Monday, 30 September 2013

Everyone was tweeting about...

Stoner by John Williams

Rediscovered classics are a weakness of mine and over the summer everyone seemed to be tweeting about Stoner and so I was looking forward to reading this on holiday.

It was another book that didn't disappoint although it is one of those books that it is hard to sum up for in a way the fact that not a lot happens is the point of the book.

It is well written, detailed and a real snapshot into academic life from the first half of the twentieth century but at the same time it is quite bleak and not what could be called an uplifting book.  None of the characters are entirely nice or easy to engage with but the story is so realistic that I found it to be a real page turner.

I'm very pleased I read the book, I will look out for more of William's novels but I'll know that they are books to read when I am in a calm, relaxed, happy state of mind otherwise I can see that the realistic settings could depress me.

This is a book I recommend but to whom I am not 100% certain!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Reading around the play

Wars of the Roses: Stormbird by Conn Iggulden

Earlier in the year I had my mad but thoroughly enjoyable day at The Globe watching the three Henry VI plays all in one day. The day was great and the plays have stayed with me since the viewing but they did make me realise just how little English history I know.

When Net Galley offered advance copies of Iggulden's new book I had everything crossed that I'd be allowed to download it ready for my holiday as it covers the exact period of the plays. I know from having heard Iggulden speak about his other books that he researches thoroughly and that I'd come away knowing a lot more accurate history of Henry VI's reign than that given by Shakespeare in his plays!

From the start I was thoroughly involved in the plots, deceptions and politics of the time and found I could see everything that was happening - books that play visually as I read them don't happen that often and those that do are often the books that become my favourites.

Iggulden doesn't create black and white characters, all of those in the book have shades of grey to them even if they are the traditional good/bad guys.

My one problem with this book is that because I read an early copy of this book I am going to have to wait even longer for the next instalment.

Conn Iggulden is coming to Norwich very soon to talk about and sign copies of this book - sadly I am working but it will be a great evening if you can make it.

Monday, 23 September 2013

It is a truth that I need to acknowledge...

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Here comes a big confession from a bookworm who has worked in the book trade for fifteen years - I've never read (or watched and adaptation of) Pride and Prejudice.

I feel better for saying that out loud.

However while we were away I did read and thoroughly enjoy Baker's retelling of the story from the servants point of view - if the Bennett sisters think that they have a hard life that is nothing at all compared to the 4 people who keep the house running.

Having not read the source book I can't comment on how accurate to the story it is, or how well this book sits with it but as a stand alone book I found it compelling*.  There were enough little twists in a fairly predictable plot that made the story a great escapist read. The servants came alive in the writing and Baker painted some wonderful images for me, while I was reading the book I did feel I had travelled in time.

Who knows I may now read the original...and that is something that even Colin Firth in a wet shirt hadn't inspired me to do!

the copy of Longbourn that I read was an electronic proof from Net Galley

*I've just read a long awaited final book in a series and was very disappointed in it - mainly because you had to have (recently) read the other books in the series to understand any of the plot. Prequels and sequels are all very well but they have to work as stand alone books for new readers.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Book Binge

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have just come back from 2 glorious weeks in Crete. We did a little sightseeing and a lot of relaxing, eating and drinking.

In fact over the course of the holiday I finished 25 books - this might actually be a record for me and once more I am grateful for the existence of eReaders as due to luggage weight limits and a lack of English books in the book swaps I'd have been stuck without it!

The books I read:

  1. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont - Elizabeth Taylor
  2. When You are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
  3. Wars of the Roses: Stormbird - Conn Iggulden (eProof)
  4. Flowers of the Field - Sarah Harrison
  5. A Flower That's Free - Sarah Harrison
  6. Stone - John Williams (eProof)
  7. Instructions for a Heatwave - Maggie O'Farrell
  8. The Old Ways - Robert Macfarlane
  9. Dear Lupin - Roger Mortimer
  10. Longbourn - Jo Baker (eProof)
  11. Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
  12. Canvey Island - James Runcie
  13. Why be happy when you can be normal - Jeanette Winterson
  14. Big Brother - Lionel Shriver
  15. A Time of Gifts - Patrick Leigh Fermor
  16. Testament of Mary - Colm Toibin
  17. The Suicide Shop - Jean Teule
  18. Hector and the Search for Happiness - Francois Lelord
  19. Harvest - Jim Crace
  20. Ranger Confidential - Andrea Lankford
  21. Lucy Maud Montgomery - Mary Henley Rubio
  22. Neither Here Nor There - Bill Bryson
  23. Anne of Green Gables - L M Montgomery
  24. The Interestings - Meg Wolitzer
  25. Transatlantic - Colum McCann

I did start a couple of others but they didn't capture me after 70 pages - I'm not sure if they just didn't fit my mood or if they aren't for me...I'll give them a go again sometime to make a decision.

Of the 25 my favourites were Longbourn, The Interestings, Stoner, Stormbird and A Time of Gifts. When we first got back I included Life After Life in this list but since then the feeling of enjoyment has remained but the plot has faded.

Just to finish this post off this is the view from where I did most of my reading...

Monday, 9 September 2013

Hats Off!

The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain

My friend and colleague Jon (who blogs here) recommended this book to me recently and when it became eBook of the day shortly after I decided that I really should read it.

A few years ago I read a few other Gallic Press books and enjoyed them so I was looking forward to starting this one and a long train journey gave me the chance to read it all in one go.

It was a delight from page one - it is a strange, whimsical tale about how one simple black felt hat can change the lives of all who come into contact with it, even if they don't come by it strictly legally...

I don't know how to talk about the book without spoiling it for you but this book has jumped to the top of my favourite reads of 2013 and I think everyone should read it.  And then when you've finished it go and find another Gallic Press book - The Suicide Shop - which is equally bizarre but equally enjoyable!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Backlog of books

Over the past few months there have been loads of advance copies on the download Net Galley service.  I've been approved for lots of them but have only recently had time to read them.  I'm saving the rest for my holiday and for light relief as I work through my uni reading list.

The first book I 'opened' was Last Launch by Dan Winters this is a beautiful photographic book dedicated to the last 3 flights made by each of the Space Shuttles before they were retired a couple of years ago.  I viewed this one on my PC as it wasn't Kindle compatible and as a proof it worked completely as I fell in love with the pictures and have added the book to my wish list.
The advance copy gave a nice flavour of the book but there really is no substitute for a nice coffee table book.

Next I came to The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan and this book was in equal parts informative, interesting and totally frustrating. I knew a little of the history of the Manhattan Project but not a lot and this book did give me an overview of how the decisions were made and how 'the Gadget' was put together in various factories throughout the USA.
It was also nice having the focus on the women workers on the project rather than the scientists, like so many war time industries it was quite a female dominated industry.
But...and you just knew this was coming!
The book chopped and changed from history to science to biography so rapidly that I never felt I got to grips with any part fully and disappointingly it was the biographies of these fascinating women that lost out the most.
The book doesn't set out to discuss the rights and wrongs of nuclear weapons, it is just supposed to be a personal take but the lack of follow through on the stories left me frustrated at the end.  These were people who worked in a highly dangerous, unregulated and unexplored industry and we don't find out how they coped after the war - were there illness etc?

I wanted to really love this book - social, thought provoking personal histories are just my thing but I left feeling disappointed by this one.

Lastly I had a copy of Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman. I have a love-hate relationship with Mr Gaiman's books and recently at a book group I was the only one in a group to not like the book we'd read. This one however was great fun - mum's away and the milk for cereal runs out. Dad goes out to get some more and is gone for ages, when he gets back it is with a wonderful tall tale to explain the delay.

The plot, when mixed with Chris Riddell's fabulous illustrations, was a delight from start to finish and I can't wait until my nephew is old enough to have me read this to him!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Books by post

Lots of the books I've been reading and enjoying lately have come from very small, independent publishing houses and a lot of them have also been books in translation.

While the books can be found in mainstream book shops and of course in the library I decided that I wanted to support these publishers in a more direct way than just reading the odd book.

Both And Other Stories and Peirene Press run a subscription model.  Like a magazine you subscribe to them and every time they publish a book it is sent to you - generally slightly in advance of the book being available on the general shelves.

Both publishers have produced books that I've enjoyed a great deal, and even when not quite my cup of tea the books have been thought provoking. I don't subscribe to any magazines and so unable to decide which publisher to support I threw caution to the wind and joined both schemes.

I've had at least one book from each scheme now and it is a great feeling knowing that quality books are going to be delivered regularly to me and a little bit before many readers will discover these titles.

The books from Peirene also have the advantage that they are all novellas so this means that as I have less time in the autumn thanks to returning to study I won't have to feel guilty for reading new books rather than the set texts!