go with him in the gloom,

Hoping it might be so.

 

 

Thomas Hardy

 

P.S I know the picture is of sheep but sadly I did not have any pictures of Oxen but sheep were there at the stable so I thought I could get away with it.

Lady Book Dragon.

Review 19: Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

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About the author

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Veronica Henry went to eight different schools due to having a parent in the army. Henry studied Classics at Bristol University and a bi-lingual secretarial course. One of her first jobs was working as a Production Secretary on The Archers at Pebble Mill in Birmingham; it used to take her two and a half hours to type up the script on a typewriter. From there Henry became a script writer for Central Television. Henry has worked on Crossroads, Boon, Heartbeat, and Holby City. In 2000 Henry got her first book published and has never looked back, she has now written 19 novels and is working on her 20th.

Blurb

Everyone loves Christmas…

Especially Lizzy Kingham. But this year, she is feeling unloved and under appreciated by her family. The present-buying, decorating and food shopping have all been left to her. So she wonders…what would happen if she ran away and left them to it?

Lizzy heads to her favourite place: a beach hut on the golden sands of Everdene. There she meets an unlikely collection of new friends, all running away from something. But the spirit of Christmas gets under Lizzy’s skin: soon the fairy lights are twinkling and the scent of mulled wine mingles with the sea air.

Back at Pepperpot Cottage, her family are desperate to find her. For Christmas isn’t Christmas without Lizzy. Can they track her down in time and convince her she means the world to them, every day of the year?

Review

This is another of my Christmas reads and so far my favourite. I recently read a short story by Henry and really enjoyed it so I was pleased to find she had written a Christmas book. I must admit it put me through a great deal of emotions, it made me smile, giggle, cry and much more. It was a wonderful read and I have bought a copy for my best friend to read over Christmas and I am lending my copy to my mom to read and I think they will both really enjoy the book.

The book is centred around Lizzy Kingham who is a wife and mother of two teenagers, she has also recently taken voluntary redundancy from her job at a hotel as wedding and events planner. Life has suddenly got overwhelming for poor Lizzy, she has no job and all the jobs she has applied for have fallen through, she is worried about her children going off to university and no longer needing her anymore. She suddenly feels like she is not needed by her family and that they do not care about her. The last straw is when none of them come home to decorate the tree with her, the one family tradition that means the world to her and so she leaves for Christmas on her own.

As the story unfolds we meet other characters who also need to escape Christmas. First we meet Harley, a teenage boy who is about the same age as Lizzy’s twins, his father is in prison and his mother is in a relationship with a bully of a man who likes to provoke and make Harley’s life a misery, so Harley leaves the house to stay at one of the beach huts he looks after as a part time job. This beach hut is also the same one Lizzy is staying at, they instantly become friends and help each other to have a good Christmas. The next characters to enter the scene are Jack, his son Nat and Clouseau the French bulldog. Jack and Nat have a very sad history and the memories of Christmas have all got a bit much for Jack so he decides to escape the memories and history and stay at a client’s beach hut over Christmas. This beach hut is right next door to Lizzy’s and Harley’s. We also eventually meet Leanne, Harley’s mother and River, Harley’s little brother.

Left at Pepperpot Cottage is Simon, Lizzy’s husband and Hattie and Luke the twins. Eventually we also meet Cynthia, Simon’s mother and also find out why Lizzy finds it so hard to be around Cynthia. I really enjoyed how they all realised suddenly what they had put Lizzy through, they had all been wrapped up in their own lives and just taking Lizzy for granted. The sudden realisation they might have lost her for good to me was justice for their lack of care and asking Lizzy if she is ok and doing what she asks. She never asks for much and does not nag, she is always there with a smile, a listening ear and whatever they need but they have not been there for her or noticed she is not coping.

There are a lot of characters in this book and I really enjoyed how Henry made all their lives entwine and made the most unlikely group of people the best of friends. I also enjoyed the little snapshots of their past, Henry did not go crazy into detail but gave just enough for the reader to understand. Jack’s memories brought me to tears, I found them really hard to read about and very moving. Lizzy’s memories of how she met Simon were very romantic but at the same time believable. I think the main thing I enjoyed about this book was how all the characters were realistic and relatable. Everything about the book feels like they are drawn from real life.

I adored the ending of this book and it really put me in a festive mood. This book is a feel good read and I could not recommend it more to people, especially if what they are looking for is an easy light hearted read to make them smile. I have rated this book 5 stars out of 5 and I can not wait to read another book by Veronica Henry.

Lady Book Dragon