Saturday, 5 June 2021

Micro Review 28


The Consolation of Nature by Michael McCarthy, Jeremy Mynott and Peter Marren (Hodder Studios)

Library book

Nature writing books have become one of my favourite genres. I think that this goes back to 2018 when I noticed time in nature helped me to recover from my brain haemorrhage, and was reinforced last year as Mr Norfolkbookworm and I tried to get out for a walk every day as a way of coping with the pandemic and lockdowns.

This book is one of the first I've read that concentrates very specifically on events in 2020 and it is a detailed look at late March to the end of May - spring. In 2020 this time frame also coincided pretty much with the first lockdown.

The three authors live in different parts of the country (London, Suffolk & Wiltshire) and they keep diaries which are a mix of nature observations, research into natural phenomena, and diary of the pandemic.

Incredibly for a book set in three such disparate locations I am a little familiar with each of them and so did feel that I was walking with the authors on their daily walks. Living in a city which is well served with green spaces we were lucky enough to be able to follow the season changes on our daily walks and so I could connect with each author's writing. In a personal capacity it has been interesting to see just how much I was recording weather and nature 'firsts' last year via my Facebook memories.

I am very much a dabbler in bird watching and nature recording but this book has made me want to be better at it and to keep an awareness of natural events so I can be one of these people who say with some authority "the swallows are late this year."

This book is wonderful and I really didn't want to return it to the library - to the extent that I've had to buy myself a copy!

Interestingly just as I finished this book I was approved on Net Galley as an advance reader for The Eternal Season by Stephen Rutt which looks at summer as a season with a focus on last year's in particular. I'm not sure I'm ready to read pandemic inspired fiction yet but I'm certainly keen on these views of 2020.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Micro Review 27


Panenka by Ronan Hession (Blue Moose Books)

Own copy

One of my surprise hit books from last year was Hession's first book Leonard and Hungry Paul and I preordered this one as soon as it appeared on Blue Moose's website.

It is simultaneously similar to and nothing like the first book but is still a very special book. Once more it is a character study, and although there are a couple of 'big' events that the story hangs on it really is the way Panenka and his friends and family are drawn that makes the book live.

Hession's skill for me is in seeing the ordinary and writing about it so wonderfully, without being tempted to create big events or extra drama. I felt that I was living with the characters and I could 'see' everything. The reveal of Panenka's current job towards the end was wonderful and a such a special moment that it did bring  a lump to my throat - it is just perfect.

I don't love Panenka quite so much as Leonard but it definitely isn't a 'difficult second book' just another quiet book that feels very special,

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Micro Review 26


The Swallows' Flight by Hilary McKay (Macmillan Children's Books)

Net Galley eProof

Back in 2018, when my reading stamina was at its lowest, Hilary McKay's The Skylarks' War held me captivated and was one of the first books that I managed to read from cover to cover in a weekend. It was a wonderful book and one that my mum and sister have also gone on to enjoy.

Skylarks' was a book about the lead up to the first world war and just after, whereas Swallows' is a story about the 1930s and world war two. The novel is a sequel to Skylarks' but moves on a generation and this time one narrative strand  follows two German boys and we see the increasing grip of fascism on their lives.

As with the first book I quickly lost myself in this one and found it as engrossing as any sweeping adult book set in the same time period. There are a few coincidences that as an adult I saw coming but with fiction this good I don't mind. I really hope that this becomes a classic text for schools, it is a book that deserves the same reverence given to Carrie's War and Goodnight Mr Tom (and I love that book) and it is definitely deserves to be on any curriculum/reading list far more than the implausible (and borderline offensive) The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. 

Saturday, 22 May 2021

Micro Review 25


Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (Wildfire Books)


I've long loved tales from Ancient Greece, I think that my love stems right back to early primary school where we first looked at this history and especially to my Usborne Guide to Ancient Greece. I was lucky in that family holidays took us to Greece, and it is a place Mr Norfolkbookworm and I continue to visit (when we are allowed to) and also where we got married.

Retellings of the Greek myths from new view points have become really popular in the past decade and I very much like this new genre. 

In Ariadne Saint retells all of the tales connected to this Cretan princess but from her view point, and that of her sister Phaedra, not from the more traditional male narrated format.

I knew most of the stories that link together to form Ariadne's life but for some reason I hadn't joined them together to make a continuous arc, so to read the tales all linked together was really enjoyable. The tables weren't turned to the extent that Ariadne and her sister became flawless, and the male characters didn't all become cardboard cutout baddies - everyone had shades to their lives. The writing was such that I really did have a movie playing in my mind as I read the book, and I could feel the Greek heat as I turned the pages.

The portrayal of the Greek Gods in this version of the myths was fascinating to read, their jealousy and pettiness made them seem far more human than godlike and as a result even more terrifying in some ways. It also made me reassess my mental image of Dionysus - he really doesn't bear much resemblance to the Disney version from Fantasia in this novel!

It took me a couple of goes to get into the book initially, but that was definitely down to my mood and not the book. This debut novel is a great addition to similar works from Madeline Miller, Pat Barker and Natalie Haynes and I am looking forward to reading more from all 4 authors!

Many thanks to Net Galley for the advance copy, even if I didn't read it until publication day!

Monday, 17 May 2021

Micro Review 24


Arctic Star by Tom Palmer (Barrington Stoke)

own copy

It doesn't seem that long since I was raving about Tom Palmer's last book, but I was late to the party on that one.

His new book Arctic Star has been on my radar for a lot longer and I've had copies on order for quite some time as when Palmer has been talking about it  I knew I would have deep connection with the tale.

Palmer has taken the less well known Arctic Convoys as his starting point for this novel and we follow 3 childhood friends as they join the navy and get assigned to these terrifying naval duties within the Arctic Circle. 

From page one I felt cold, scared and seasick as we experienced the war from the boys' perspective. A very slight break in the tension occurs when the boys get a few hours shore leave in Russia but we're back at sea very soon. 

After taking part in one convoy there is a longer shore leave for the characters and then they are redeployed back to the Arctic, this time serving on HMS Belfast.

This is where my personal connection to the story really starts as my paternal grandfather served on HMS Belfast. He had joined the navy at very much the same age and time as the boys in Palmer's story and through his naval records we've found that he served on 3 Atlantic convoys whilst on board HMS Striker. 

Although these Atlantic Convoys weren't in the same league as the Arctic ones Grandad's did take place during the winter of 1943/44 and so thanks to Arctic Star I can now imagine his time on board more clearly.

Grandad join HMS Belfast in the summer of 1945 and was sailing to the Far East theatre of war when peace with Japan was announced. He was then part of the mission to repatriate POWs from the camps in the Far East, he remained with HMS Belfast in China until February 1946, when he was released to the Naval reserve. He was recalled to the Navy in 1950 (not long after my dad was born) and served on HMS Ceylon during the Korean war. In a big coincidence HMS Ceylon was released from duty in this area by HMS Belfast in 1951.

Palmer's book really brought life on a WW2 ship to life for me. I have visited HMS Belfast, and the guide on duty that day was able to take me to the area where Grandad (and Palmer's characters) would have spent their off duty time but it was the life breathed into this area by Arctic Star that really made the ship come to life for me.

I've been very careful to not talk too much about the plot of the book - if you don't know much about the Arctic Convoys then this book is a great introduction to the campaign whether you're a young reader or an adult. If you do know something about the convoys then this book brings them to vivid life and adds a whole new experience to your knowledge. I really recommend seeking it out if you can, and taking the time to visit HMS Belfast in London when it is possible again.

I don't think that I can review this book any less emotionally, for me it tells a story that is too often forgotten in a respectful and engaging way, and yes - it did give me more than one lump in my throat as I was reading it.

Able Seaman (Henry) Roy Skinner during WW2 with HMS Belfast in Sydney, 1945

As an aside Grandad was a terrible tease and as a small child I knew he'd been in the navy but my grasp of history was pretty weak so I completely believed him when he said he'd been Nelson's Cabin Boy. I did get my own back later on when I bought him a ship's biscuit from the gift shop near HMS Victory and encouraged him to eat it! From reading Arctic Star I am now wondering if he was always a joker or if his wartime service caused it to develop!

Friday, 14 May 2021

Micro Review 23


Quarantine Comix by Rachael Smith (Icon Books)

eProof from Net Galley

I am sure that in the next few years there will be a plethora of books using the Covid-19 Pandemic as a plot device but for me Quarantine Comix is the first I've read and I loved it.

I'd not come across the cartoons on social media over the past year and I am not sure where I saw this mentioned (my already wonky memory seems to have not enjoyed Lockdown 3) but I am glad I put a request in for the book.

While I was lucky enough to be with my husband and to keep working throughout the past year so much else of Smith's comics rang true to me. She really has captured the boredom, fear, weirdness of time as well as the wonder of nature & small things just as I experienced them. (I would just like to reassure my family who read this blog and might find the book too that Mr Norfolkbookworm & I didn't drink as much as Rachael and her housemate, nor did we drink at such odd times of day!)

Thinking on this book further, and discussing it with a friend who also got access to the early copy, I've come to the conclusion that this book had such resonance for me because like the author I was lucky that no one in my close circle appears to have caught the virus  - although there were family losses from other causes that were exacerbated by Covid.

This book is all about the fears and 'what ifs' of the past year and not the actual illness itself - for that you need to read Michael Rosen's Many Different Kinds of Love

When it comes to 'souvenirs' of this odd time I'd definitely include this book in a time capsule - it is just how I recall 2020.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Micro Review 22


Civilisations by Laurent Binet. trans. Sam Taylor (Harvill Secker)

eProof from Net Galley

I have to thank the radio 4 programme Start the Week for bumping this book to the top of my reading pile, rather than letting is languish on my list marked 'potentially sounds interesting' for years.

This book has been called 'counter-factual' but that sounds a little press speak to me - I prefer to call it a 'what if' alternative history novel:

c.1000AD: Erik the Red's daughter heads south from Greenland
1492: Columbus does not discover America
1531: the Incas invade Europe

Freydis is the leader of a band of Viking warriors who get as far as Panama. Nobody knows what became of them...
Five hundred years later, Christopher Columbus is sailing for the Americas, dreaming of gold and conquest. Even when captured by Incas, his faith in his superiority and his mission is unshaken.

Thirty years after that, Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, arrives in Europe. What does he find? The Spanish Inquisition, the Reformation, capitalism, the miracle of the printing press, endless warmongering between the ruling monarchies, and constant threat from the Turks.

But most of all, downtrodden populations ready for revolution. Fortunately, he has a recent guidebook to acquiring power - Machiavelli's The Prince. It turns out he is very good at it. So, the stage is set for a Europe ruled by Incas and, when the Aztecs arrive on the scene, for a great war that will change history forever.

I loved this book from page one, each section takes the story further through history and is written in a style that mimics actual works from the actual historical period, thus the section set around 1000 is written like the Norse/Icelandic sagas and so on.

The book was a delight as history gets rewritten by the victors and when we meet famous people. like Erasmus, it feels natural and organic, not the author showing off what he knows. I am also sure that either Binet (or translator Taylor) are Monty Python fans....

I loved this book, despite it showing up just how insular my knowledge of history, and I wish I'd listened to Mr Norfolkbookworm and other friends earlier and read Binet before now.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Micro Review 21


Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (Cornerstone)

electronic proof

I was surprised to realise that it it was three years since I read and reviewed Weir's last book Artemis. Time is doing that funny thing again as I'm sure it was far more recent!

Project Hail Mary is a book about so many things, but at its heart it is a buddy movie about saving the world.

It is another book that I am loathe to say too much about apart from quoting the blurb that the publishers have released:

A lone astronaut.
An impossible mission.
An ally he never imagined.

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission - and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn't know that. He can't even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he's been asleep for a very, very long time. And he's just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it's up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery-and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he's got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

 The plot is a little far fetched, but like all of Weir's books the science is accurate - and if it does all start to go over your head then you can skim those paragraphs without losing any huge details of the plot!

I really fell in love with this book, and right up until the last page I was kept guessing as to how it was going to end.

This is a great sci-fi read, and I think that it will make a great film - just as The Martian did.


Thursday, 29 April 2021

Blog Blast


Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien (trans. Jamie Bulloch) Quercus Books

 (@QuercusBooks & @MacLeHosePress)

(eProof via NetGalley)

Books in translation are something I enjoy hugely and this one instantly appealed, both due to the setting (East Germany post reunification) and the translator - I've loved everything I've read in translation from Bulloch.

This book really wormed its way under my skin, in five stories (the Acts of the title) we learn about the lives of five women and how they interconnect. These women all have complicated lives and and various events in the present and past have shaped who they are.

What I most liked about this book was that the women felt real, they did feel like people you meet in daily life. They were fully rounded and you get to see all sides of them, no one is fully good or fully bad they just leap out of the page and into your life. The supporting cast weren't quite so well rounded but they definitely weren't cardboard cutouts, they had enough body to exist in their own right as well as in relation to the women.

My complaint with this book was that it ended - I wanted to spend more time with the five women and see where their lives went next.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Book gifts from friends


Unexpected gifts

Recently the postman has delivered three books that I wasn't expecting and it turned out that two friends had seen/read some titles and loved them so much that they sent me copies of them too.

It is always a risk actually sending physical books as gifts, I often wimp out and send book tokens and recommendations, but I've read 2 of the 3 books now and I think that my friends know me inside out as I loved them both.

First to arrive was Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack by Richard Ovenden (John Murray Press)

This was a series of linked essays about how libraries and archives have been created and destroyed throughout the last 3000+ years and at times was a real eye opener. The bravery of some juxtaposed with the barbarity of others was breath taking, and the last couple of chapters about the future of archives gave me real food for thought. The book is incredibly readable and I am so grateful to my friend for sending a copy to me so that I actually read it rather than it languishing on my 'I'd like to read this at some point' list.

The second parcel of books contained  fiction and non fiction titles, and again the non fiction was one that has been on my radar for ages (and indeed I recommended it a lot during my WW1 project) but that I haven't actually read - yet. I plan on reading Where the Poppies Blow by John Lewis Stempel (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) once the Norfolk poppy fields come into bloom - just for atmosphere.

The second book was another republished classic - this time from Barbara Pym. Crampton Hodnet (Virago) was a real snapshot in time,  being set in an insular neighbourhood in North Oxford just pre WW2. 
As you're reading the book the events seem so all consuming and dramatic but by the end you come to realise just how unimportant they are - apart from for the people involved. 

I can see that some people might find the ending of the book a let down but for me it was a reflection of life - something exciting happens, but once time passes it becomes clear that it was unimportant and will just become another family legend. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

Unexpected post is always exciting and when it contains books rather than bills it makes me a very happy Norfolkbookworm. It is also nice to know that, despite having not seen one friend in over a year, and the other only once or twice, they know me so well they can send me books that I have to drop everything else on my list and just read!

Friday, 23 April 2021

Happy World Book Night!


Wishing all readers a very happy World Book Night 2021 - here's hoping you all find something new to read and love, it isn't often that you are actually encouraged to drop everything and read but today is for book worms everywhere!

I'll be dipping into the book specially put together for WBN21 which is free to download as either an eBook or an audio book! 

A seriously entertaining collection of feelgood stories guaranteed to put the smile back on your face written especially by ten bestselling novelists:
Jenny Éclair
Mark Watson
Veronica Henry
Eva Verde
Richard Madeley
Katie Fforde
Dorothy Koomson
Vaseem Khan
Helen Lederer
Rachel Hore

From a hilarious race against time to a moment of unexpected eavesdropping, from righting wrongs in rural India to finding joy in unlikely places, these stories are all rich in wit and humour, guaranteed to lift your spirits and warm your heart.

Stories to Make you Smile is a co-commission between The Reading Agency and Specsavers as part of World Book Night 2021.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Micro Review 20


A Hundred Million Years and a Day by Jean-Baptiste Andrea, trans. Sam Taylor (Gallic Books)

Free copy provided by Gallic Books

I've long been a fan of the quirky tales Gallic Books find and translate into English and this one is no exception.

It tells the story of one professor of paleontology and his quest to make the biggest fossil discovery of his life. 

Following on from what could easily be dismissed as a story told for children the unorthodox Stan draws together an unlikely band of helpers and makes for the high Alps to start his quest. The weather only allows a short window of exploration each summer so as well as financial pressures there are also serious time constraints. The isolation and impending sense of danger are almost characters in their own rights...

To say more would ruin the book, and I am pleased that I followed my instinct of a an enticing blurb and researched the book no further before reading:

When he hears a story about a huge dinosaur fossil locked deep inside an Alpine glacier, university professor Stan finds a childhood dream reignited. Whatever it takes, he is determined to find the buried treasure.

But Stan is no mountaineer and must rely on the help of old friend Umberto, who brings his eccentric young assistant, Peter, and cautious mountain guide Gio. Time is short: they must complete their expedition before winter sets in. As bonds are forged and tested on the mountainside, and the lines between determination and folly are blurred, the hazardous quest for the Earth’s lost creatures becomes a journey into Stan’s own past.

This breathless, heartbreaking epic-in-miniature speaks to the adventurer within us all.

The chapters are short, and almost breathless and I found myself eagerly turning the page to see where the story went next, in honesty I surprised myself by being less interested in Stan's back story - I was too eager to follow the progress on the mountain - but by the end I was reconciled to why it was needed.

Taylor's translation (strangely this is the 3rd translation from him that I've read recently) is brilliant and if you are looking for a quirky read then Gallic Books have come up trumps once more.

Many thanks to Gallic Books for offering copies to reviewers, the book is published at the start of May and I do really recommend it.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Busy month and book guilt



While the first relaxation of this lockdown's rules hasn't impacted on us much (we live too far from family to be able to meet up for an al fresco lunch) we have definitely been enjoying travelling a little further from home for our walks.

The upside to this is that we are spending more time outdoors than we were, and as the days get longer and the temperatures are in theory getting warmer (as I type this I can hear the sleet/hail hitting the window) I am spending less time curled up with a book. Right now this trade off is fine with me - it has felt a long dark winter and no longer having to travel by book is pleasing.

I have still been reading, and since finishing my World Book Night challenge I have spent some time catching up on some of the advance reading copies supplied by Net Galley - look out for reviews and thoughts on these as it gets closer to their publication dates, I've read through some of the library reservations that have come in for me, and I've also been reading for another of my projects.

The one pile of books I've been neglecting however is the stack of physical books that I've bought or been sent (by friends and publishers) over the past few months and I think that the time has come to set some discipline in my reading - for every advance copy pr ebook I read I should read one from the physical stack of books. 

I think that this challenge might be harder than any I've set before - but if I don't start making in roads into these physical piles there is a huge danger that one of them will fall over and crush me! I know that sounds a little like hyperbole but I was good recently and sorted all my books - the ones I've read are on shelves and the unread ones are in boxes/piles all over the house (and yes this is so Mr Norfolkbookworm doesn't work out just how many there are!) 

I justify these quantities by saying that I've been supporting independent publishers and bookshops but the truth is I have very little self control when it comes to books and the pleasure of a new book is one I cannot resist. Some people have taken up sensible projects during the pandemic - I've just grown stacks of books...

In my defence there is some evidence that I can show restraint. I use an app to list the books I hear or read about and want to read. Currently there are 312 books on that list and (only) 25 are marked as 'owned but not read' the trouble is every time I open a paper, magazine or Twitter I see more I want to read.

Now of course I will go an prevaricate over these piles of books and try to pick one to read, I am wondering about either getting Mr Norfolkbookworm to pick one for me or perhaps lining them all up with their spines hidden and picking one at random - who am I kidding first I need to look through the review sections in the papers to see what is published this week...

My name is Sarah and I suffer from tsundoku

Friday, 2 April 2021

World Book Night 2021: Thoughts


Reading Challenge Complete

Thanks to the third Covid-19 lockdown I have had more time for reading that I anticipated when I started my challenge, I thought that I would be hard pushed to finish the 21 books before the event, especially with other reading projects & non challenge books were taken into consideration.

However the lockdown meant more time at home, and the libraries being closed for a couple of months limited my access to new books a little (although I'm not quite sure that Mr Norfolkbookworm or our postman would agree!).

Reading books for a challenge like this is always interesting and a good way to be taken firmly out of my comfort zone, and this year was full of surprises - who'd have guessed that a book about football and a footballer would have been so interesting to a non-footie fan?

The choice of books overall was interesting. I did get frustrated that the teen appeal novels were both North American in setting - we have some great YA authors here, and in my opinion we should be supporting them more.

I liked the number of non fiction books on the list, and how many books featured short chapters or stories. 

I also liked how varied they were in exploring so many social aspects of life in the UK. I am guessing that the books were mostly picked in advance of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the  resurgence of the #MeToo but so many of the books tied into these themes that I felt I really gained an insight into these issues, but in a very natural way.

I found it interesting that there were some 'harder' books on the list - Shakespeare & Austen are not the easiest of authors to read, and so promoting audio books is great even if they aren't for me - one day I'll grow out of falling asleep as soon as someone reads to me - the bath, book, bed routine has stuck fast!

 A couple of the other books were also quite literary and this is a good reminder that World Book Night is about fostering a love of books - even good readers can get out of the habit and a free book is a good way to kickstart this again.

While on a personal level I was happy that there were no crime novels on the list, I find this a little odd - crime as a genre is incredibly popular in libraries and on the television after all.

Anyway these rambling thoughts are all things that have occurred to me as I've completed the challenge and they really aren't very profound at all!  

In the main I have enjoyed the variety of books and hope that many people discover a new favourite, or have the right book pressed in to their hand at just the right time.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Twenty-one


To Sir With Love by E R Braithwaite (Vintage Books)

Own eBook

I took quite a gamble leaving this book for my last. I'd read it before many years ago and it is a novel that left a big impression, and even a good twenty years on I could still recall lines from the book. Would a reread tarnish my memories, should I just stick to my 'book shadow' thoughts?

In this case I am really pleased that rereading the book was a pleasure, it was still the incredible book that I remembered. I had forgotten many details but as I read through the book it was a little bit like meeting up with an old friend after many years. I definitely had remembered the big themes.

Although the book is now over 60 years old I was struck by how little has actually changed in the world in so many ways. It is also interesting to think that this book is a contemporary to the setting for the Call the Midwife books, in so many ways the books complement each other and create a window back to the London East End of the 1950s

What Braithwaite has to say about education, racism, gang culture and London is still horribly accurate and in many ways A Dutiful Boy, which is also a World Book Night book this year, is the same story just about more recent times.

I am glad that I left this until last, and I am glad that my challenge did give me the opportunity to reread the book and fall in love with it all over again. 

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Twenty


Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe (Penguin)

Own eBook

I have to confess that this is the one title from the 21 books that I had to abandon. I read 20% of it but no more.

I hadn't connected with the characters at all and the dentist setting, including quite graphic details of dental procedures, was just too much for me in light of my own traumatic experiences in the dentist chair.

I think that perhaps if I had liked any of the characters, or had found it at all amusing I might have coped with the setting but it wasn't for me. 

I think I am in a minority here as many do find Stibbe's writing amusing but this one just had to be put down.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Nineteen


Much Ado About Nothing - William Shakespeare (Penguin)

Own book (and DVD)

This play is always going to hold a special place in my heart as it was the first play I saw at the Globe Theatre and the one that made me fall in love with Shakespeare - to the extent I ended up taking an MA!

I did reread the play again for this challenge rather than listening to the audio book and it still makes me smile lots. The squabbling couple are brilliant and like so many of Shakespeare's plays the plot is frankly bonkers at times.

Once I'd finished reading it I did watch my DVD of that important 2011 Globe production and despite all the restrictions in daily life I was back at the Globe, in the summer, utterly immersed in the show. I'm not sure I will be back in London or at the Globe for a while but without this challenge I'd have left it far too long before reading/watching this again.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Eighteen


Emma by Jane Austen (Penguin)

Own eBook

I came late to reading books by Jane Austen (and in fact only read Pride and Prejudice after the reimagining treatment it got in Longbourn!) but I have enjoyed them. I did think that Emma was going to be my nemesis however!

I found it very hard going, and none of the characters particularly likeable, but on researching the book I discovered that perhaps this was the point... Austen herself is supposed to have said "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like" 

I am pleased that I stuck with it, and although it took me a long time to get to the end I came away in the end feeling that I had enjoyed the story, just not as much as some of her others. 

It must be said that for a while as I was reading the book all I could think of  was what Mr Woodehouse would have made of the pandemic. He doesn't like socialising that much, is a fan of plain food and enjoys boardgames so lockdown/shielding/social isolation would have been fine for him - especially if he could have had his elder daughter & her family home in the countryside rather than London. However I'm not sure that as a valetudinarian he'd have been in the best mental health for the last year...

Once my mind stopped taking off on these flights of fancy I'm pleased to have read Emma. I realise that as a WBN book this will be in audio form but as I have a bad habit of still falling asleep pretty much instantly to being read to I stuck to the print form for this one. I might even now look out a film or TV adaptation...

Saturday, 13 March 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Seventeen

 The Anxiety Survival Guide by Bridie Gallagher, Sue Knowles, Phoebe McEwen and illustrated by Emmeline Pidgen (Jessica Kingsley Publishers)

Library book

As Norfolk's Libraries start to reopen with a limited service I thought that I really should get round to this book - I borrowed just after Lockdown 2 finished after all!

This book isn't aimed at me at all, it is for young people just leaving school and about to start uni or their new careers. That being said I found it full of interesting facts and case studies and I really liked that there was a real 50/50 split on the number of stories from men and women. It felt very inclusive and friendly to read, so much so that you don't realise how much good advice you are absorbing.

For me there were two big downsides. I loathed the font it was presented in - this to me felt like it was almost dumbing the book down to a tween/early teen level.  The other big downside for me was the title - this is a book that should be handed to every school/college/uni leaver as a positive book and not something that only people who admit they're struggling turn to. It is a guide to coping with life in general not just for people who confess to feeling anxious, more should be made of the sub-title!

I hope that the people who've applied to give this out on World Book Night will hand it to everyone and that it helps to break down more walls that see people trying to carry on regardless,

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Sixteen


The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary (Quercus publishing)


I had the chance to read this in advance format a few months before it was first published and after reading it I couldn't wait to be able to share it with other readers - in fact along with one of the other people who got an advance copy I think we tried pressing copies in to all of our colleagues' hands.

I started this thinking it was going to be another book about a woman breaking up with a long term partner and struggling to make life work in a dream job based in London.

In some ways this is what the book is about, but it turns in to so much more. Rents are expensive in London for those on a low wage so Tiffy and Leon (two strangers) have to share a flat. So far so normal...however it is a one bedroomed flat so they have to share a bed. Luckily Leon works nights and Tiffy in the daytime so they essentially flat share with an invisible person.

Through notes we learn how the two become friends and all about their back stories and this is where things get interesting as there are some incredibly powerful plot strands here and some very serious topics are covered. Unlike We Are All Made of Molecules however these are integral to the plot rather than the devices the story is hung on and (far more importantly) they are handled sensitively and realistically.

I've become a real fan of Beth O'Leary and am eagerly awaiting her third novel to come out. Don't dismiss this book as a story for Millennials or as a mindless romcom - give it a whirl...

Monday, 8 March 2021

What I've been reading that's not for World Book Night!


The ever expanding 'to read' pile

I seem to be making better use of Lockdown 3 than I did of parts 1 & 2and my reading mojo has come back. It has to be said that the book piles (physical and electronic) are not getting any smaller but I am definitely making dipping in and out of them. I am trying to keep to my resolution of buying books from independent publishers and/or independent bookshops a lot more but even this doesn't seem to be reducing the number of parcels being delivered!

In physical books I've been enjoying reading some of the Persephone Books that I've treated myself to but not got around to reading. They are such beautiful books that I don't ever feel guilty for having shelves of unread titles but it is nice to have put them all in order on the shelves and made a list of the ones I've got.

In ebooks I've been very lucky in the titles that publishers have approved on NetGalley and I'm trying to read a book that's been on my shelf for a while for every new book that I'm approved for. This isn't going quite so well as I am easily distracted by the shiny new titles.

Some that I've enjoyed so far this year (and will review some closer to their publication dates) include

  • The Swallows' Summer by Hilary McKay (a brilliant follow up to The Skylarks' War)
  • How to be Brave by Daisy May Johnson
  • Love in Five Acts by Daniela Krien (trans. J Bulloch)
  • A Trip of One's Own by Kate Wills (unintentionally I started this one straight after reading Woolf's A Room of One's Own!)
  • Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell

While working from home I have become much better at taking a tea break away from my computer during the morning and at these times I'm really enjoying books of essays, short stories, diaries and pieces of nature writing.

At the moment I have A Claxton Diary by Mark Cocker and Susie Dent's Word Perfect to hand and I have just finished One Woman's Year by Stella Martin Currey and I really recommend all of them. Next on that pile is Who Cooked the Last Supper by Rosalind Miles which looks like it will be thought provoking at the least!


Friday, 5 March 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Fifteen


Where Are We Now? by Glenn Patterson (Head of Zeus)


When I first saw this book I couldn't place it at all, but when I read the blurb it started to feel familiar and when I looked back through my reading journal I discovered that I'd read the book a while back in proof form as part of one of my reading projects.

A little worrying that the title hadn't stuck with me (although these can change when they are read so early) but once I read the blurb much of the book came back to me.

It is a quirky choice but definitely an interesting one. It has an older, male protagonist and is set in a post Good Friday agreement Northern Ireland. It also has a lovely subplot of using and researching in archives which (having worked in a building attached to the Norfolk Heritage Centre for over a decade) I can say was very well written and realistic.

I confess to not having re-read this book before writing this review, (time is creeping on and as well as finishing the final seven books here I have another project about to start) but should there be time I very well may revisit this book and update my review.

Monday, 1 March 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Fourteen


 We Are All Made of Molecules - Susan Nielsen   (Andersen Press)

 Own eBook

Warning there are spoilers in this review

I don't know where to start with this one, it made me so cross on so many levels. My first gripe is why does this 2nd YA fiction book have to be North American? Surely we have a plethora of great YA writers who are British?

The other gripes are to do with style and content. This book is very much in the vein of Wonder but comes no where near the brilliance of that book. There are so many issues in this book and off the top of my head here are just a few of them: death of a parent (from long illness), divorce of parents because father is gay, blended families, intelligent child but with no social awareness, child obsessed with fashion and friendship but not academic, bullying, peer presssure - oh and yes the biggie attempted date rape.

Phew, once all those are covered there wasn't much room for the writing, which may have been just as well because the style was all over the place. With themes as outlined above you'd think that this was a read for older teen, but in style and language this was pretty much a middle grade/upper primary  - way too junior for the content.

Oh and as for the content - by the end they basically all live happily ever after. I could handle that with the blended family coming together but the way the sexual assault was dealt with is shameful - as an adult reading this I could see that something was building but I never dreamt it would go as far as it did nor that there were no repercussions for either the victim  (and indeed it could be read that she was victim shamed) nor for her attacker.

I feel that I read this book so you don't have to and so far I think it is the worst book I've read for this project. 

Saturday, 27 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Thirteen


Up in the Attic by Pam Ayres (Ebury)

Own book

I've been dipping in and out of this book for a couple of weeks  and this is how I normally approach poetry books not a reflection on the quality or the ability of this volume to capture my interest.

As is to be expected not every poem in the book is to my taste but certainly enough were to mean that I did read them all and laugh mightily at some of them.

I think my favourite was the series about long haul travel - I recognised every stage of that cycle and it was a way to remember that the pandemic and not being able to travel does have some plus sides!

The one thing I couldn't quite capture with this was Ayres' own voice - she has a great accent and her work does sound best (to my ears at least) when she is reading them and I'd have loved this even more as an audio book.

As a World Book Night introduction to poetry I think it is a brilliant choice and I'm not sure that I will be passing my copy on to family as I initially thought.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Twelve


Elevation by Stephen King (Hodder and Stoughton)

own copy (eBook)

This was another book that I was dreading reading, I am not a horror fan and Green Mile/Shawshank Redemption excepted I only know King as a writer in that genre.

The first bit of good news about this book was that it wasn't a horror novel. The second bit of good news was that it was short - only 160 pages so definitely a novella.

However that's where the positives stopped for me. I found the writing clunky, the message didactic and patronising and as for the 'mystery'...words fail me.

Unlike many of the books I've discovered through this challenge and others similar to it there was nothing in this book that made me want to read more by the author but at least now I can say I've read a King novel and he isn't for me at all!

Thinking about WBN as a project I can't help but feel a little sorry for people who are gifted this book on the back of saying they liked recent films based on King's books. I guess it might introduce them to new genres but I don't think they'll be expecting what they get!

Friday, 19 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Eleven


Ask A Footballer by James Milner (Quercus)

Own copy (eBook)

I'll confess I nearly put this book off until last from the 2021 WBN list. I had no idea who James Milner was, and I've only watched one football match from start to finish in my entire life. I expected to skim this read and then struggle to write a review.

How wrong I was, and it was a needed lesson about not judging books before you've read them!

It didn't matter that I had no clue who Milner was, or what the rules of football are - in this book Milner answers questions that fans have asked him about life as a footballer and he (for the most part) answers them fully and honestly.

We get to see life on and off the pitch, as well as how fast sport science has changed the thinking on being a top level athlete. From chips and parties post match in 2002 through to tailored menus, superfood smoothies and early bedtimes in 2019 every aspect life seems to have changed

There were questions I glossed over, I don't know anything about football so the techincal questions on matches, positions and results I'll confess to skim reading but the rest was fascinating and really opened my mind to see past the 'celebrity' players to the hard graft that they put in. 

Don't get me wrong I do still think that they are overpaid and over represented in the media but Milner, through this book, and Rashford, through his charity campaigning, have made me think in a more rounded and less biased way about some aspects of the Premier League.

Monday, 15 February 2021

World Book Night 2021: Book Ten


A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi (Square Peg - a Penguin Random House imprint)

Own copy (eBook)

I saw reviews for this pre-publication and it instantly went on to my 'I want to read this' list and so I am very glad that it has been picked as a World Book Night title as it means I got to it quicker!

This was never going to be an easy read, coming out memoirs rarely are and when the addition of a strong faith is also part of the equation then the book becomes even more layered. This book also added in the pressure of living in an area with many social and economic and so from all these issues I was expecting a heavy read.

I won't lie, at times this book did make for a hard read but it was also full of surprises and joy too. The start of the book, where Mohsin is taking his boyfriend home to meet the family was cleverly stopped at a key point so you aren't sure for the rest of the book what family reaction will be at this occasion and left me with my heart in mouth as I read the rest of the book.

No spoilers as you need to see the story unfold in real (life) time but this book was brilliant and taught me a lot about what life in the UK must be like as an outsider, as well as if you are an outsider in your own family.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

An entry from KentishBookBoy


Retelling the classics

Like the majority of school children the Kentishbookboy has been learning from home since the new year and once in a while I have been called to see if I can help explain a question from the work set. Who knew that in America the terms trapezium and trapezoid have the exact opposite definitions to the ones we use this side of the pond? I guess I've learned something from the Year 6 maths curriculum too!

All the English work has been centred around the Oscar Wilde story The Selfish Giant. Thanks to the eBook library service I was able to also download the story and read along with KBB and be involved in the work. It was good to stretch my mind and look at a text in a critical way again.

The final task for the class was to rewrite the story but from a different viewpoint, my first thought was to pretend to be one of the children and to retell it in the first person but Kentishbookboy decided to use the third person but make it all about the giant.

The feedback came from the school this week and we found out that if they'd been in school the work would have won a 'head teacher's award,' it has also been featured on the school's blog for year 6. Unsurprisingly we are all very proud of this piece of work - he had no help in writing this, the first we saw of it was when he was ready to submit!

Usually KBB and I have a 'Valentine's Day Out' around now but this year it can't happen, and while we're planning lots of fun as soon as it is allowed my Valentine for him is to publish his writing here.


By Kentishbookboy

Every weekday, as they were returning home from another school day, the children went and played in the Giant’s enormous garden.

It was a massively vast area, with smooth, lime-green grass. Gorgeous peach trees were here and there, while multi-coloured flowers in bunches were scattered around the lawn. Sweet-voiced birds were perched precariously on the trees, singing their heart out as if at a concert. Every so often, the children would pause in their game and listen to its beautiful, high-pitched voice.

“How we love it here!” the children would shout into the cloudless sky.

One fine day, the Giant returned home. He had stayed with a friend in Cornwall for almost seven years and was surprised to see the children playing in his once-pristine garden and wrecking it! “What do you think you’re doing in my garden?” he boomed at them. Petrified, the poor children fled the grounds and out of the gates.

Distraught that they’d trespassed into his property, the Giant constructed a towering stone wall around the perimeter and wrote a notice:


He was a very self-centred Giant.

The hapless children didn’t have anywhere to play in. They found playing on the road boring because of the hard stones and dust. They strolled around the garden border after lesson time, and conversed about the pretty garden and its wonders inside. “How we loved it there”, they said to each other.

The Spring soon came, stunning blossoms and birds coming out all over the country. However, in the Giant’s garden, it remained winter. The birds daren’t sing because of the children being forbidden, and the marvellous peach trees forgot to bloom. One time, a flower awoke, lifting its head above the soil, but it saw the notice and slid back amongst the soil again.

Snow and Frost were the only people who were pleased that Spring had forgotten the garden. “We will live here all year through.” they decided. With a sweep of her great white cloak, Snow covered the grass, while the Frost decorated the trees with silver. The North Wind came and roared all day, damaging buildings as he went. They invited Hail to visit, and he came. He constantly rattled the roof tiles until most broke off. Dressed in grey, breath like ice, he was a force to be reckoned with. 

“The Spring is so late in arriving, and I don’t know why,” said the Giant, who was resting on the windowsill. “I wonder when the weather will improve.”

But however much he pondered it, the Spring never turned up in his garden, nor the Summer. Autumn came and produced rich, succulent fruits, but none to the Giant’s trees. Winter, it seemed, was permanent in his garden. 

The Giant was resting on his bed one crispy morning, when he awoke to gorgeous music outside. It was a beautiful linnet chirping away in the early sunlight, but since the Giant hadn’t heard birdsong in ages, it was the greatest sound on the planet to his ears and as he jumped out of bed, he was pleased to think that Spring had finally come again.

Children had snuck in via a hole in the wall, scurrying through the blossoms, sitting down on the trees. Birds were singing their little hearts out, soaring above the branches. One tree, though, was still in winter, and underneath, a tiny boy. 

The tree bent down its branches for the boy to climb up on, but the juvenile boy was just too small to reach.

Hard heart dissolving, he realised how selfish he’d been. “I will put that boy into the tree, knock down the wall and my garden will be the children’s playground forever.” The children ran for their lives when they saw him, but the boy, who was too busy crying, didn’t notice the Giant behind him. When he placed the boy in the tree, it at once bloomed with flowers. Grateful, the boy reached down and kissed the Giant on the neck.

The children who’d ran away noticed that the Giant wasn’t being selfish or cruel to the boy, so they ran back and joined in the fun again. And the people going to the market at noon saw the Giant playing with the children in the prettiest garden ever.

At the end of the day, the Giant went to the gate to bid them goodnight. “Where is that little boy?” he asked.                                                                                                         “We don’t know,” the children replied. “He must have gone away”

This made the Giant very disappointed.

The little boy was never seen again, even as the Giant aged and became ancient and frail. He could only watch the children play now, and while they did that, he admired his garden.

One misty winter morning, the old Giant looked out at his garden while dressing. He knew that his flowers were getting their winter kip, and Spring would be back soon. Then he saw it: the farthest tree was covered with bright white blossoms, sparkling silver fruit, and underneath it, the little boy that had kissed him all those years ago!

In hastened joy the Giant dashed downstairs, across the garden and then stopped abruptly before the boy. His face was red with anger and all he wanted to know was who had hurt the boy. The Giant could see that there were the imprints of nails in his hands and feet. He was relieved when the boy replied, “Do not worry, for these are Love’s wounds. You let me have fun in your garden; you shall now join me to go to my garden; Paradise.”

And so when the children ran into the garden to play, they found the Giant under the tree, white blossoms all over him, unmoving.                                                           


Saturday, 13 February 2021

Book hangover, February 2021


O, The Brave Music by Dorothy Evelyn Smith (British Library publishing)

Own copy

I've enjoyed all of the books from the British Library Women Writers series that have been published so far - some more than others of course but all of them have been engrossing. This one was something else entirely.

In many ways nothing really happens in the book, we follow about 7 years of Ruan's life at the start of the twentieth century and all the ups and downs that this comes with. Her parents are mismatched and their marriage doesn't last, there are bereavements and full life upheavals but nothing too shocking or unbelievable and the book is told from her viewpoint, although from her adult perspective.

I can't explain why this book has wormed its way under my skin in the manner it has managed but since finishing a week ago I have struggled to read any fiction at all as none of it measures up to the beauty of this book. 

I've been very glad for my WBN challenge as that has kept me reading, admittedly mostly the non fiction titles but it does mean that my mojo hasn't completely vanished. Is it too soon to re-read this one?