March update and one exhausted editor

Well this is rather late to be doing a March update, isn’t it? It seems already to be the middle of April…

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I didn’t read nearly as much this month as I wanted to since I was commuting 3 hours a day to and from work, editing a history documentary about the 1967 abortion act. Mentally my head was in the rather difficult subject matter  and physically I was exhausted from leaving the house at 6.45am and rarely getting home before 9pm. When I finally had a break, I collapsed and barely regained consciousness for another fortnight.

I had a few books in mind to read this month, thinking the long commute would allow me to read lots. But what I actually ended up doing was spending the dark journey on the 7.08am train trying to wake up with the help of a large travel mug of coffee and passively listening to podcasts. The journey home was just spent trying not to fall asleep and miss my stop. So rather than trying to coax my brain into reading anything too challenging, I went for a couple of books I knew would keep me turning the pages without having to think too much.

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The first book I read was a thriller, The Child by Fiona Barton. It starts intriguingly with reports of the body of a small child found buried underneath a building site in London. The story switches between being told by four different characters, one of which is an investigative reporter and the other three are women who are related in some way to the discovery. Despite the gruesome subject matter it is an enjoyable mystery which ties up satisfyingly at the end.

Next was a book that someone in Waterstones in Dorchester recommended to me, Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. Another book based on a mystery, but this story doesn’t set out to solve it, rather to reflect on the repercussions on the rural community in which it takes place. The book begins with a teenage girl going missing and locals taking up the search to look for her. The narrative then spans across the weeks, months and years following her disappearance.  The writing style is unusual in that it is written in short sentences, the characters stories are interwoven with beautifully written poetic descriptions of nature and the seasons. My one criticism is that because there are many characters and not a great deal of exposition because of the writing style of short paragraphs, I found it a little confusing in places and had to keep flicking back through to remind myself who was who.

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Finally, came my favourite book this month (and probably in many months!), Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, which I really should have just waited a few weeks to buy in paperback. But sometimes you just need a book right NOW. This book is set in the 90s in a community called Shaker Heights, an idealistic, progressive suburb where lawns are manicured and front doors can only be painted approved colours. It begins with a teenage daughter setting fire to her family home and then takes you back through the circumstances that led up to that day. It is a wonderful study of family relationships and what goes on behind closed doors in this otherwise perfect suburban community.

That was March, I hope you had a good month and read some good books too.

 

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February round-up and getting stranded in the snow!

Have you survived the severe weather this week in the UK? I got stranded in Cardiff overnight on Thursday, then tried to get home the next day. I got two trains which eventually got me to Bath, then spent 2 hours sheltering in Waterstones ‘browsing’, where the staff kindly charged up my phone for me. I had absolutely no idea what to do next as there were no trains, taxis or buses running.

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Out of sheer desperation and a determination to get home, a group of us stuck at Bath station decided we would attempt to walk the 9 miles or so along the canal path in the snow. It was seriously hard work, we walked for 4 hours, barely stopping. At several points I thought I’d like to give up and just go to sleep on a bench, but the strangers walking with me, Emma the nurse and Ian the Management Consultant kept me going. I learnt to try to keep my mind off my legs seizing up by doing some complicated maths in my head and trying to remember the words to various hymns I’d had to sing at school!

I eventually got home at 7pm, freezing cold and utterly soaked through. Thank goodness for the weekend is all I can say, I stayed in bed the whole of Saturday and most of Sunday too. For someone who has always loved snow, it has done a very good job of putting me right off it!

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Anyhow, onto the books I read in February. Due to a 3 hour long commute every day and a week off work in half term spent mostly reading by the log burner in my mother in laws Dorset cottage, I have been able to read a little more than I did in January.

Not Working by Lisa Owens is a funny, quick read about a woman who has rather rashly walked away from her boring job. It is written in diary format, and is full of witty observations about the experiences she has of everyday life. There are deeper issues woven through about her family that are tender and sad. Overall I enjoyed this, and read it in a few hours.

Then she was Gone by Lisa Jewell is quite a surprising book. I have read many of her previous novels and I am really enjoying her foray into crime writing. The subject of the story, Lisa has a 15 year old daughter who has been missing for ten years, when she meets a charismatic stranger who she discovers has a 9 year old daughter almost identical to her own. It was shocking and even quite far fetched in parts but nevertheless I found myself thoroughly buying into it and intrigued to see where it was going.

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Birdcage Walk is the first book I have read by Helen Dunmore, but now I know how incredibly beautiful her writing is I shall be reading as many of her others as I can get my hands on! It’s based in Bristol in 1792. Lizzie Fawkes has married a property developer, a bit of an eighteenth century wheeler dealer, who stands to lose everything he has invested in the potential social upheaval of the French Revolution. He has a murky past as it turns out and Lizzie seems to be throughly under his spell. I found this book to be an incredibly insightful exploration of women’s lives in Georgian England, exploring baby farming, women’s rights and outspoken liberalism at a time when women were expected to keep quiet and know their place. A book I’ll most definitely pass on to my mum and my daughter.

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Lullaby by Leila Slimani is a French domestic noir translated into English. Two of the novels main characters alarmingly have the same names as my mum and step-dad who also live in France! When Myriam, a lawyer, decides to r

eturn to work, she and her husband Paul look for the perfect nanny for their two young children. They find Louise, a quietly spoken 40 year old who is devote

d to her work who very quickly becomes a much depended on member of the family. But as time goes on she comes to rely on them as much as the

y do on her, and jealousy starts to seep in, that is when things start to get very dark. I love that this book is quite short, without relying on lengthy descriptions, yet manages to consume you in a claustrophobic, creeping fear for the family. You know the horrific details of what is going to happen for it tells you on the first page, so it is more of a howdunnit than a whodunnit.

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The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent is another French book translated into English which I didn’t warm to immediately, I wasn’t sure if the translation flowed particularly well. But after a while I began to love the story. The main character is like a male version of Amelie, quirky and clever. Guylain Vignolles works at a book pulping factory which he hates, but every morning on the 6.27 train, he recites aloud from pages he has saved from the pulping machine. One day he discovers by chance diary of a lonely young woman, Julie. A beautiful, quick to read little story that I will definitely read again.

 

 

 

Books I can’t wait to read in 2018 part 1

Oh the thrill of some new stories on the horizon to excite you! I seem to have been waiting an age for some of these books to be publish and some of them are STILL NOT AVAILABLE.

First of all on my most anticipated list is The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower. What could be more magical than a book about 18th century seafarers and mermaids?

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It begins on an autumn night in 1785. Merchant Jonah Hancock waits anxiously for news of his ship, but a knocking at the door brings him instead a curio beyond his imagining: a sea goblin, a monster, a mermaid. As the whisper of his find spreads across London, Jonah finds himself swept into an ambitious, topsy-turvy world of collectors, voyeurs, brothels and courtesans and into the path of Angelica Neal, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.

Then there’s Once Upon a River by the wonderful Diane Setterfield who wrote one of my favourite books, The Thirteenth Tale. I am hoping for this to be another suspenseful and richly atmospheric novel by her.

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A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child. Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can it be explained by science?

A book I am really looking forward to getting my hands on is Louise O’Neill’s The Surface Breaks. Louise wrote the incredibly hard-hitting Only Ever Yours which I reviewed last year. Her latest book is a feminist re-imagining of The Little Mermaid.

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Deep beneath the sea, off the cold Irish coast, Gaia is a young mermaid who dreams of freedom from her controlling father. On her first swim to the surface, she is drawn towards a human boy. She longs to join his carefree world, but how much will she have to sacrifice? What will it take for the little mermaid to find her voice?

And lastly, I have apparently been seduced by some excellent marketing into wanting to read The Woman in the Window by A.J Finn. It promises to be yet another ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Girl on the Train’ neither of which I particularly enjoyed it must be said. But I cannot resist jumping on a thriller bandwagon. Perhaps this one really is full of the clever twists and suspenseful story-telling it promises?

A chronic agoraphobic, Anna Jones hasn’t left her home in ten months. Spending her days and nights cocooned within the safety of her house, Anna retreats into the safety of the black and white films she binge-watches in the company of her cat and one-too-many bottles of wine. A former child psychologist, she used to have a busy life, a husband, a daughter. Now her husband has left her, taking their daughter with him, and Anna is left haunting the rooms of their house like a ghost, lost in her memories, too terrified to step outside.

Her one constant lifeline to the real world is her window, where she sits day after day, watching her neighbours. When the Russells move in, Anna is instantly drawn to them. A picture-perfect family of three, they are an echo of the life that was once hers.

But one evening, a frenzied scream rips across the silence, and Anna witnesses something no one was supposed to see. Now she must do everything she can to uncover the truth about what really happened. But friendless, isolated and under suspicion from those she wishes to help, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?

 

How to stop buying books

One of my resolutions this new year was to stop spending all my money on books. Well that’s a bit of an exaggeration, I do also spend it on mortgage, bills and my children, but I spent a LOT of my hard earned wages in book shops. Money is tight this year, so there is no time like the present to start reading the books I already own.

I was given a book voucher for christmas which I have bought a couple of books with so far (Heal Me by Julia Buckley and a second hand copy of Not Working by Lisa Owens, if you’re interested). I am saving the rest of the money for some long-awaited books that are being released later this year.

I am planning on paying off the small fortune I owe my local library since December’s overdue Agatha Christie debacle to order some of the books I am desperate to read. I also have a brilliant Oxfam Bookshop near where I work (some would say in dangerous proximity) which sells fairly recently released second hand books for around £1.50.

 

After spending inordinate amounts of time digging around under the bed and on the tops of our many bookshelves we have looking for those books I have bought and not read, I have made a dedicated To Be Read shelf.

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I bought a second hand bookshelf for £5, painted it and put it in the living room. It’s a dangerous thing to leave an empty bookshelf in my house for any amount of time as when you return it will be filled with books by another member of the household (my husband), but I’ve managed to secure the top shelf for myself, to hold my beloved Persephone’s and the books I intend to read. They are all now in one place, which makes them so much easier to find.

January 2018 round-up

The first month of January is always a great reading month for me, I have lots of book-related resolutions to start off the new year. This year I decided to read the books I already have and try to stop buying so many. Easier said than done! However, my January reads were ones I already owned or were leant to me, so I have started as I mean to go on.

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I am working a lot this year, circumstances have dictated that I am, albeit temporarily, the main breadwinner, so I have taken almost every job that has come my way. I am freelance and I work as a television editor, a job that sees me editing a historical BBC4 documentary one month and then a cookery show the next. The variety is fascinating, but the hours! Suffice to say I get a lot of reading done on the commute, but not as much reading as I’d like to because if I’m not at work then I tend to be asleep.

January’s reads:

  • The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin. Louise would give anything for a good night’s sleep, if the baby would just stop crying. Her exhaustion and loneliness combine to cause great paranoia about the family’s new lodger who seems to share her husband’s interests. This is a new edition of an original 1950s domestic thriller and it is very much of the age. A slow-burner, there is a mounting tension spurred on by a situation every parent can relate to.
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. As I said in my last post, I turned up to this particular party very late indeed.  I’m glad I did though, what an incredibly clever premise! A little like a literary Groundhog Day, Atkinson explores what might happen if there were real possibilities of life after death. Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny?
  • To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey. I have reviewed this book here. It was probably my favourite read of this month, quite unexpected at times, well researched and fascinating.FullSizeRender (3)

Reading in Winter

Can there be a better season to read than in winter? There isn’t anything cosier or more heartwarming than curling up in the warmth with a good book whilst the bitter cold freezes your car windscreen outside.

But it’s not as simple as grabbing the nearest book from your TBR pile and settling down on the sofa, there are a few things you need to do first.

Gather your candles, your warmest, softest blankets and make a large cup of steaming coffee. And it’s no good trying to get warm and cosy with a book set in high summer, you need to read a book that exaggerates your feelings of warmth and protection in your own home.

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A few of the best books I have read that help create that ‘positively Arctic outside’ feeling are:

December by Elizabeth H Winthrop

December in New England, the season of snow, log fires and happy families, Except not for the Carters. Their 11 year old daughter hasn’t spoken for months. Given up on by experts and misunderstood by her parents, Elizabeth’s future looks far from promising. But perhaps there’s a reason for her silence? Perhaps it’s the fault of her parents? Will their marriage crack under the pressure?

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I was so late to this particular party that all the lights had been switched off and the doors locked before I even arrived. However, am I glad that I got to it eventually! There cannot be a more winter-y feeling book than one where every other chapter is entitled ‘SNOW’. I hardly dare write a synopsis as you have all without doubt read it, but just in case:

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.

During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.

What if there were second chances? And third? What if there were an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward

I suppose it would be remiss of me not to include a detective novel, seeing as winter is usually associated with that particular genre. I have read a lot of crime fiction and, with the exception of a few, find them to be little ‘throwaway’. Exciting to read but disappointing at the end. And often pretty forget-able. An author I discovered recently is Sarah Ward, whose book reads like a compelling Scandi-noir, she pays particular attention to setting and the starkness of the winter landscape.

Bampton, Derbyshire, January 1978. Two girls go missing: Rachel Jones returns, Sophie Jenkins is never found. Thirty years later: Sophie Jenkins’s mother commits suicide.

Rachel Jones has tried to put the past behind her and move on with her life. But news of the suicide re-opens old wounds and Rachel realises that the only way she can have a future is to finally discover what really happened all those years ago.

This is a story about loss and family secrets, and how often the very darkest secrets are those that are closest to you.

And a couple more:

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Eckback and To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey (who also wrote The Snow Child) are recent books I have reviewed which fit into this category too.

Happy reading!

To the Bright Edge of the World

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Got to admit, I love the first half of winter, the bit before Christmas, with it’s sparkly lights and mounting excitement. But as soon as New Years Day is out of the way I am desperate for the long, dark days to end. However, this winter is showing no signs of abating so I am just going to have to put another log on the fire and embrace the cosiness for a little longer.

I have been reading a succession of winter themed books since September (perhaps that is why I’m all wintered-out?). I suspect I will still be reading them in March.

To the Bright Edge of the World is by Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child and it’s another of her books to be set against the harsh Alaskan winter. Based in 1885, Colonel Allen Forrester has accepted a year-long mission to navigate Alaska’s Wolverine River and explore America’s newly acquired territory. He leaves behind his pregnant wife, Sophie who had been desperate to join her husband at least part of the way. However she is confined to waiting the year out in the Vancouver barracks, where she faces traumas of her own.

The book reads as a series of diary entries by both Sophie and Allan, interspersed with modern-day letters between Allan’s elderly great-nephew and an Alaskan museum curator who has taken on the collection of letters and journals years later.

It is such a fascinating story of a harrowing expedition and of encounters with native Indians along the way. But it also tells of the attitude of fear and ignorance towards the people who save their lives on many occasions. There were moments in this book which made me gasp at the beauty and rawness of the writing. Sophie’s story is as engaging as Allan’s as she navigates her way through the restrictions put on women in pregnancy at the time and to realise her ambition to explore wildlife and develop her fascination with the exotic birds she sees.

I give this book 4 stars.

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