I’m not dead, I just needed a break

Hello bookworms!

On the off chance that any of you are still reading my blog after not being present on here for months, I’ve dedicated this afternoon to catching up on comments, tags and ACTUALLY WRITING SOME ACTUAL REAL LIFE BLOG CONTENT. Crazy, huh?

I feel like I should start with an apology. Everyone, I’m so, so sorry for disappearing and basically ignoring you all. Life has been somewhat different recently and one of my worst personality traits is hiding myself away when things get overwhelming. However, I’m going to make a concerted effort to get back into blogging, blog hopping and responding to you all. I genuinely feel quite guilty about my absence and I hope that none of you are too mad at me. Here, have a kitten in a basket

So, I guess you’re all wondering what I’ve been up to, huh? Well, you might remember that I was volunteering with my local library. What initially started as a few hours per week shelving books has now turned into me being part of the management team, running events, fundraising, being half of the social media team and getting involved in all kinds of projects that don’t in any way relate to my skill set (this is on top of my actual property development job). To say I’m busy right now is something of an understatement but I’m really enjoying myself.

The current “project house” is almost…ALMOST nearing completion. The last of the big jobs is painting (everything, at least four coats as it’s entirely new plaster) then loft insulation, carpet fitting and internal door hanging… and I think that will be it!  I cannot tell you how excited I am. In the past few months my cousin has been amazing, building us a new staircase, a boiler cupboard and putting in all of the interior woodwork. I’m sure there will be a million other tiny jobs to do along the way and literally as I’m typing I’m thinking “we need to seal the brickwork in the fireplace and build a new doorstep and clean up the front path and put some plants in and…” but the end is in sight… finally!

Despite all of this (and perhaps because I’m spending so much time on the library) I’m still on track with my Goodreads target of 100 books. Expect many, many reviews to come in the next few weeks! God only knows where I am with #ReadHarder, I’ll have to look later on at where I’ve got to. I have two months to sort it, fingers crossed it will be ok.

So, what have you all been up to? How are you doing with your reading targets? Talk to me, I’ve missed you!

Lots of love,

Lucinda xxx

P.S. I had a little play around with some new blog graphics. Let me know what you think!

 

Blog Tour – Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five Part One by R. J. Furness

Genre: YA Fantasy

Similar to: A little bit Golden Compass, serialised à la The Green Mile

Could be enjoyed by: People who like their fantasy in bite-size chunks

Publication date: 16th March 2019

Blurb (4)

Have you ever seen something you can’t explain? Did it vanish as fast as it appeared? Perhaps that thing you saw was lurking in the shadows, and you caught a glimpse of it before it went back into hiding. There’s a good chance, of course, that the thing you saw simply emerged from your imagination. Or maybe, just maybe, it didn’t… Sapphire Smyth is no stranger to rejection. When she was only a baby, her father abandoned her after her mother died. Since then, Sapphire has never felt like she belonged anywhere, or with anyone. To make things worse, her foster carers have now turned their back on her – on her eighteenth birthday. After living with them throughout her childhood, Sapphire has to find a new home. Is it any wonder she finds it hard to trust people? Abandoned by the people she called family, Sapphire is alone and searching for some meaning in her life. Except that meaning has already come looking for her. When she discovers mysterious creatures lurking in the shadows, Sapphire soon realises that her fate is unlike anything she had ever imagined.

Blurb (3)Now don’t get me wrong, I love a big epic fantasy novel. The Chronicles of Amber, The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time; I’ve really enjoyed them all (actually, I’m only on book four of WoT… so perhaps let’s gloss over that one. Guys it is SO LONG)… Anyway, I adore getting stuck into a huge heavy tome that I struggle to fit into my handbag and gives me backache. So, I was a little concerned about reading a fantasy novella – how would they fit in all the world-building? Surely the first 100 pages of any fantasy book barely scratches the surface of the storyline? How on earth do you build a narrative arc – won’t it end just as I’m getting into it?

FEAR NOT READERS!!!

Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five worked reaaaaaalllly well as a serial. The writing was immediately engaging and fast paced. There was a good narrative arc – the book ended in a *ahem different place to the beginning, which meant that there were some nicely defined boundaries and a natural place to pause. Despite my reservations, I actually quite liked the short novella style – it was different, sure – but once I had got my head round the idea that the story was to be continued, it was much like mentally agreeing to read to the end of chapter four.

EXCEPT YOU CAN’T IGNORE YOUR OWN LIMITATIONS AND READ ON ANYWAY AAAARRRGGHH WHAT EVEN IS THIS

Unfortunately, I did find that the payoff for having such a direct, action filled plot was that the word building suffered a little. I struggled to visualise some elements and thought that in places more detail was needed. I also thought that there were certain parts where a slower build up/acceptance of what was going on would have worked better. For example, Sapphire seemed pretty accepting of certain situations – like her almost comically quick assertion that she was in a different realm – which I felt let the storyline down a little.

However, as a character I really liked Sapphire and her kick-ass persona. I thought that her and Ben’s relationship was great and I’m excited to see how it will develop. I loved the idea of the mythical daemon/patronus/familiar fox that kept appearing and the concept of terrifying shadow creatures was truly creepy.

The only thing I couldn’t get out of my head was the ending on the futuristic transport thing… I’ll just leave this GIF here…

 

Overall, I loved this little gem of a fantasy novella/part one of an epic. The pacing was super quick and engaging, the characters were awesome and the overall idea was really unusual and just the right amount of creepy. I would have preferred slightly more description and perhaps a slower pace in some areas but this was a minor criticism. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

 

Four “What the fox say?”s out of five.

Brilliant writing, an engaging storyline and a fantastic format make Part One of Sapphire Smyth… a winner for me. Can’t wait to read more!

Blurb (2)Author R. J. Furness has been passionate about great stories since he was able to read. At an early age, he would frequently create new characters, worlds and creatures then write crazy tales all about them. However, until now, he has always kept those ideas completely secret. After having a lifelong interest in animals, music and anything spawned from pure imagination, R.J.’s first loves are now his wife and children. Over time, he has also developed an overwhelming desire for mugs of tea and good biscuits to dunk. He lives in Southport, England, with his family, a dog and several fish, chickens and quails.


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Blog Tour – The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

The Gilded King – Sovereign Book One

Genre: Paranormal romance

Similar to: Well, it’s a romance about gentle vampires… (DON’T SAY TWILIGHT!)

Could be enjoyed by: People who have read the prequel

Publication date: 25th June 2018

Firstly, I’d like to say thanks to Dave and everyone in The Write Reads gang for all of the love and support and for including me on this tour. It’s been AAAGGGEEESSS since I’ve published anything on here so being forced to post asked to participate in a blog tour has been a great way to get me back into the swing of things!

Synopsis…

In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well. Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside. But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained. Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight. One way or another, the walls of the Blue are coming down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.

My thoughts…

My initial reaction to this novel was “is this self published? Wow!” Now, I don’t mean to have a go at any of the excellent authors out there who have published their own amazing stories BUT The Gilded King feels… professional. It reads like it’s been edited by someone who isn’t a family friend. The narrative flowed well and I was soon hooked into the story. Most importantly… no typo’s.

Unfortunately, as I began to get deeper into the story, I started to get a little confused. I was expecting some kind of world building or backstory… anything to explain all the things going on like The Fall or the location of The Blue or the link between the vaccine, Silvers and the Weepers. However – nada. In fairness to the author, there is a prequel novella (which I haven’t read) which I guess would explain things in a bit more detail but as a stand alone novel I felt that there should have been more explanation. Plus, every time The Fall was mentioned I pictured this:

 

I quite liked all of the characters, even if Claudia was a bit wet and Cameron was often utterly clueless. There was some good, slow building m/m queer representation and I loved Felix – I think his character will really develop in book two. I liked Julia too and thought it was fantastic to have a self-described “plain” looking girl as the main heroine – what a refreshing change!

As far as the storyline went, I really got into the book and read it in only a couple of days. I have to say though, I did get a bit confused by the three different names for vampires, plus the elite vampire guard and I sometimes struggled to work out who the characters were and what side they were on.

Overall, I liked The Gilded King and now that I’ve got my head around the setting I think books two and three will be really interesting. The novel wasn’t without it’s faults but it was a good narrative  – I could just have done with reading the prequel novella beforehand!

Three and a half “they’re VAMPIRES???”s out of five.

Well written, exciting stuff from a genre that I don’t normally read. The scene is set nicely for book two!

 

*PSSSSSST The Gilded King is FREE right now on Kindle! Links here:

Amazon US and Amazon UK

 

About Josie Jaffrey…

I live in Oxford, UK, with my husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for me to wear black, which is largely why I gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, I still miss my old wardrobe.

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Mid-Month Mini-Reviews

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of my mini reviews! Today, I’ve chosen three novellas to discuss, all of which manage to be short on word count but big on ideas…

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Minutes from the Miracle City by Omar Sabbagh

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Last year, I read my first novel published by Fairlight Moderns (Bottled Goods by Sophie Van Llewyn) and absolutely bloody loved it so I was really excited to find that there were a new batch available on NetGalley – woop!

Set during Ramadan in Dubai, Minutes from the Miracle City features several different characters all narrating their interwoven stories – not something that can be easily achieved in such a slim volume. There were some unusual choices – in such a city of wealth I expected to be reading about upper middle-class expats or local rich businessmen but instead there was a real breadth to the types of individuals personified – a taxi driver, a hairdresser, a security guard, an academic, a journalist/writer/mother. I loved seeing their behaviour around Eid regardless of their religion and the challenges that living with the juxtaposition of a modern, metropolitan but also traditional Islamic society afforded them.

My issue with this novella was (as I seem to be writing more and more frequently) that not very much happened. Yes, it was interesting to read about a city that I’ve never been to and to look at the lives of people who are all different to me but I felt like the narrative needed more of an event to pull all of the characters together.

Overall, this was an interesting character driven novella but I personally would have appreciated a more dynamic plot.

 

 

Two and a half “But what happens???” out of five.

 


 

Atlantic Winds by William Prendiville 

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More from Fairlight Moderns – but this time a totally different take on life in an odd pocket of society.

Atlantic Winds is set in Bear Lake, Canada during the 1970’s. It’s a claustrophobic town with just one main employer and a close-knit community who have their own sense of right and wrong. I imagined a family diner, lots of young families with stay-at-home Mums and plenty of men in plaid. Traditional, poor-but-making-ends-meet, safe.

Or not.

Right from the start you get the impression that there are some families who are just a little… off. This creeping sense of unease permeates the text like the mist that I imagined rolled off the lake every morning. The writing is wonderfully atmospheric and added to the overall themes of justice, guilt and duty.

Written primarily about the teenagers in the town, the novella explores the roles of men vs women in a town with limited options and little scope for upwards mobility. I found the characters to be a little one-dimensional (the “hero”, the “victim” and the “villain”) but I could have lived with that… had the hero not been involved in one of the most dubiously consensual sex scenes I’ve ever read:

“And so she’d followed him there… until the moment it happened and she’d seized up and tried to show him, by a tremulous, calming smile, that it didn’t hurt.”

Then:

“‘I’m fine’ she told him, and hugged him to make him feel better.”

I could write for several pages here about how sex is something that women – even young women losing their virginity – can and should be actively, happily engaged in and that THIS IS NOT OK. I mean – seized up? How much more obvious can it be that this girl doesn’t want to have sex? Plus that line about making him feel better (because he clearly feels guilty) REALLY made me angry. However, I understand that a) this is the 1970’s and b) the novella explores the extent to which the female character (Sasha) is denied her own agency through the expectations put upon her to be a good, dutiful daughter – and perhaps the author is trying to show how this affects her life in a myriad of ways.

Maybe.

Overall, I found this complex, evocative little novella to be a really compelling read, even though it did make me incredibly angry. It certainly raised a lot of issues but for me they weren’t fully resolved, perhaps due to the brevity of the text. I can’t say that I liked it, but it definitely made me think.

 

 

Three and a half “THAT’S NOT OK” out of five.

 


 

Skellig by David Almond

Skellig (Skellig, #1)

There’s a part of me that wants to ask “what even is this book?” but I think that would be doing it a disservice. Sure it’s a very weird story but it’s also one of those rare occasions where the precise writing and the not-fully-explained subject matter come together to create one of those wonderful little novellas where it’s as much about what isn’t said than what is.

Skellig is the name of the dusty, shrivelled up old man* who is found by 12 year old Michael at the back of a collapsing barn in the garden of the house that he and his family have just moved into. Michael decides to help him, not least as a distraction from his very poorly baby sister who is in and out of hospital.

What is Skellig? Is it all a dream? Is his presence a coping mechanism? Is he *spoiler* an angel? What is he doing eating spiders in the back of a barn? Is he only there because Micheal’s sister is ill? Is he helping her?

Who knows. All I can say is that this wonderfully written, odd little book is an utterly charming one off (or at least, it would be if Patrick Ness hadn’t essentially written the same story in A Monster Calls). It’s about friendship and worry and magic and there’s no kissing and everyone is a kind and compassionate individual – so it’s basically perfect.

*maybe

 

Five “a number 27 and a number 53 please” out of five.

 


 

So, have you read any of these books? Do you enjoy a novella? Is it ok to add them to my Goodreads goal? Let me know in the comments!

 

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How The Write Reads Has Helped Me OR How I joined a Book Blogging Cult and I Regret Nothing

Hello Bookworms!

Today, I want to talk about a Twitter phenomenon, a celebrity amongst the book blogging community, our most exalted leader… Dave. All hail Dave!

 

 

Dave is amazing for a number of reasons, not least because he set up The Write Reads – a super fun, super awesome group of book bloggers who are just the best, most supportive, loveliest people EVER!!! If you want to be part of the cult gang, all you have to do is follow @thewritereads on Twitter and agree to read and retweet (and if possible, like and comment on) the two featured blogs of the day – one is a book review and one is more of a discussion post. When it’s your turn, Dave will contact you and you get to choose your content to be Blog/Review of the Day. That’s right bookworms – this one weird trick will see you evolve into a better blogger!

However, I feel it is my responsibility to warn you that there is a downside to joining the cult gang. Possible side effects may include:

  1. Awkwardness – the gang members are very friendly and supportive. Positivity about your own work doesn’t come naturally to the common-or-garden introvert book blogger so may result in unexpectedly warm and fuzzy feelings.
  2. Increased workload – guys, you have to do TWO blog hops PER DAY. That’s right – TWO!!! That extra ten minutes that you spend reading relevant, interesting content is going to have to come from somewhere, Karen!
  3. Increased workload – The Write Reads gave me a huge stats boost which means even more people now know about my blog (and now I have to interact with them all, sigh 😉)
  4. INCREASED WORKLOAD – you’ll pick up so many blogging tips and so much advice and knowledge that it’s genuinely difficult not to try them all out IMMEDIATELY, thus leaving your house in a state, your career in tatters and your love life non-existent. Or maybe that’s just my inability to multi-task. Either way, Canva has stolen too many of my Sunday afternoons (the multiple windowed little minx).
  5. Shock – you might feel like you’re so cool and misunderstood with your alternative theories about the ending of Harry Potter but then you realise that YOU’VE FOUND YOUR TRIBE and suddenly, you’re not a special little snowflake anymore 😯.
  6. Injury – I’ve added sooo many new books to my TBR since joining up that my virtual one gives me anxiety and my physical pile is threatening to topple over and squish me.
  7. Stress – being part of the gang gives you access to competitions, giveaways etc. which may result in you needing to find somewhere to home yet another book or decide which novel from your massively increased TBR you’d like to purchase with your free voucher. Another book simply will not fit on my shelves I CAN’T BEND THE LAWS OF PHYSICS DAVE.
  8. Obesity – we all know that reading is a pretty sedentary hobby and being part of The Write Reads gang will only encourage your lazy ass to avoid the gym and pick up a book instead. The horror!
  9. Ostracisation – your friends are gonna hate you for all of the cool new opportunities that you get from being a member of the gang, like access to the biggest and best blog tour going, or your shiny new free virtual badge (this alone can induce murderous intent amongst your peers).
  10. Guilt – you’re meant to be a word-loving free spirit, not a corporate drone! Doing those two retweets every day may provide your life with a level of structure that you’re just not comfortable with. You’ve sold out, man!

Joking aside, I really do love being part of The Write Reads. I’d like to say a personal thank you to Dave for everything that he’s done for us gang members – he’s a top bloke and he’s put so much effort into making this thing a real community. I don’t know how he finds the time to keep The Write Reads running successfully (Dave, do you actually live on Twitter?) but he does and it’s thanks to him that the group is as brilliant as it is.

Cheers Dave!

TL;DR July Review

Hello Bookworms!

Well, I may as well leave this review blank because I HAVEN’T PUBLISHED ANYTHING FOR A WHOLE MONTH! Life has just REALLY got in the way this month. Oops.

Sad news – the allotment has been RAVAGED by I-don’t-know-what; slugs, snails, naughty foxes having a dig around, caterpillars… you name it, we’ve been attacked by it. Even the strawberries have been rubbish! The only thing currently surviving is my celery. Sad times. I’ve got some half eaten kale, brussel sprouts and beetroot to plant out but I really don’t think they’re going to do very well. At the moment I’m avoiding even going to add to the compost pile because I know it’ll just be a weed ridden mess up there 😭

In better news, this month I’ve been out to a BBC West Midlands radio recording about Coventry 2021 (all very exciting, although slightly worrying that we don’t currently have nearly enough hotel rooms for the expected numbers of visitors to stay in). I visited Coughton Court which was really interesting and had some of the most beautiful garden borders that this picture really doesn’t do justice to:

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However, our main event this month was going for the full three days to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. We had a fantastic time, ended up accidentally sitting with the Orange Army of Max Verstappen fans (all crazy Dutch people) and – unusually for Silverstone – didn’t get rained on too much. All in all, a brilliant weekend and it was fantastic to see Lewis Hamilton bringing home the win.

The library is just as busy as always and the council have done several things this month to annoy us (which I won’t get into here) but we’re gearing up for a super-exciting refurb of the non fiction area – it’s going to be called the Reading Room and is now going to be a chill out/computer area by day and an events space by night. We have SO MANY ideas for what we could do in there and I’m really excited about what it’s going to look like.

Our other house has caused us many, many problems recently (when does it not) but the most recent one is the local neighbourhood moggies using my nice new gravelled areas as a big litter tray. The final straw came when we discovered a dead rat (!) had been killed by a cat and left in the middle of the patio. One heavy duty binbag and two bottles of bleach later, we’d cleaned the area up and have spent an inordinate amount of effort on cat proofing. We currently have two sonic cat alarms (which I can hear!), some rubber spikes nailed in to the top of all the fence panels (they’re pretty soft and are designed to prevent anything from jumping up on the fence in the first place rather than to cause any harm), a large metal mesh to block off access from the garden at the rear and a water squirter alarm that sends a jet of water out when something walks in front of it. My family have always had cats so I feel quite guilty but we desperately needed to do something. So far, it all seems to be working so we’ll probably get rid of the water squirter in a couple of weeks.

Overall, July was not a great month for me (especially for the blog) but there’s lots to get excited about in the near future.

So that’s July wrapped up! Are you slumping like me? Any tips for keeping cats at bay? Let me know in the comments!

TL;DR June Review

Hello Bookworms!

SUMMER IS HERE!!! THIS IS NOT A DRILL!!!!

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I’m currently sitting by my french doors, smelling the flowers and picking at my peeling sunburn (yuck!) It’s been so hot recently (although, thankfully, quite cold at night) that everything in the garden has gone mad, although the previous heavy rain has meant that most things on the allotment have been ravaged by slugs 😦. So, I’m rushing to plant more beans, kale and french beans in the hopes that we might be able to salvage something.

I’ve been out and about this month for my Dad’s birthday (75!) including a nice family meal with my cousins. We went to Gardener’s World Live! where I bought some nice bits and pieces and generally had a lovely day out and I also went to a plant sale where everything was £1.25 and bought a load of stuff with my friend who is just getting into gardening – I think I’m a bad influence! I had a night out locally with friends too which was great and won a pub quiz with my library friends where we got a hamper of books to split up between us ☺

The saga of the other house is never-ending but we’ve had the gardens gravelled and a boiler installed so that’s another few jobs ticked off the list. I’ve got a big green wooden planter and a lavender to go inside it which can go in the front garden and I’ve given the back a bit of a tidy up too. In a couple of weeks my cousin is coming round to make a start on the bannisters and to box in the boiler so that’ll (hopefully) be the last of the major jobs done. We found a giant hole in the outside wall when we were digging down in the garden – it seems that someone knocked out some bricks to lay a gas pipe then removed it and never bothered to fill it back in! No wonder we had damp.

The library is starting to take over my life again! We’re short staffed due to holidays and there’s so much going on that it’s been pretty busy. I’ve got some exciting authors coming to do talks from September onwards which is great – just need to firm up dates and confirm content. I’ve never done anything like this before so it’s a bit trial and error but I’m hoping it will go ok.

I’ve had another bad month of blogging – I think I should revert to a reduced summer schedule! I’ve caught up with my Goodreads challenge with the help of a few cheeky novellas and I’m back into Read Harder, so at least there’s that. I’ve taken part in the Calendar Girls meme where I chose Women by Chloe Caldwell as my favourite book with LGBTQ+ representation and I published some Mid Month Mini Reviews and started a new series called Gateway Books where I looked at what books from my childhood influenced my reading tastes today.

I posted three reviews in total:

Affinity by Sarah Waters: I loved everything about this gothic lesbian sort-of romance. I don’t usually go for creepy books but I was totally sucked in – even though I had to stop reading it at night! Four and a half out of five stars.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal: I really enjoyed this beautifully crafted Victorian tale – it was so richly evocative of the era. Would highly recommend. Four out of five stars.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd: I just couldn’t connect with this book at all. It’s well written, it was really imaginative and unique – just not for me. Two and a half out of five stars. 

 

So that’s June wrapped up! Are you slumping like me? Is anything interesting going on in your gardens? Let me know in the comments!

Calendar Girls July: Favourite Bookish OTP

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls!

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Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favourite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post.

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

calendar girls july

 

…and my top pick is…

Westley and Buttercup from The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride

HMMMM WHICH BOOK SHALL I CHOOSE FOR THIS PROMPT OH I KNOW I’LL JUST GO WITH MY FAVOURITE BOOK EVER!!!

The Princess Bride is, simply, awesome. Buttercup is a beautiful farm girl who is spotted by the evil Count Rugen and is subsequently betrothed to the dastardly Prince Humperdink. However, Buttercup is in love with Westley (the farm hand) and ends up getting kidnapped before her wedding day. Westley spends the rest of the book trying to rescue her, even though Buttercup is full of snark;

“Enough about my beauty. Everybody always talks about how beautiful I am. I’ve got a mind, Westley. Talk about that.”

Buttercup is basically my feminist hero.

And Westley… awww, adorable Westley.

Buttercup and Westley are absolute relationship goals.

I’ve heard people criticise the character of Buttercup (not a princess) by saying that she has no agency and just goes along with whatever people ask her to do. I beg to differ. When we first meet Buttercup, she’s filthy, smelly, and only interested in riding horses. She escapes dangerous situations (at least, she tries to). Yes, Westley ends up rescuing her but Buttercup is hardly lying around clutching her pearls, waiting for her (not a) prince to turn up:

I LOVE THEM!!!!!!!

 

So, who is your OTP?  Have you written your own Calendar Girls post? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

Gateway Books Part One

Hello Bookworms!

I’ve fallen down a nostalgia induced Google wormhole today trying to research this blog post – aargh!

*Bonus points for knowing what 90’s music video this is from

Why have I spent the last hour chuckling at images of old Just 17 magazines and frantically trying to place random tv theme tunes? Well, I’ve been looking back through my life to see which books have been the real game-changers… the ones that I’m calling:

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A whole new worrrrrrlllllldddddd….

Ahem.

So, I thought it would be good to start at the beginning, when I first began to choose my own books. I guess at around ten years old I was mostly reading:

Children’s Fiction (unsurprisingly)

257758. sy475 The Sheep-PigCharlotte's Web

I remember reading Goodnight Mister Tom with the rest of the class at primary school and it was so sad but utterly captivating too. Even the annoying kids with poor concentration were absolutely gripped by the story! The backdrop of the war led me to  other books like Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo and Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and when I was even older, books like All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Birdsong by Sebastien Faulks (which I purchased years ago and still haven’t got round to reading, oops).

I also LOVED all of those animal stories written for children like The Sheep Pig by Dick King-Smith (which was made into the film Babe) and Charlotte’s Web, which very nearly made me a vegetarian (but failed at the first sniff of a bacon sandwich). I still love books about animals – I recently read The Bees by Laline Paull which was both super interesting and super-disturbing.

I also read lots of…

Children’s Classics

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I went through a big Enid Blyton phase when I was younger, especially The Famous Five (I wanted to be George, obvs) and Mallory Towers, which made me want to go to boarding school. I can draw a direct line between this book and a later series of books set at a somewhat more magical boarding school… in hindsight these books are pretty problematic but at the time I loved them.

I also loved books like What Katy Did, where naughty Katy got her comeuppance and learnt to be good by following the meek and mild Aunt Helen. I have SUCH vivid memories from this book – the medicine bottles on the shelf, the cracked staple holding up the fateful swing, the menus she would have to write where she complained that every meal had to either be pork, chicken or beef and couldn’t someone just invent a new meat (something I regularly think about when I can’t decide what to cook). The feminist in me shudders at this story now but at the time I couldn’t get enough of it. I have equally fond memories of books by E. Nesbit like The Railway Children and Five Children and It, which led me to the fantastical, magical stories of people like Neil Gaiman.

Finally, I also got very much into…

Humour/Humorous Poetry

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(Aargh why won’t these pictures align????)

I went on holiday when I was about eight or so and, glory of glories, there was a whole bookshelf full of (adult) books for any of my family to borrow. I chose to read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 which, in hindsight, was far too old for me (I think I just skipped over the parts that I didn’t understand) and Some More of Me Poetry by Pam Ayres, which was really funny in a very innocent 1970’s way (or at least, that’s how I remember it). Both of the books were brilliantly amusing and made me love that kind of downtrodden working class sense of humour, leading me on to the rest of Sue Townsend’s works and even into stand up like Victoria Wood and working class folk-rockers like Grace Petrie:

 

And with that solid grounding in literature, I ventured into my teenage years… which will have to wait for another post!

So, what books did you enjoy growing up? How do you think they influenced your reading tastes now? Did they a wider impact on you as a person? Let me know in the comments!

Mid-Month Mini Reviews – Victorian Gothic

Hello bookworms!

Welcome to another load of mid-month mini-reviews – this time focusing on the Victorian period…

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Affinity by Sarah Waters

Affinity

I picked this book up in a charity shop while I was waiting for my car MOT and I’m honestly so glad that I did. I’d never read Sarah Waters before (despite Tipping the Velvet being on my TBR for about 20 years) so I had high expectations – and this book did not disappoint.

Told from the viewpoint of Margaret, a wealthy spinster (God I hate that term) with a desire to help the poor unfortunates incarcerated within Millbank Prison, an encounter with the notorious spiritualist inmate Selina Dawes leaves her reeling. Is Selina truly psychic? Can she help Margaret to deal with the death of her father? Can Margaret help Selina to obtain justice? And is their friendship… something more? Set against a backdrop of heavy prescription drug taking, it’s hard to see where the truth lies – especially in a relationship so heavily weighted by the privilege that money affords you and the desperation to achieve freedom.

I absolutely adored the way that this book was written. I’m such a scaredy cat that certain scenes about wax castings of ghostly apparitions had me completely freaked out! The overall tone was creepy and gothic – much of the book is set within the Victorian prison – but the writing never dragged. Instead, it gave an almost visceral interpretation of the misery, drudgery and relentless monotony of what it would have been like to be locked up in such an institution. I could almost feel the damp stone walls and see the trudging circles of women getting their daily exercise in the bleak prison yard. I hate to use the term “lyrical prose” but yeah… the writing was absolutely beautiful.

The novel is interspersed with the memories of Selina from when she was working as a spiritualist medium and I got completely sucked in by her “powers” (despite the fact I don’t believe in anything paranormal in real life). The relationship between Margaret and Selina was fascinating, exciting and heartbreaking and I LOVED the way that the book ended. If this is one of Sarah Water’s lesser known novels then I can’t wait to read the rest of her work!

 

Four and a half “Look what money can get you” out of five.

 

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

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I loved this richly evocative tale set in Victorian London of Iris, a talented artist who is taken out of poverty by Louis, a rich pre-Raphaelite painter. Her rags-to-riches story seems almost too good to be true – a new (scandalous) role as an artist’s muse, a huge increase in salary, a love affair with a soon-to-be widowed man – yet there’s a shadow hanging over Iris’ happiness and he goes by the name of Silas…

I have to say how beautiful that book cover is. Just glorious. Like the novel, it juxtaposes the beauty, art and grace of the period with the claustrophobia, death and creepy gothic sensibilities of Victoriana – and I can’t get enough of it. The writing within the book is also hugely evocative and has a bit of everything – sex, obsession, art,  death, taxidermy, disfigurement, filth, light, sadness, romance… and a wombat. Everything felt very authentic to the time period even though the story of a woman striking out on her own felt very modern.

The characters were beautifully depicted, with an attention to detail that made them jump off the page. I could see the dirt under Silas’ fingernails, the emerald green on Louis’ painting, the crimson lips on the doll that Iris was painting. I loved the use of the Great Exhibition as a backdrop to their lives – again, a juxtaposition of all that light and ingenuity and modernity sat right next to the filth and decay of the London slums.

Yes, the writing was a little slow in places but I can forgive that, since this is the author’s debut. I loved the use of detail, the setting and the characterisation and I thought that the constant playing with light and shade, love and obsession, hope and despair was inspired. Elizabeth Macneal is clearly a writer to watch out for.

 

    

Four “Has there ever been a nice character called Silas?” out of five.

 

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

Things in Jars

I’d heard a lot about this book on ye olde Twittersphere but I have to say I was a tiny bit let down by it. It’s certainly a fun romp with a highly eclectic cast of characters but for some reason I just didn’t connect with the writing. Not that it’s bad – it’s just not for me.

Bridie Devine, the infamous female detective is challenged to take on the oddest of cases – the disappearance of Christabel, a strange child with colour changing eyes and extraordinarily sharp teeth. Aided by Ruby, the prizefighting ghost and Cora, the towering, magnificently bearded maid, Bridie attempts to find Christabel but on the way encounters everything from beautiful snake charmers to evil surgeons – plus a whole lot of painful memories.

I love the wacky cast of characters and the excitement of the fast paced prose but I just couldn’t emotionally connect to anyone. There was so much going on, plus plenty of back-and-forths in time that I got a bit confused as to who was who and what on earth was happening. Ultimately, I felt like the side plots took over a bit and detracted from the main narrative, so I wasn’t that bothered with the ending. Lots of people have loved this book but it really wasn’t for me.

 

 

Two and a half “Is that the dead guy?” out of five.

So, have you read any of these books? Do you love a good gothic novel? Are there any Cure fans in the house? Maybe The Smiths? Let me know in the comments!

 

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