Thursday, 12 November 2020

Cat Step - an #IndieBookNetwork review

 

Cat Step by Alison Irvine (Dead Ink Books)


Expanding my reading horizons has always been important to me, whether it is new genres, locations, languages in translation, or new publishers. The IndieBookNetwork initiative is really helping me do the latter as without that I'm not sure I'd ever have come across Cat Step.

The publisher blurb reads:

One mistake can unravel everything…

She only left her daughter in the car for a minute; just a quick minute whilst she ran into the shop. She barely thought twice about making the decision, but it soon began to consume her every thought. And not just her thoughts, but those of every neighbour, police officer and social security worker in a fifteen mile radius. But this is her child. Surely she knows best?

After she’d made the move to a small town in Scotland, the rolling hills and blustery beaches seemed to be the perfect backdrop for her and her four year-old daughter, Emily, to start again. It wasn’t always easy just the two of them, but Liz was sure that she could manage this time. And now this?

Sometimes, one mistake is all it takes to unravel everything. Cat Step is a lyrically sparse novel about judgement, intergenerational relationships, community, class, and the expectations that we place on mothers. With sharp prose Alison Irvine has crafted a compassionate narrative that compels you to read on.

And that is a pretty good precis of the book, but what it leaves out is the feeling of overwhelming dread that the book gave me from the first page.

From the start I couldn't tell which way the book was going to go, there are so many strands that add to the feeling of dread, but in general terms they were all 'real' and on the surface 'nice' so why was I so nervous?

I'm not going to spoil anyone's reading of the book except to say all of the threads are drawn together well, and that at no point did the story tip over into the unbelievable. It really did feel as if this could happen to anyone in the same circumstances. Once one action is taken, or one mistake is made then life can just snowball. Individually they are nothing but like that snowball they just keep getting bigger until you are somthered.

The chapters were nice and short for the most part, so when I really couldn't bear the tension any more it was easy to stop, breathe and then come back to the book. 

I don't think I'd have found this book without the chance from Bex, especially with the new lockdown (and how little I am going into shops this year anyhow) but I am glad that I did, I don't think that it will ultimately make my best of the year lists but it certainly had a really powerful effect on me.

Cat Step was published by Dead Ink Books on 5th November and I was provided with a free copy to review as part of the Indie Book Network.

Tuesday, 3 November 2020

The Becket List Blog Tour (#IndieBookNetwork)

 

The Becket List by Henry Becket (RedDoor Press)

Let's face it 2020 has been a pretty miserable year and anything that can raise a smile has to be a good thing, and for me The Becket List has really been a tonic over the past few weeks.

When I was offered the chance by Bex at Ninjabookbox to take part in another #IndieBookNetwork project - and one that was going to be based around a humour book - I was very excited, any thing that chases off the onset of the winter blues is to be embraced.

The Becket List seemed to be just what the (book)doctor ordered:

The Becket List is a not entirely serious compendium of 'First World Problems' - the sort of stuff that drives us round the bend on a daily basis. How is it that atonal music, bus stations, cling-film and coat-hangers can bugger us up so comprehensively? Or passport control people, modern poetry, or just about anything you'll find in a typical hotel bedroom? Embracing both the inanimate - from allen keys to rawlplugs - and the animated (well, in some cases) - from your fellow-travellers to every third-rate waiter who ever walked the earth - this book is essential for your sanity. As such, this comprehensive A to Z provides a signal service to humanity.

The list is arranged alphabetically and I've been reading it one (or two) letters a day during my coffee break and it has made me laugh out loud more than one. I think Mr Norfolkbookworm has got a little fed up with me reading extracts to him as he's trying to do the crossword.

With any personal list there's entries that made me nod in agreement with Henry Becket's thoughts and then there of course there were some entries that I thought were a little harsh, even then his reasoning often brought me round to his point of view! 

I think that my two top entries were the ones on cats and the weather forecasts - both were spot on with my feelings and it was nice to see that others share my opinions on the latter! A little of me would have liked to have heard his opinion on bucket lists but that is a minor quibble.

The book is illustrated by Tony Husband, but the book isn't reliant on them which makes the joy of coming across them all the funnier - the illustration below is actually about teapots and not vicars but it captures my experience with every teapot I've ever used...


This book should bring delight to anyone who comes across it - however grumpy or not they are in general!

Huge thanks to Bex at Ninjabookbox for offering the chance to take part in the blog tour, RedDoor Press & Helen at Literallypr for the copy of the book and then of course to Henry Beckett and Tony Husband for writing a book that has raised a smile in the gloom of autumn 2020.



Friday, 30 October 2020

Micro Review 15

 

The Readers' Room by Antoine Laurain (trans. Aitkins, Boyce & Mackintosh) from Gallic Books

I've been a fan of Laurain's books since the very first one appeared in English and he has become one of the authors I look up regularly to see if there is a new book due. The problem with this eagerness is that once I get a copy in my hand I become really nervous that the book won't be as good as I hope and I put off starting it.

This time I had to read the book relatively swiftly as it was a library book with a waiting list of people also looking forward to it!

As with all of Laurain's books it is relatively short and really couldn't be anything other than French, the locations just really wouldn't (or couldn't) translate to anywhere else. This book was always going to appeal to me as it is set firmly in the book world and to be honest my dream job would be in Violaine's Readers' Room.

The mystery of this book is two fold - an anonymous book is taking the French literary world by storm and yet at the same time the events in the book are coming to life away from Paris. Can the two mysteries be solved before people lose their jobs or their lives?

I loved reading this book, I guessed very small details of the mysteries but regardless I loved spending time in the world of these people and like all the best books they lived for me. I could 'see' the book really clearly in my mind as I read which in no small way is down to the trio of translators who catch the whimsy of the writing so well.


Monday, 26 October 2020

Book shadows

 

How Should One Read a Book by Virginia Woolf (and also Windsong Summer by Patricia Cecil Hass)

I wrote recently about how I was rediscovering old favourite books recently and it was a weird feeling when I read Sheila Heti's introduction to Woolf's essay around the same time.

Heti is talking about the 'shadow-shape' of books that we read and the lines that stood out were:

"A book is a watery sculpture that lives on in the mind once the reading is done. When I think back on the books I have loved, I rarely remember the names of characters, the plot, or most of the scenes. It is not even the tone or mood I remember, but some residue remains - and that unlikely word is appropriate here - of unique shape.

Sometimes the shape of an entire book will be compacted into the memory of a single scene: something simple - a room that was conjured in the mind, in which two characters sat, speaking." (p7)

Heti and then Woolf go on to talk about how to read and evaluate books but it was this initial sentiment that struck and then stayed with me.

Windsong Summer was another book I remember buying from the school book sale. Even though 30+ years have gone since I last read the book it definitely left a shadow shape with me. I remembered that it was set in the summer in a tropical location, that boats were involved and that there was a hurricane but very little else. Except that at some point in the book they eat chowder...



I had no idea what chowder was as a child but I know that as soon as I saw it on the menu on a trip to San Francisco a few years ago I had to try it and that it instantly took me back to this book. 

That feeling passed but earlier this year (before lockdowns and travel bans) Mr Norfolkbookworm and I were in the Florida Keys I instantly started thinking about this book again...the seas were the colour I imagined as a child and we even saw some yachts that had been damaged in past hurricanes.

I have now read the book, and I quite enjoyed it. Again it was an experience where I felt like I was reading a new book and at the same time reading a book I knew word for word... as an adult I can see more flaws in the book and I can see why it hasn't made it as a modern classic but I'm not going to focus on them as right now we all need nice things and I am going to take myself back to a world of clear blue seas, warm weather and summer adventures!

Many thanks to Net Galley for the advance copy of How One Should Read a Book.


Friday, 16 October 2020

As the Women Lay Dreaming - a review for the IndieBookNetwork


 As the Women Lay Dreaming by Donald S Murray (Saraband)

After running a 5 year project during the WW1 Centenary commemorations I've not read too many books set in 1913-1919 but the offer from Bex (Ninja Book Box) to expand my reading of independent publishers with a book set at the very end of the war was too good to miss.

In the small hours of January 1st, 1919, the cruellest twist of fate changed at a stroke the lives of an entire community.

Tormod Morrison was there that terrible night. He was on board HMY Iolaire when it smashed into rocks and sank, killing some 200 servicemen on the very last leg of their long journey home from war. For Tormod – a man unlike others, with artistry in his fingertips – the disaster would mark him indelibly.

Two decades later, Alasdair and Rachel are sent to the windswept Isle of Lewis to live with Tormod in his traditional blackhouse home, a world away from theGlasgow of their earliest years. Their grandfather is kind, compassionate, but still deeply affected by the remarkable true story of the Iolaire shipwreck – by the selfless heroism and desperate tragedy he witnessed.

A deeply moving novel about passion constrained, coping with loss and a changing world, As the Women Lay Dreaming explores how a single event can so dramatically impact communities, individuals and, indeed, our very souls.

I learned about the Iolaire disaster during my centenary project, the loss of a ship bringing men home to the Western Isles from the war within sight of the harbour on New Year's Day 1919 hammered home the utter futility of that war to me.

This book is very clever as the Iolaire disaster is central to the plot, but at the same time not. Ostensibly this is the story of Alasdair remembering a short period in his life when he lived with his grandparents long after the ship went down, but every interaction Alasdair has is coloured by how the war and shipwreck impacted the community.

I found myself immersed in the book and found that I was incapable of putting it down once I'd started it. I liked learning about how life in the Western Isles remained untouched in many ways during WW1 but that the people involved were completely altered, however hard they tried to stay firm with their beliefs. It was such a feast for the senses reading this book, I really could see, hear and smell everything which helps to explain how hard it was to stop reading and return to 2020.

Surprisingly for a book that enthralled me so much I am finding it hard to articulate why, and I am now realising just how many gaps the book has left me with. 

I wanted to spend more time in the family's world and I definitely want to know about all of the female characters whose stories are tantalisingly mentioned but never completed.  There is a lot to be said for a short, beautiful book but I'd have loved this to be a big, sweeping saga and to feel like I was a part of the family rather than someone peeking through the window and listening to snippets of the family's story being told around the fire place.

I'm really pleased I've read this book, and huge thanks to Bex at the Indie Book Network and Saraband for the book, I'm now off to look for more books set in the Western Isles and about HMY Iolaire.

 

Sunday, 11 October 2020

Rediscovering old (book) friends

 

Earthstar Magic by Ruth Chew (Scholastic)

In the UK it has just been National Libraries Week and several threads on social media have been about favourite books from childhood, which set me thinking about books that stand out in my memory.

I loved the Garden Gang books, and then there was the dreadfully didactic Learning Tree that I was very attached to but the first books to really stick in my mind are ones that I got from the book catalogue leaflets that came home from school. I don't recall if I was bought them, or if I saved up pocket money for them but there are four titles that have always stayed with me.

Two are standard children's classics being The Little House on the Prairie and We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea. These books helped spark my love of series fiction and I still have my copies of these books (and all the other books by Ingalls Wilder & Ransome - plus a lot of books about them!) I often reread them, and with Ransome visit the locations he wrote about.

The other two books were more obscure and I don't think I've ever met anyone else who's read them. Idle online browsing recently led me to discover that both of them were currently in stock with a 2nd hand bookseller and I decided to treat myself.

The first book I decided to read was Earthstar Magic by Ruth Chew. In my mind I could see the cover really clearly and I knew that it was about a flying mushroom.

My mind had made it far more salacious than it actually was - I thought that the mushroom was more like the food Alice tries in Wonderland and that the children ate portions of it to grow/shrink/fly!

Instead the mushroom, an earthstar, belongs to a discredited witch and when Ben and Ellen first save and then befriend Trudy they learn the secrets of the earthstar's magic and have several adventures over a couple of days of summer.

The book is in fact very reminiscent of Jill Murphy's Worst Witch or even James Nichol's stories about Arianwyn and just a very sweet early reader about families, holidays and friendship.

Reading the books was a funny mix of familiarity and discovery and unlike so often when you go down memory lane very much not a disappointment, however a little research into the author shows that she wrote many books in a similar vein but I don't think I will tarnish my nostalgia by trying any more of them!

Friday, 9 October 2020

Micro Review 14

 

Pandora's Jar by Natalie Haynes (Pan Macmillan)

Regular readers will have hopefully picked up on my love of mythology and Haynes' writing style and will thus be unsurprised that I though this book simply wonderful.

Pandora's Jar is a non fiction book taking a critical look at many of the females in classical literature and then their portrayal in art and literature through the centuries since. Fans of Haynes' previous work will not be surprised to find that the original tales were often very different to the tales we know today.

That Pandora had a jar not a box is just the start of this look at the original stories and their subsequent retellings and the reasons for the alterations. The classic Harryhausen film Jason and the Argonauts would have been quite different if the original source material had been used too...

Looking into the retelling, simplifying and reworking of 'classics' fascinates me - to the extent that I wrote my MA dissertation on the topic. This book reminded me of the research I found so enthralling whilst also making me laughing out loud (and snorting in disgust) at the points Haynes, in her inimitable way, makes.

Another book that I know I will dip in and out of in the future.

Monday, 28 September 2020

Micro Review 13

 

A Year of Living Simply by Kate Humble

(Aster Books, part of Octopus Publishing)

2020 has been a decidedly odd year, horrific wildfires and a global pandemic have really brought home just how fragile our world is and that we need to do something to help.

The task is pretty overwhelming and knowing where to start is a problem and this is what Humble is exploring in this book. 

This isn't a self help book, or a how to guide, rather it is one woman looking at options for living in a less complicated manner. From growing her own food, to mending clothes right through to looking at alternative ways to build houses Humble travels the country (and the world) looking for answers that will work for her and then sharing them with the reader.

I liked this book as it gave me some ideas of things that we could change in our lifestyles to both help the environment and to live more simply. I also think that thanks to the pandemic we have already implemented them in some ways - we definitely are shopping more locally and more seasonally, we are trying new meals and eating less meat and we are definitely buying less, well except books - but they are essentials aren't they?

The pandemic has also really shown what is important/essential in life and that makes this book even more timely - even if some of the places/ideas talked about are off limits for a while yet!

Humble is an engaging writer and her honesty in writing about her failures and misgivings really adds to this book.


Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Micro Review 12

 

Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink (published by Picador)

Books about books are a real weakness of mine and this book was a delight to read. Rentzenbrink mixes personal history with comments on the books she was reading at the time. She was also a bookseller for a considerable period of time and her memories of books & events from this period of her life tally with many of my memories of bookselling which gave me an added level of enjoyment.

While I have read many of the books talked about I did find myself going back through each chapter (once I'd raced through the book) to make notes of books to hunt out or to re-read. As ever now to find the time to read all of these books!

Like Lucy Mangan's Bookworm this is a book I read in proof form thanks to Net Galley but is one that I also need a physical copy of, just to be able to dip in and out of when looking for inspiration for my next read!

Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Micro Review 11

 

March (volumes 1-3) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (published by Top Shelf Productions)

Summer 2020 has been marked with many demonstrations in the UK and USA regarding the Black Lives Matters movement and I have been trying to learn more about the histories and politics around this movement.

A 'you've read x why not try y' recommendation lead me to this wonderful graphic memoir about Congressman John Lewis and his non violent struggles within the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. 

The book is framed with by the first inauguration of President Obama and in flash backs tells Lewis' story to show how the struggles of Lewis and others paved the way for the election of a black man as president.

I knew some of the history of the Civil Rights Movement but not much beyond the 'big' moments. This series of 3 books taught me so much more. It isn't a hagiography of Lewis or the Civil Rights Movement and I am sure a lot of things were missed out but it clearly presents history (flattering or not) in a way that packed more of a punch than just a straight biography/autobiography every could.

I'm not a great one for comics/graphic novels as I've said before but discovering a new non-fiction read in the genre was brilliant and as Congressman Lewis died while I was midway through the series (the books were popular on the Norfolk Library e-book catalogue and I had to wait for my reservation on each volume) it seemed a doubly timely read.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

Rewilding Myself

 

2020 has been an unusual year to say the least but the often good weather and restrictions on travel have had some plus points - Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have made the effort to get out together for a walk (admittedly of varying length) every day bar a handful since lockdown was introduced in March.

While we often spent our free time pre-Covid outside these daily excursions have made us far more aware of the incremental changes that happen in nature and watching the seasons pass in regularly visited spaces has been a pleasant side effect.

The amount I've been reading has fluctuated wildly through the year, as have the subjects, but Rewild Yourself by Simon Barnes is a book that really stuck with me. His 23 ideas for noticing the world around you on a small and practical scale are definitely sensible and achievable, not hand-wavy or impossible.

I enjoy bird spotting while out and about  but I consider myself to be a poor and often frustrated birder - far too many of my pictures are classed as 'lbj' (little brown job) as I have no idea what they actually are. Barnes came to the rescue with the suggestion that butterflies are (mostly) easier to identify and also with just 50 or so commonly seen species in England it is possible to 'see' them all.

I've been keeping a track of what we have seen this year and incredibly we've seen 21 positively identified species in Norfolk, and I have managed to get a photograph of nearly all of them. The whites and blues have been the hardest to snap and identify but it has been so much fun walking in the countryside and then taking the time to identify them. Unlike my images of birds and dragonflies I have been able to ID them without asking for help from other naturalists on Twitter!

I post many of my images from our excursions on Flickr (www.flickr.com/norfolkbookworm) but below are some collages of our spots this year. Highlights are always going to include the elusive swallowtails but this year is is also the green and white hairstreaks that feature. Next year I really how to be able to see the rarer white admiral and purple emperor butterflies, and I'd love to see some of the more exotic moths too.

I really recommend Simon Barnes' books - he writes about Norfolk and nature in wonderfully evocative ways.








Friday, 11 September 2020

Thoughts on the 2020 Women's Prize

 

I can't believe that three years have passed since I was picked as a library ambassador for the Women's Prize. Time flies.

In 2017 I read all of the short listed books and got to pick my favourite from the list as well as getting to meet some lovely new people and to go to the prize ceremony.

This year it was all a bit different (what isn't in 2020?!) but when the prize giving was delayed from June to September I decided to try and read all of the shortlisted books and to try and pick the winner.

The short listed books were:

  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
  • Dominca by Angie Cruz
  • Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
From the outset A Thousand Ships was my favourite book, it was one of my best reads in 2019 and I still think it is fantastic. Then I read Girl, Woman, Other and got even crosser that it shared the Booker Prize with Attwood last year - it is far, far, far better than The Tesatments. I also quite enjoyed Hamnet earlier in the year.
Dominica and Weather were good reads but haven't hugely stuck with me, and I confess to being very behind the times and so only got around to reading Wolf Hall this year and not the shortlisted tome, I can't see that the quality of writing has dropped that much and so my feelings on this one are 'a good read but Haynes & Evaristo's books are better'.

The results were announced this week and Hamnet was crowned the 25th winner of Women's Prize and my run of not being able to pick the winner continues!

Having read (nearly) all of the books  and looked through my reading notes I can't say I am upset at the result - unlike last year's Booker prize - but I do wish that A Thousand Ships had won. 

If you aren't familiar with Natalie Hayne's work then I really do recommend giving her radio series a try - it is a wonderful mix of history, mythology, feminism and humour.



Friday, 4 September 2020

Micro Review 10 (Women in Translation month)

 

Diary of an Apprenticeship - Samantha Cristoforetti (trans. Jill Foulston)


August was women in translation month and this book was published (and delivered) just in time for me to be able to read it in August, even if the review is being published in September.

Regular readers will know that I am a bit (!) of a space nut and I've been waiting to read this for ages - it has been out in Italian for a while. As of December 2019 there have been 565 astro/cosmonauts and of these only 65 have been female. Of these 65 I think I can count on the fingers of one hand those that have written autobiographies - although there may be a few more biographies.

This book was a great read, most of the book was about the training regime for a European astronaut and just coordinating this sounded exhausting even before the technical and practical training actually started! The format was nice too - the first part of each chapter was written like a diary/blog entry and then there was some deeper thought/exploration about this to fill in details.

Despite not too much of the book being focussed on her actual time in space (mainly because Cristoforetti blogged extensively about her stay on ISS which can be read here) it captures both the excitement and repetitiveness of space training and space flight as well as a lot of her personality. 

Unlike some astronaut autobiographies Cristoforetti manages a perfect balance between honesty and enthusiasm - disappointments, problems and stresses are talked about but not dwelt upon, and at the same time it is clear that there are difficulties to overcome.

I'd never have known that this book was in translation, it read smoothly throughout and I guess that the publisher felt the same as nowhere on their website or the cover is Foulston mentioned, which is a real shame - although I know that Cristoforetti's English would have been good enough for her to write the book in English or translate it herself.

I'm always going to be an @astrosam fangirl as she is a Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy & Star Trek fan - plus she tweeted me from space!

Cristoforetti is an astronaut classmate of Tim Peake and his autobiography is due in a few weeks, as you can image I have that on pre-order already. It will be interesting to read his take on the training process...

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Micro Review 9

 

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories - ed. Jay Rubin (various translators)


Apologies for the delay in reviews, I'm still working from home and this means that once I shut my laptop I just want to read a book - not write about them! Then once Mr Norfolkbookworm has finished his day (also from home) we're tending to go out for a walk while the weather is still good.

During lockdown I kept a book of short stories by the bed, this was great because even on the weirdest day I did still read something. I've kept the habit up as things have settled into a new normal and it means that depending on my mood I can read just one short story (and some are just two pages long) or can settle in for a longer spell. 

This volume of Japanese stories is fascinating, the editor has grouped them by theme but within these sections there are stories from the 19th century through to the present day and 99% of the authors are new to me.

As you'd expect in a book of short stories not every single one appeals, but certainly well over half do - and best of all (so far) none of the stories have given me nightmares, even though some of them have been incredibly weird.

I'm definitely going to look out for more books in this series from Penguin as it is a lovely way to learn more about literature from other countries and to add authors to my "must read" lists. A short story or two at the end of the day is also a nice routine to get into - bath, book and bed isn't just for children!

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Micro Review 8

The Cabinet of Calm - Paul Anthony Jones


I love learning new words, dialects, local phrases and their etymology and thus I was always going to love this book.

Although it has a title very reminiscent of the once popular 'little books of calm' (and who can forget how they were lampooned in the comedy Black Books) this book isn't full of inane platitudes and pseudo advice it is a book about words and how if you look hard enough there is a word or phrase for pretty much everything that happens in the world or the emotions events invoke.

In my Twitter biography I call myself a 'candle waster' which is an archaic (and derogatory) term meaning someone who stays up late reading, but through reading this book I found some wonderful new phrases to describe life.

Some of my favourites came in the entry for describing friends - different people mean different things and sometimes 'friend' isn't quite enough to encompass all they mean to you.

There are jolly-dogs (a friend who can always be relied on for a riotously good time, jamb-friends (a friend you can talk the night away with) and then at a time where things are so different there are angel-visits (visits or catchups with good friends that prove all too few and far between). The definition of this last category is expanded in several paragraphs but the idea is that you aren't sad that you can't see your friends but rather you should look forward to the times you will spend together in the future - you are reminding yourself how lucky you are to know them.

I read this book as an advance copy electronic proof which isn't the best way to enjoy the book. It is a volume to have sitting around and when you have a few minutes spare to open and read an entry at random. I know that the physical book will be on my Christmas list later in the year.

(ps don't be put off by the sub-title - this isn't a book rushed out because of the pandemic, the troubled times it refers to are general troubled times - like much the 21st century so far - and not a specific event!)

The Cabinet of Calm is published by the independent publishing company Elliot & Thompson (https://eandtbooks.com/) , and encouraged by the wonderful team behind Ninja Book Box (https://www.ninjabookbox.com/ ) I'm making a conscious effort to celebrate indie publishers by naming them in reviews, much as I always try to name the translator.

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Micro Review 7

Persephone Press


I love the books produced by the Persephone Press, at first glance they may seem to be dull and all the same but once you open the tactile grey covers you are greeted with amazing end papers (often reproduced fabrics relevant to the author or book) and bespoke bookmarks for each volume.

I have a full bookshelf dedicated to books from Persephone, as well as piles of volumes that don't fit on these shelves.

The last book I bought in a physical UK bookshop before lockdown was a Persephone book (Expiation by Elizabeth von Armin) and some idle internet browsing meant that a parcel from Persephone was my treat to myself for July.

The books cover all genres and have introduced me to less well known books by favourite authors or books written for adults by primarily children's authors. Some of my favourite volumes are the short story collections from Mollie Panter-Downes and the novels from R C Sheriff (author of one my favourite plays).

I think the thing I like the most about Persephone is that their catalogue and website tells you so much about a book (without giving the entire story away) that when you pick a book you generally know you are going to love it  - as the books aren't the cheapest this is a great thing!

Before Coronavirus I regularly visited second hand bookshops and stalls and only twice in about 10 years have I come across a Persephone title on a shelf - either no one give them away or they are snatched off the shelves as soon as they appear!

If I've made you curious then do investigate their website (I'm not affiliated to them in anyway I just love the books...) now if you'll excuse me I'm off to read another couple of  short stories from Syliva Townsend Warner which came in my parcel the other day!

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Equally (or sequel-ly) brilliant!

Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue - Anna Fargher


Originally due to be published in April I've had an advance copy of this book sitting on my Kindle for many months and it has been burning a hole in my curiosity too! I put off reading it for two reasons. Firstly book one was *so* good I was nervous about the sequel  - could it be as good?

The second reason was more personal, half of the joy from book one was reading it along side my family and the heated texts and messages we shared as we read the book. What with the pandemic we've not been able to really get together much this year and so I wanted the closeness that shared reading brings!

When the copy for Kentishbookboy arrived it just so happened that it was one of the weeks his year group was at school but I'm afraid to say neither his mum nor I could wait any longer and we spent every spare moment over two days reading and messaging.

After the climactic and traumatic ending of the first book we were plunged straight back in to Pip's world and like the first book there were moments of tenderness, fear, and excitement as the adventures across France continued. There were so many historical points covered and coupled with the realistic show of emotions and actions that warfare causes I often forgot that the cast were a mix of animals rather than a group of disparate human resistance fighters!

Being an adult and knowing how the real history of 1944 played out in France meant I was pretty sure how the adventure was going to end but the journey there, through the eyes of a band of animals, was gripping and at times downright scary! And the epilogue was (implausibly) perfect for me - a real pleasure to know that this was a complete story and there wouldn't be dozens of further sequels each becoming more far fetched.

Personally I think that the two Umbrella Mouse books deserve to become as popular as War Horse, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas & Good Night Mr Tom in the way they introduce so many different aspects of war to young readers.

I'm looking forward to hearing what Kentishbookboy and his nan & grandad think when they read the book - hopefully it won't be too long before we can all get together and have a proper book group chat in person.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Micro Review 6

Difficult Women by Helen Lewis



Subtitled A History of Feminism in 11 Fights I found this book to be fascinating. Lewis manages to tell the story of feminism via the stories of11 important women but rather than just talking about their feminist credentials, and why they deserve to be remembered, she also fills in the shadows of these same women. 

She reminds us that very few people are all good and that even those that are remembered and presented as pioneers have another side, and are rounded, often difficult people.

This is a clever book because it utterly champions pioneers of women's rights and women's causes but it does this with humour and reminds us that we have to take all of history not just the bits that appeal to us.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Micro Review 5

One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake



Despite having over flowing bookshelves and a Kindle full of unread books I still found myself with nothing to read a few weeks ago and so started to browse the Library ebook shelves again. I think that the impossibility of travel and the boredom that is meal planning drew me to this book.

Cloake sets off by bike to spend a few weeks cycling around France trying the various local specialties of the regions and also trying to find the best croissant in France.

I don't hugely enjoy cycling, and there are certain foods even I'd never try (andouille sausage I'm looking at you here) but Cloake's enthusiasm is infectious and I now have a list of places as long as my arm that I'd like to visit.

I also liked that often Cloake gets fed up with the weather, camping and cycling and so checks into hotels and uses trains to get from place to place. This made 90% of her trip sound fun rather than a punishment. For me this was ideal lockdown escapism and encouraged me to open some of my recipe books and try some new dishes.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Micro Review 4

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (trans. Philip Gabriel)


This is a whimsical tale of one man and his cat, mostly told from the viewpoint of the incredibly intelligent cat, Nana.

It sounds trite but I was swept away by the writing and the descriptions of Japan through the seasons and by the end was an emotional wreck. This book was a master class in showing how to write/translate a book that appears simple but is in fact profound and deeply moving.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Micro Review 3

The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley  



Cats in Japanese fiction do seem to be a thing and during lockdown I have read two of the genre. This book is written by an Englishman (with Norfolk connections) who lived in Japan for a decade.

The book is effectively a series of short stories all connected by the ways that one cat pops in and out of their lives however obliquely. This device allows the reader to learn about many different areas of Tokyo and also just a little about the culture and structure of Japanese society.

I found it a great read for escaping during the worst of the (initial?) lockdown but came back to reality with a thump at the end of the book as world events even intruded on a book written and published before the pandemic.

Monday, 29 June 2020

Micro Review 2

Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem


Since the whole Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak started the one thing I have discovered about myself is that water and water landscapes are very important to me. The three months of serious lockdown became the longest time I have ever not seen the sea, and I think that I would have gone stark staring mad if we hadn't found some riverside walks close to home.

Similarly a visit to London that doesn't include sight of the Thames also feels wrong to me and I can only image Maiklem's relief at being allowed back on the foreshore again.

This book is split in to sections, generally divided by the bridges and Maiklem talks if her finds and the history of each area specific to the river bank. For a mudlarker there are certain things that are 'holy grail-like' it seems as well as each person having their own special treasures, patches and stories to tell.

At a time that you can't travel this is a wonderful read, and it makes me want to comb the banks of the Thames at low tide next time I am on the Southbank with some time to kill.

When we were younger my sister and I did a little mudlarking of our own when visiting our aunt and uncle who lived by the coast in an area that was once a brickworks. The foreshore there was full of curiosities, pieces of china and glass and when the tide (and mud) were right we would comb the area looking for bottles and the like. This book brought back those happy memories too and so another reason why I see this one ending up in my top reads of the year in a few months time.

As I was writing this post a Tweet scrolled by saying that Mudlarking has won the non-fiction Indie Book Award 2020 a fact that has made me very happy!

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Micro Review 1


Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession



I think that I saw some chat on Twitter about this book and I was intrigued enough to see if it was available from the Norfolk Library service as an ebook to borrow. Luckily for me it was, and amazingly without a wait too!

This book was a wonder, it was deceptively simple and really is just about the friendship of two men who just don't quite fit in to society as is (stereotypically) expected.

The joy for me about this book was that Leonard and Paul's differences were just stated and the story was about a short period of time and how they navigated it. 

Unlike so many books with non-neurotypical characters (I'm looking at you Rosie Project, Eleanor Olliphant and so on) Leonard and Paul didn't change to fit in, they weren't unhappy and needing redemption they were just two, well written, characters living their lives in the way they chose.

For a while I was reading this expecting a huge (or humiliating) plot point to occur and it just didn't, it was a gentle, realistic book that I loved spending time reading.

(ps apologies for the change in layout and other quirks - blogger has changed the interface for creating posts and it is just too hot to fight with it right now!)


Saturday, 13 June 2020

Reading Break


Both the Kentishbookboy and I have lost our reading mojo a little bit right now - partly because of the Coronavirus changing so much of daily life and partly because in May the weather was sooooo glorious we spent as mush time out doors as possible.

In fact in May I only read 7 books which is the lowest figure in years (the months following my SAH not included).

June has started in a better fashion for me, partly because the weather has changed I think but hopefully we'll have more book chat to share soon!

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Following on

The Ratline by Philippe Sands


Back in 2016 I was blown away by Sands' first book East West Street I reviewed it in the middle of the year here and it remained one of my tops books of the year when I came to do my round up.

I was a little concerned about The Ratline for two reasons - 1) it is a second book and they can always be tricky & 2) it is another book about the guilt (or not) felt by survivors of the Holocaust - would it just be too much like the first book?

Happily for me neither of my fears came true and while The Ratline does almost continue from the end of the first book (and definitely from the end of the documentary Sands made) it was completely different and taught me so much about Austria during the Nazi period and also the escape routes used by the Nazis as they tried to flee justice.

Thanks to a lot of the children's literature I've read regarding the Holocaust I was aware of how some of the history played out in Austria before, during and after the Anschluss but this has always been from the Jewish/resistance point of view and so to read about it from the other aide was equally fascinating and horrifying.

While I was aware that some high profile Nazis escaped Europe for a new life in South America I had never given any thoughts to how this happened and so read this part of the tale completely fresh. I knew that there had been complicity in some quarters - but just how much was eye opening.

At the heart of this book is Sands' relationship with the son of  SS Brigadesfuhrer Otto von Wachter as he tries to convince Sands (and the world) that his father wasn't a war criminal responsible for deaths of thousands of people.

Sands manages to tell the tale fairly and with an open mind but at the end you feel you know the truth and Sands' own feelings as well as if he'd been marching up and down in front of you with a banner.

This book has been published at the height of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and so many of the events and publicity you'd have expected to see just haven't happened, although there are some good  online interviews and reviews to hunt out. I hope that this book isn't lost in the chaos and that it wins as many accolades as East West Street. I also hope that when the paperback is released the pandemic is receding and there are some events I can get to!

Thursday, 23 April 2020

World Book Night 2020...

...& Shakespeare's birth/death day


I can't believe that it is World Book Night again, it is trite but I can't believe how fast time is flying.

I've not paid a huge amount of attention to the official selection up until today but taking a look at them now I am really impressed with the mix of books - and extremely pleased to see that there are short stories and Quick Reads on the list.

However 23rd April is also the day taken to be both Shakespeare's birth and death day and so I'm going to talk about a book relating to this...

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell


The publisher website reads:
TWO EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE. A LOVE THAT DRAWS THEM TOGETHER. A LOSS THAT THREATENS TO TEAR THEM APART.

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.
I will confess to having approached this book with some trepidation, there are so many unknowns in Shakespeare's life that I was worried that the book would be too large in scope and thus lose something.

This book isn't a scholarly or pseudo-scholarly look at Shakespeare's life or work, it isn't even really about him or his plays and writing - it is a story that puts his wife and children front and centre. It brings Stratford-upon-Avon to life and I really felt like I'd managed to travel in time. I do love a book that lets me almost 'smell' the setting.

Hamlet is not one of my favourite plays but having 'watched' it through Agnes' eyes perhaps I can see it a new light too!

Often a novel that is a fictional take on a real person leaves me wondering why the author didn't have more faith in their writing to just write a historical fiction but in this case I do think that the fleshing out of a famous name was a really good thing.

I'm not certain that reading a book about the plague during the current pandemic was the best timing but all in all I liked this book.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Put to shame by Kentishbookboy's reading!

Ooops!

Oh dear, the idea of how great the Coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown will be for catching up on books, films and TV series couldn't be more wrong for me. I am busy than ever at work and working my hours over five days and not three which somehow doesn't leave me as much time or mental space for reading.

The Kentishbookboy is having more luck than me but as the weather recently has been glorious and it was the school Easter 'holiday' he's been doing a lot more outdoor things related to science, nature, technology and inventing.

Also as he'd completed his school reading challenge I think that he enjoyed reading and not having to think about writing it up!

A new review did drop into my inbox recently and he's managed to tick of the 'poetry' square on his bingo card with this great summary:




His enthusiasm for poetry was obviously rekindled by this book as he gave his mum and dad an Easter gift poem, something that he'd composed in secret so really gave them a nice surprise.

I can also say that I am able to tick off the poetry box on my bingo sheet as a friend surprised me by having a copy of White Ink Stains by Eleanor Brown delivered to me and I've had this beside my bed and dipped in and out of an evening before sleep.  I don't think that I am ever going to become a huge poetry fan but in approaching this volume like it was full of short stories and knowing that not all of them were going to be for me, and that it is ok to just read one and then stop was definitely the right approach for this volume.


Here's hoping that work calms down enough that I can find more time and energy for reading and that the nice weather returns so I can sit in the garden with a book...I think that Carrie's War might be next on the agenda as KBB is studying WW2 this half term...

Monday, 30 March 2020

Kentishbookboy and Norfolkbookworm Read - 2020 book 3

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond


As mentioned in the last post Paddington was Kentishbookboy's final read & review for his Year 5 reading challenge and one that I was very pleased to revisit. Treating myself to a chapter a day was also a nice way to spend some time not thinking about the current world situation. I'm about to check my shelves and the library eBook catalogue to see if I have more Paddington books to lose myself in!

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond



Synopsis

Paddington bear had travelled all the way from Darkest Peur when the Browns first met him on Paddington station. SInce then their lives have never been quite the same...for ordinary things become quite extra ordinary when a bear called Paddington is involved.

Paddington has arrived in London completely alone after leaving his home in Peru. Once he is adopted by the Brown family we get to explore the familiar world around us from a bear's point of view as he explore life in the UK.

Dilemma

Paddington comes to England from Darkest Peru where things are very different and he has a lot to learn!
The Browns took a bug risk in taking him home with them as he was a stowaway.

It is hard to actually talk about a dilemma in Paddington as for me it was a purely comfort read, I suppose that the dilemma is of learning an entirely new way of life and coping in an environment that is completely new.

Morals/Themes

Family is a theme that runs through the book too. Paddington was very lucky to be adopted by the Browns.
Paddington always wants to do what is right but it barely goes to plan.
Paddington's friendship with Mr. Gruber helps him adjust to his life in London.

I think the best messages to take from this book are the importance of friends and family, or always trying to do the right things and importantly to always try new things with an open mind, even if they don't got to plan.

Recommendation

Michael Bond is very funny and skilled author.
This book was one of my favourites from the Yr 5 challenge. 5 stars + !!!

I'm pleased we read this one together, I read a new Paddington a few years back and was a little unsure of it as Paddington was doing modern things and for me the books are firmly stuck in that never-never land of the past. Reading the original has restored my love of the accident prone bear.  


I think that one thing struck me, and also Kentishbookboy's mum was just how much of the recent (wonderful) films was actually taken from the books!

Now that the school reading challenge is over we still plan on sharing books together by we might try a different format for the reviews, after all it is only a month until the sequel to the Umbrella Mouse is published.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Kentishbookboy Reads

In which the Kentishbookboy reads on while the Norfolkbookworm flounders!


I've seen so many social media posts go through talking about all of the time people are going to have for reading and catching up with TV series and the like during the current "situation" that I am now convinced that I am doing something wrong - I seem to be busier than ever right now and didn't even manage to keep up with the Kentishbookboy as he read and reviewed another book.

His school is now closed for the foreseeable future but on the very last day he managed to take in his 12th review to his teacher which completed her reading challenge. I'm sure that I'll be publishing that  here as a joint review soon, as it was for the first Paddington book and thanks to Norfolk Library's eBook catalogue I am reacquainting myself with the lovable bear.

Anyhow here are KBB's thoughts on his first Terry Pratchet book:

I always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Pratchett's books so when KBB picks the next one I will have to try harder to read along!

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Kentishbookboy and Norfolkbookworm Read - Book 2 2020

War Horse - by Michael Morpurgo


This was Kentishbookboy's pick for his bingo chart "set before 1950" and I think he made a brilliant choice with this one, and although it is a while since I read it I can definitely add my thoughts to his as it is such a memorable book!


War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Synopsis:

In the deadly chaos of the First World War, one horse witnesses the reality of battle from both sides of the trenches. Joey tells of the truest friendhips surviving in terrible times. He knows the power of war and the beauty of peace. This is his story.

It has been said that the English love animals more than people and perhaps this book is one more example of this as Morpurgo tells the tale of the Great War from a horse's point of view. This unusual narrator does allow us to see the war from both sides and it is remarkable how much of the horror is told in a way that shies away from nothing but is not too horrific.

Dilemma:

Joey has to face his fears and find ways of continuing as his life is constantly changing. From auction house to farm to war and losing his friends.

The dilemma of the book for me was how Joey could survive, and remain himself, while all of life happened around him. Being able to keep going in uncertain times and in situations where Joey has no control over anything are also dilemmas

Morals/Themes:

Firstly, war is a big theme for War Horse. Also, another theme for this book is to never give up. Courage and determination describe this too.

The main themes I take from this book are the futility of war, the importance of friendship (in whatever form it is shown) and the need to remain true to yourself.

Recommendation:

This book is really good yet quite sad in places. Despite this, it is a very thrilling novel and I personally recommend it to people who like history and fiction. Michael Morpurgo is a talented and legendary author. I rate it five stars.

I'm so pleased that Kentishbookboy is enjoying Michael Morpurgo's books as much as he is, I've long been a fan and it is nice to share a love of an author. The book War Horse has become a little overshadowed by the (fantastic) stage show and the (dreadful) film but it is a cracking read and a clever way to tell a traumatic history in a rounded way.
I am hoping that sometime soon there will be another tour of the War Horse show as I think that Kentishbookboy (and his mum) would enjoy it - I know that his nan and his great aunt did when I saw it with them!

As Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have been away for a while I think Kentishbookboy is steaming ahead of me with the reading, and if (as looks likely) schools close I am sure that there will be many more books read/reviewed over the coming weeks - even if the reviews change format for a while!



Monday, 2 March 2020

House!

Book Bingo 2020 Progress

With two months of 2020 already gone Kentishbookboy has sent through his book bingo sheet to show me how he's getting on - and I think that he's already ticked off another box!



Kentishbookboy's reads are:

Set in another country: & on the list from school - Clockwork by Philip Pullman
A book on the list from school - A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
A book with magic in - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling

A book set before 1950 - War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (not crossed off yet)



My reads are:
A book set in another country - The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley (set in Tokyo)
A book on the list from school - Clockwork by Philip Pullman
A book set before 1950 - Mrs Tim Carries On by D E Stevenson
A non fiction book - Difficult Women by Helen Lewis

So we're both ahead in our challenge at the moment...