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:

Copy of Taking a Break (1).png

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

174886285658. sy475 164531

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

14419091852218

 

 

(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!

Advertisements

Mid-Month Mini Reviews – Victorian Gothic

Hello bookworms!

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

Copy of Copy of Taking a Break (1).png

 

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

38591165

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!

 

Save this post on Pinterest!

 

TL;DR May Review

Hello Bookworms!

Mmmmm, it feels like summer might finally be on it’s way!

It’s been so nice and warm recently that we’ve almost run out of rainwater in our water butts so I’m probably one of the few people in the country hoping for a downpour! This is England though, so I expect my wish will be granted pretty soon. I have been sooooo busy getting the allotment prepped and ready for our crops – we’ve got the peas, beans and squash in, the strawberries are coming on nicely, the onions are doing well and the brassicas, celery and spring onions are all growing strong in the greenhouse ready to be planted out.

We had a lovely bank holiday working as per usual, sorting out the never-ending sanding, filling and generally tidying up of the woodwork at our other house. We’ve had the final last few electrical bits sorted, dealt with a mini-flood (upstairs windowsill is faulty) and got people booked in to fit a new boiler and hard landscape the gardens. It’s still nowhere near ready, but once these items have been ticked off the list we’ll be onto painting and then it should hopefully look habitable.

I went out to see “We’ve Got Each Other – the almost entirely imagined Bon Jovi musical” at Warwick Arts Centre with the BFF Juliet which was incredible – a one man show where the narrator asked the audience to literally imagine a musical based 50% on West Side Story and 50% on the lyrics to Livin on a Prayer. Loved it! If you get the chance to see it you should definitely go along, it’s already won loads of awards. May was also the month of Eurovision, so we had a party for that (where there was a SAUSAGE DOG!!!) which was super fun and camp and awesome.

We had a nice day out to High Wycombe and Amersham Old Town, which was gorgeous and old fashioned (and posh). We had a lovely picnic in the park and picked up what will be a very nice new tortoise enclosure (once we’ve got round to building it). We also had a lovely day out at Croome Court where we saw (amongst other things) their Grayson Perry exhibition, which was amazing:

 

I’ve had a fair few library meetings this month including one with the lovely Ellen from the Coventry 2021 team (when Cov becomes the City of Culture). We’ve got some very exciting ideas for a complete library revamp that may or may not come to fruition – watch this space!

I’ve had a terrible month blogging wise (but still managed to gain new followers. Not sure how? Also, hello!). I’m behind in the Goodreads challenge, although it’s hard to track when you read seven books at once – I can go for weeks without finishing anything then suddenly I’ve finished six in one day. I’ve not even looked at Read Harder as I knew I’ve been ahead for so long – I need to finish off a load of old ARCs then I’ll get back onto it.

I did manage to take part in the May Calendar Girls meme where I chose Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine bu Gail Honeyman as my favourite book with a mother/daughter relationship. I also published Mid-Month Mini-Reviews and Monthly Wrap-Up Mini-Reviews.

I posted seven reviews in total:

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman: I couldn’t believe how powerful this book was. What an amazing story, pitched exactly right for the YA audience. Just a shame I was too old to have read it as a teenager when it first came out. Four and a half out of five stars

Becoming by Michelle Obama: A fantastic autobiography that really showed what an amazing person Michelle is. I thought it would be boringly political but it wasn’t at all. Loved it. Four out of five stars

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: I loved how much this book made me think, long after I’d finished it. The characters were all horrible, the plot didn’t really go anywhere… and yet I still really liked it. Weird. Four out of five stars

Come Back For Me by Heidi Perks: This was such a page turner! I loved the setting of an island for a thriller (what a great plot device) and the atmospheric writing. A great book to take on holiday. Four out of five stars

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney: Despite seemingly everyone not liking this book – I did. I felt oddly compelled by the characters and completely identified with that post-teenage angst that comes partly from boredom and partly from not having any sense of who you are or what you’re meant to be doing. A great read. Four out of five stars

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend: Amusing but lacked direction – I needed more plot! Not her greatest work. Three out of five stars

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh: I felt like this was kind of a nothing-y book. Not much plot, horrible characters, a distinct lack of tension. I’m sure it’s meant to be a subversive comment on modern art or something but I’m afraid that went right over my head. Two and a half out of five stars

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

End of Month Mini-Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

I’ve had a terrible months blogging activity so I’m desperately trying to get reviews done for all of the books that I’ve recently read! Thank goodness for mini reviews!

So, in light of the fact that I’ve not really done very much recently, today’s theme is…

Taking a Break.png

 

The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

13160430

Eva’s twins have finally been packed off to university and she’s decided that she’s had enough. Enough of the daily drudgery of housework, enough of her tedious husband, enough of being at everyone’s beck and call. So, she decides that it’s time for a well earned rest. Eva takes to her bed and decides that everyone else can look after her for a change. In typical Sue Townsend style this quickly develops into a farcical comedy, with Eva’s husband Brian moving into his purpose built shed-cum-lovenest with his new squeeze Titania (Tit) and Alexander the white van man being left to hold things together.

I liked the easy style of the writing but what this book (and all of the books in this post) suffered from is a lack of robust plot line. Yes, it’s a fun, light book but it’s hardly a page turner. I love Sue Townsend as a writer so it’s still good but it’s nowhere near her best work.

 

Three “It’s not Adrian Mole” out of five

 

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

32187419

Well, this has certainly turned out to be a controversial choice – it’s had accusations of being un-feminist, lacking in plot, failing to follow the basic rules of grammar, being confusing, poorly written… I could go on. And yes (she says, flouting the rules of grammar herself), perhaps all of those things are true – although I don’t think it’s un-feminist to write complicated, emotional female characters – but I still liked it.

Frances is a young, possibly bisexual woman who becomes involved with Nick and Melissa, a slightly older monogamish married couple. Nick begins an affair with Frances, whilst Frances’ ex-girlfriend Bobbi begins a flirtation with Melissa. Frances does very little in the way of work – she’s a performance poet with Bobbi, she lives rent free in a flat owned by her uncle, she states that she never wants a job. Indeed, she’s only forced to get one when her father’s allowance stops, following his descent into alcoholism. Her lack of structure leads to an awful lot of soul searching, in the way that you can only do when you’re young and in love and don’t have to also worry about a million other boring adult issues.

Despite the annoyingly millennial (Gen Z?) characters, I loved the subtlety of the prose, the devastating one liners, the horrid complications of trying to love someone when you don’t love yourself. I could really relate to Frances and her unemotional dialogue which betrayed an ocean of pain and suffering below her bland exterior. I thought that Sally Rooney absolutely caught the aimless horror of being in your early twenties, indecisively drifting between friends, partners and jobs. Urgh. Youth really is wasted on the young.

Four “Not entirely sure how I just enjoyed a book where nothing happened” out of five
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
36203391
An unnamed narrator (I never realise that until I come to write the review) decides that

she needs a rest, so visits a quack “doctor” who prescribes her with ever increasing numbers of sedatives, uppers, downers and everything in-between. The narrator then proceeds to quite literally sleep for an entire year – not going out, not really eating, not menstruating… nothing but popping pills and occasionally buying coffee from the local shop. Whilst I’m sure we’ve all had days where this type of self induced coma sounds rather appealing, it doesn’t exactly make for a page turning novel.

I didn’t like any of the characters in the book (I say any, there’s really only two) but even the peripheral boyfriend and dead parents are incredibly narcissistic, unlovable people. The only vaguely interesting bit of tension comes from your realisation that the “year” is 2001 and the setting is New York City… as you get closer to September you obviously know what’s about to happen but even that gets passed over with very little emotion.

There is something oddly compelling about the writing though. In a weird way it reminded me of American Psycho – that ultra-privileged antipathy, the desire to do something destructive just because you’re bored and you’ve got the money to get away with it. However, murder makes for a far more interesting storyline than sleeping, so I’m only able to give it a Goodreads-unfriendly…

Two and a half “And I thought nothing happened in Conversations With Friends” out of five
AAAAAND RELAX!

 

So, do you think the idea of doing absolutely nothing sounds really appealing? Could you manage to get an interesting book out of it? Do you like books that are more focused on characterisation than plot? Let me know in the comments!

Mid Month Mini Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

Welcome to my a-bit-later-than-planned-mid-month mini-reviews!

I’ve been trying to read more diversely recently and so today I’m focusing on black female authors. All of these books are absolutely excellent and they’ve all made me think about race, racism and privilege (amongst other issues) from entirely different angles. I’d highly recommend them all.

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

38746485

I didn’t go into this book with high expectations but I was blown away by it – not only by the sheer force of Michelle Obama’s drive and ambition but by how well written and engrossing it was. As a British person I don’t understand the system that the US uses to elect its politicians so I had hoped the autobiography wouldn’t get too politically technical and thankfully, it didn’t. What it did do, however, was show what a truly inspirational person Michelle Obama is. Her sheer determination to do well in life was astounding – just the lengths that she had to go to just to get a good education were ridiculous and her constant willingness to defeat the obstacles put in front of her was amazing.

I loved hearing about how Michelle took the role of First Lady and made it her own, with her unique blend of optimism, personality and hard work. I also loved getting a behind-the scenes glance at what life in the White House was really like, especially when you’re also trying to bring up a young family. It was great to hear about what a nuisance the Secret Service were when you were trying to organise your daughter’s sleepover or what it was really like to meet the Queen when you’d only a vague idea of protocol!

Overall, I thought this was a super-interesting look at an amazing woman and her incredible life so far. My only criticism would be her cheese on toast making skills – guys, she used the microwave. Whaaaaat???

    

Four “That’s not how you make cheese on toast, Michelle” out of five.

 

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

714902

 

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #2 Read an alternate history novel.

Oh. My. God.

I don’t know that anything could have prepared me for this book – especially with that ending – but safe to say that I loved it, even though it was upsetting and graphic and difficult to read in places.

Noughts and Crosses is set in a world where power has been flipped on it’s head – black people (crosses) are the ruling elite over the just-out-of-slavery whites (noughts). Sephy (a cross) has been lifelong friends with Callum (a nought) but when their friendship begins to develop into something more, the trouble begins.

There’s a lot of adult themes in the book – not just around privilege, power and racism but also rape, abuse and murder. These topics are handled incredibly sensitively though and although in parts it’s a difficult read, the writing is so outstanding that you’re unable to put the book down. The characters are multi-faceted, complicated individuals who often act irresponsibly – entirely how teenagers should behave – and this made the story seem all the more real to me.

Overall, I thought this was a great book with a very important message – I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

 

Four and a half “You can’t do that to a main character!” out of five

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

33590210

 

This is an odd book to review. On the one hand, I enjoyed reading it but I found that it was only after I’d finished that I truly understood how great it was. I just couldn’t. Stop. Thinking. About. It. And every time I considered the novel from a new angle, I found a whole slew of other issues hiding behind it.

An American Marriage is the story of a married couple, Celestial and Roy, who become separated after Roy is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Roy goes to prison and Celestial is left to build a life on her own, with just the shadow of her husband looming in the background.

It’s the omnipresence of Roy in Celestial’s life that really gives the book some tension. Their marriage is always there in the background, overshadowing every move they both make. The issue of their legal union binds them together and creates all kinds of questions about freedom – it acts as a kind of metaphorical, socially driven prison of their own making. It really made me think about injustice and how punishment of an individual ripples out to affect the whole family.

There’s many things about the book that mean it shouldn’t work – the characters are unlikable, the plot isn’t particularly dynamic, the ending is a bit disappointing. However, there’s something about the writing that compels you to keep reading. I should have hated it but instead I loved it.

 

Four “those dolls sound hella creepy” out of five. 

 

So, have you read any of these books? Do you make an effort to read from a diverse range of authors? Let me know in the comments!

Calendar Girls May: Favourite Book With A Mother/Daughter Relationship

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls, which I totally forgot to post yesterday! I’m so sorry guys!!!

wp-1533326114602.png

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 may

 

…and my top pick is…

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

31434883

When I first saw the theme of mother and daughter relationships I was initially a little stumped. I don’t read a lot of novels that focus on family ties so I had to cast around on google for a bit to see what I could come up with. Then it hit me – I was looking for positive, healthy Mum/Daughter bonds… but what about toxic relationships? That’s when I knew exactly which book I’d recommend – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

In the book, Eleanor lives a life of pared down efficiency. Her meals are one pot, one plate. Her shoes are smart but comfortable, with Velcro for quick fastening (none of those inefficient shoe laces). Her role as a finance administrator requires analysis and ordering of numbers, which can be broken down into repetitive tasks and scheduled accordingly. All of this means that Eleanor creates minimal fuss and requires few interactions with other people. Everything seems to be pretty normal (if a bit lonely) until you realise that Eleanor treats vodka like an essential basic grocery and thinks of a pot plant as her one and only friend.

Eleanor struggles with people, and as the book progresses, you start to guess at what might have happened in her childhood to make her so ill equipped to deal with social situations. Apart from having burn scars across her face and body, Eleanor has a very troubling relationship with her mother (Mummy) who she only contacts via telephone for 15 minutes on a Wednesday (and thank God, because this woman is a BITCH). As the book progresses, Eleanor makes some woeful (often hilarious) attempts to make herself more attractive to her crush and through a freak event is forced to spend time with Raymond, who she knows from work. Through this very off-kilter friendship Eleanor begins to accept herself and deal with her past… and her mother.

I thought that Eleanor was such a great character and although she is clearly odd and her life is terribly sad, the novel is written in such a way that you don’t ever feel that you’re laughing at her, or at least not in a malicious way. When she acts inappropriately you can see it’s because she doesn’t understand social norms and never because she aims to cause offence – but to outsiders I suppose she seems aloof or downright rude. It’s this constant formality and awkwardness that made me empathise so much with Eleanor – you can’t help but be completely on her side.

The ending of the book has a fantastic twist that I half guessed at but the sadness of the whole situation really hit me. I loved how Eleanor’s past was hinted at throughout the novel and that by the end of the book everything had come to light. I really liked how what could have been fluffy chick lit was turned into something much more challenging and emotive by offsetting the lighter elements with something far darker. The book is very well written and a fabulous debut – everyone should read it!

 

Have you read Eleanor Oliphant…? Do you have any favourite books with toxic mother/daughter relationships in them? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

TL;DR April Review

Hello Bookworms!

HEATWAVE!!! HAPPY EASTER!!! BANK HOLIDAY!!!

easter-bunny-easter-rabbit-bunny-couple-69816.jpeg
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I can’t believe how warm it was over the Easter bank holiday weekend! We went out on bank holiday Monday in SHORTS and I had to put suncream on! We even sat out at night in the garden with our wood burner going after having a barbecue and it was lovely.

April saw the launch of the library as a full volunteer led community resource, which means we’ll have much more flexibility about the kind of things that we can use it for – we already have a poetry evening, farmers market and various kids clubs but we’ll be expanding even further, which is both super exciting and a lot of work. The launch day itself was really great – the whole community pulled together to create a fantastic atmosphere. I got up at the crack of dawn to marshal a fun run but it was all for a good cause so I didn’t really mind.

I’ve been out quite a lot in April – we visited Snowshill Manor for the non-hubs birthday (getting more usage from our National Trust membership) which is absolutely fascinating as it houses the most eclectic collection of hand crafted items from all over the world. The interior of the house reminded me of Grimmauld Place so it was perfect for a mooch around; this is just one of the many rooms:

img_0652

We also had a meal at The Fleece Inn near Evesham which was amazing – a proper traditional English pub with a great beer garden and fabulous, locally sourced food. We even went back there a few days later after we’d been out antiquing at Malvern, where I got a lovely German studio pottery bowl and French vase.

We had my parents over for Easter Sunday lunch which involved loads of hot food, wine and chocolate which was really nice. My Mum had her birthday too so we went to Edingale, the village where she used to go during the holidays (some scheme run by the Church maybe?) to stay with a woman called Miss Abel. She hadn’t been back since the 1950’s and amazingly it hadn’t changed much. It’s a lovely place, still very rural and the house that she used to stay in was still there, looking pretty much the same.

Our other house is slow going – we’re still sanding down the cement like filler round all the door frames but we’re close to finishing the woodwork, so that’s something. Disasters this month have included ants in the kitchen (why? there’s literally nothing for them to eat) water ingress into my lovely new kitchen (I think the upstairs window is leaking) and some more problems with the plasterwork but we’re on top of them now.

In terms of my book blogging life I’m now halfway through the Read Harder Challenge which is obviously ahead of schedule and I’m doing ok in the Goodreads Challenge, although I have slipped back a bit.

This month, I took part in the April Calendar Girls meme where I chose Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough as my favourite book with a surprise ending. I took part in a blog tour run by The Write Reads for After the Green Withered by Kristin Ward and expanded my mini review feature to two postings a month – Mid-Month Mini-Reviews and Monthly Wrap-Up Mini-Reviews.

I also did a discussion post about blogging pressure called Are We Having Fun Yet? and continued with Sorting Out the Shelves #5.

I posted eight reviews despite having a pretty bad reading month quality wise:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie: A fantastic essay that really cut to the bones of why it’s important to be an intersectional feminist in the 21st Centuy. Loved everything that she had to say. Five out of five stars

Bloodchild by Octavia E Butler: I loved this novella, especially as it felt like proper old school sci-fi. I’m super interested in the rest of the series now! Four out of five. 

After the Green Withered by Kristen Ward: An interesting debut with a great message but a few problems with pacing and structure. Three and a half out of five.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor: I found that again, a restrained, something-might-happen-but-then-it-doesn’t plot dull as ditchwater. Some characters were brilliant but unfortunately they didn’t feature heavily enough for me.  Three out of five. 

First Love by Gwendoline Riley: One word: depressing. I hate books that don’t have redemptive arcs and this was just one horrible character after another, even though the writing was excellent. Two and a half out of five.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry: I didn’t hate this book but it dragged on and on with very little in the way of plot. It was beautifully written but I needed more action. Average. Two and a half out of five. 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley: I hated this book – the confusing structure of some sentences, the character names, the incongruous details that didn’t sit well within the Victorian setting…urgh. I made it through to the end but my God it was a slog. One out of five. 

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville: I hated every single thing about this book and DNF’d it half way through. One out of five.

So that’s April wrapped up! Did you read better books than me? Are you making plans for the summer? Let me know in the comments!

Viewpoint – Are We Having Fun Yet?

Hello Bookworms!

I realised that I haven’t bashed out a discussion piece in ages, due to the inevitable end of year wrap ups, challenge completion and resolution posts so I thought I’d write about something that’s been on my mind for a little while now. So, grab yourself what looks like a horrible instant coffee, slip on some unattractive slippers, find a fire hazard of a carpeted hearth (is that even legal?) and lets have a chat about blogging and pressure.

adult beverage breakfast celebration
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I really enjoy blogging (and obviously reading) but there seems to be a darker side to running a blog that I’m just becoming aware of (hilariously, after three years of doing it). I’ve only just joined Twitter (THAT’S where you’ve all been hanging out!) and, well, I’m addicted. It’s far more interactive and faster than blogging, you can find out the latest happenings within the bookish community, you can engage with authors and famous people. That’s all super-smashing-great but the thing is, all of this checking of social media takes time and effort and what with writing posts, blog hopping, responding to comments etc., it’s taking up a lot of my day.

facebook instagram network notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve seen super organised bloggers who have content scheduled months in advance and I’ve seen bloggers who bash posts out and publish them immediately (guess which one I am) but we all seem to be saying the same thing – sometimes, we just don’t have the time and/or capacity to keep up with it all. And when that happens, most of us beat ourselves up for it.

wp-1535134669368.png

Why?

Because there’s a lot of pressure on bloggers to meet various deadlines (ARC’s, blog tours etc.), complete reading challenges, engage in the latest debates… but the thing is, this is meant to be FUN. What started as a nerdy little hobby for most of us can easily get out of hand and turn into a full time job. That’s a lot to take on, so no wonder we frequently hear the terms “burnout”, “blogging hiatus”, “reading slump”… if we didn’t run book blogs, would we even notice that we were in a slump? Would we tone down our use of social media without feeling the need to announce it to the world? Would we have “scheduled reading”? Would we be keeping detailed spreadsheets of any other aspects of our lives?

The best, most addictive thing about social media is the external validation that you get from seeing the number of people who have responded to your content. It’s the most instant, obvious way to see how unambiguously “popular” you are – and when those stats are going up, it feels great. However, what happens when you publish a post that only a few people interact with – or when you realise that someone started a blog three months ago and has ten times the number of followers that you do? It doesn’t feel great, does it – but what can you do?

Look at this awful, shameful display of self promotion…😉

Well, there’s two ways of looking at this. The first is to chase those stats – review popular books, write content that you think other people will find interesting, blog SEVERAL TIMES A DAY, tweet ALL OF THE TIME, read some novellas to hit that Goodreads target, even pay another blogger to promote you. But really, who has the time? And how long can you realistically keep it up for? The instant gratification wears off pretty quickly and you’re left chasing even greater numbers, with a mountain of self-generated work to do in the meantime. Over the years, I’ve seen bloggers explode onto the scene with tons of posts, an immediate number of followers and constant engagement but then the shine wears off and they disappear, never to be heard from again. You have to wonder, what was the point?

The second way is to actively try to manage your expectations. Review what you want, limit your time on social media, try to follow a few blogs consistently instead of checking out random posts based on what pops up on your Twitter feed. You won’t get the numbers in terms of your own stats (although, consistently following a handful of blogs is arguably more beneficial as people tend to reciprocate) but you’ll be setting up a realistic blogging habit that works for you long-term. It can be hard when you’re three years in and still aiming for 500 followers but I really treasure the few proper blogging friends that I have – and isn’t that what this whole blogging thing is all about really? Making human connections with like-minded people?

I know that for most of us, we keep ourselves in check and mostly manage to balance our actual lives with our blogging activities – and that for the majority of the time, blogging is fun – even with all of the additional admin. But it can easily get out of control and I think we (myself included) need to step away from the stats and celebrate what we’ve achieved – content that we love, blogs that reflect our individuality and creativity and a positive, supportive community – regardless of how many people have clicked that follow button.

wp-1542040908160.png

 

So, be honest – how often do you check your stats? Do you do anything to actively increase your number of followers/page views etc.? Do you agree that blogging is about far more than metrics? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

22929563

Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism

Similar to: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Could be enjoyed by: Lots of people, apparently

Publication date: 2nd July 2015

 

First things first – I hated this book.

There.

I said it.

I’m very sorry to those of you who have told me this is one of your favourite novels but I just did not get on with it at all. This appears to be a Marmite book – you either love it or you hate it – as the reviews on Goodreads seem to be either five stars or one star.

If you loved it… well… you might not want to read what’s coming next…

 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – A Rant.

By Lucinda Is Reading, aged 36 1/4 

 

Lets start by describing the story. A man named (urgh) Thaniel (I hated the name – to me it sounded far too modern for someone who was meant to be living in Victorian London) finds a watch in his flat. Six months later, the watch emits some kind of alarm that makes him leave the pub (seems pretty tenuous to me but ok) when suddenly a bomb goes off. Thaniel has been saved by his loud timepiece! He somehow, through his work in the Foreign Office, gets involved in the police investigation because – I think – the bomb was clockwork and he has been given a watch and the clockwork is the same. Or something. I don’t know. So he goes off to live with the watchmaker who he thinks made his watch and maybe the bomb, in order to collect evidence in his official capacity as Home Office admin clerk. He finds out that the watchmaker has special powers but isn’t fazed and just accepts this as though it’s an everyday occurrence. A random scientist called Grace enters stage left. She has to get married to inherit a house, so she marries Thaniel after meeting him maybe twice. Turns out Thaniel likes someone else but we don’t get to find that out until he literally walks up to that person and starts snogging them. On his wedding night. Grace, having given literally no indication that their relationship is anything more than a business deal, is inexplicably jealous. Then there’s another bomb but that doesn’t have anything to do with the first one.

Oh, and there’s a clockwork octopus.

The End.

Now, obviously that’s me being mean for comic effect but I honestly couldn’t make head nor tail of the plotline of this book. There were so many things that didn’t make sense, so many threads that were left open-ended, and so many situations where characters acted so, well, out-of-character that I almost gave up numerous times. I slogged through to the end – but only just – and STILL nothing made sense. In fact, it just got weirder.

The disjointed writing was majorly off-putting. Several times I had to re-read a paragraph to work out who or what the author was referring to. Some parts of the narrative were extraordinarily detailed; others were completely lacking. The dialogue between characters was wooden and I don’t think there was a single emotion either displayed or explicitly mentioned throughout the entire book. That made it supremely difficult to get a handle on anyone’s motivations and made their actions seem, at times, completely random.

I also found the actual plot of the book… dull. Yes, there’s a super cool clockwork octopus that may or may not be alive but there’s also an awful lot of wandering around, not really saying or doing anything meaningful. I wasn’t engaged in the narrative at all as I felt there was a complete lack of tension or excitement.

One part of the novel which I will obliquely refer to as the wedding night came so far out of left field that I just couldn’t believe it had been thrown in. It felt completely inauthentic and the general reaction was far, far too modern for a novel set in the Victorian period. There were numerous other examples of inaccuracy – Thaniel learning conversational level Japanese in about a month, Grace being forced to marry because she got caught staying out late, jokes by the watchmaker about how shit the West Midlands is (one of the major centres for watchmaking during that period)… I could go on.

However, my absolute least favourite part of the book (which I will have to paraphrase, having already returned the novel to the library) was a paragraph in which a character seemed to jokingly suggest that one of the ways in which you could get out of a marriage proposal was to take a trip alone to Hampstead Heath at night. Now, I might have got the wrong end of the stick here (again, the writing is extraordinarily convoluted) but… is that a rape joke? If not – what the hell did it mean?

Overall, this book was really, really, really not for me. Plenty of people seem to love it so by all means don’t avoid it on my account – but don’t say that I didn’t warn you!

 

One “Did I miss something?”s out of five.

“Not for me” is the nicest thing I can say about this book.

 

 

Mid Month Mini Reviews – April

Copy of Untitled Design (3)

Hello bookworms!

The mini-reviews continue! I really enjoy writing these, I have no idea why it took me THREE WHOLE YEARS to try them!

Today, I’m focusing on my most disappointing recent reads that I just can’t bring myself to write proper reviews for. Lazy but…meh!

 

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville

41017647

I can’t begin to stress how much I hated this book. I just didn’t get it. The premise was that in wartime Paris, surrealist art came to life and seemingly attacked everyone – for what reason I’m not quite sure. There were other bits of surrealism that didn’t attack people but seemed to be stuck in some kind of time loop. Also there were Nazi’s. To be honest I had absolutely no idea what was going on so I was quite glad that my online library loan expired and the book disappeared from the catalogue – a kind of enforced DNF at around 50%. Oh well.

 

One “What the…what???” out of five.

 

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

32075861

This book wasn’t bad exactly – in fact I started off really liking it – but I quickly lost interest. The book centres around Cora, newly widowed and looking for adventure. When she hears about rumours of a mysterious beast roaming the Essex waterways, she and her son Francis up sticks and decamp to Aldwinter to investigate further.

I totally get why lots of people love the novel as it’s beautifully written with lovely, lyrical prose but unfortunately it just didn’t GO anywhere. All of the characters were restrained by their Victorian morals so there was a lot of “should we… oh” *abruptly turns and flees* and gazing into the middle distance that got on my nerves. It suffered from the same fate as Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield in that respect (the two books are so similar I kept getting the stories confused in my head – even the covers look the same). I slogged my way through to the end to find out if there really was an Essex Serpent (spoiler alert: no) so overall I felt pretty letdown by the whole thing.

It is a very pretty book though.

 

Two and a half “it’s a fucking fish” out of five. 

 

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor (not that one)

1865139

I own a very beautiful Virago Modern Classics Designer Edition of this book and although I have really enjoyed almost every single VMC offering so far, I really struggled to connect with this one. The main problem is that NOTHING HAPPENED.

The story starts out well enough, with an innocent young teenage crush that occurs between Harriet and Vesey. Their fledgling holiday romance is cut short (nothing happens) after Vesey is made to return home and their lives take them in very different directions – Vesey to the stage and Harriet into a comfortable middle class marriage (where nothing happens). However, once Vesey makes a return to Harriet’s life, the cracks in her seemingly solid, dependable life are exposed and what I hoped would be the ensuing torrid, sexy love affair…DOESN’T HAPPEN. Yawn.

I found Harriet and Vesey extremely distant as characters and couldn’t empathise with them at all. I much preferred to hear about Harriet’s shop worker friends running rings around the management, waxing their upper lips in the staff room when they were meant to be on the shop floor or the beautiful, Rubenesque Kitty wafting around in a gin soaked bubble of privilege. It’s a shame that these peripheral characters don’t get more of a look in.

I suspect that the novel is intentionally depressing to showcase the trappings of a “comfortable” life but that lack of passion left me cold.

 

Three (just) “dufferish attempts at lovemaking” out of five.

 

So, have you read any of these books? Are you a fan of Elizabeth Taylor (not that one)’s other works? Could you make any sense of The Last Days of New Paris? Let me know in the comments!