Thursday, 26 April 2018

Too impatient to wait any long to talk about a book

Book Review Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

(many thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy of this title)

It feels like I've been waiting to talk about this book forever and although it isn't officially published until mid-May that is less than a month away so now is the time to pre-order with your favourite bookshop or to get an early reservation in at your local library.

Anyhow back at the start of the year when I was still really quite unwell and despondent because I hadn't managed to read any fiction for over a month I saw people talking about this book on Twitter and then in lists of 'books to watch out for in 2018.' It sounded just my thing and I was approved for an advanced copy on Netgalley and then tentatively opened it up.

The joy - this book was written in an epistolary style and while the letters crossing to and fro the North Sea did link to each other as the tale unfolded they weren't forming a long, continuous narrative. The letters themselves were also reasonably short and so I could really stop and start with  as I needed while thanks to the format the story was almost recapped in each new letter so I was always able to pick the plot up.

This is a very gentle novel and is primarily about Tina, a Suffolk farmer's wife, and Anders, a Danish museum curator. Slowly we learn about them - their lives, families, thoughts and sorrows - nothing is off limits however hard the topic may be. Letters allow both characters to share their inner most thoughts and a real, believable, friendship grows between the writers, and I was so immersed in their worlds that I almost felt guilty for reading their private letters.

There are twists and turns, I didn't spot most of them coming but they all felt convincing - I hope that this is true for all readers and not just because I was ill when I read the book. Reviews are comparing this to another of my favourite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and I can definitely see why - and not just because the book is made up of letters. It is a gentle story but with a realistic edge that stops it becoming saccharine sweet, it also doesn't take the easy or obvious route which was a nice touch.

The final selling point for me was that while most of Tina's story takes place in Suffolk, around Bury St Edmunds, there is also a trip to a couple of archaeological sites in north Norfolk. I was aware of the Warham Iron Age Fort (and indeed have visited it) but I didn't know that there was also an Iron Age Barrow in the area and I plan on luring Mr Norfolkbookworm to visit it soon with the promise of a pub lunch...

Even a few months on from reading this book I am still not managing to read long or complicated fiction books but this one will always be special to me as it did show that I could still read and enjoy fiction and that mood boost was incredibly important.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Writing back to books

Book Review

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

I am still struggling with reading narrative fiction, I think it is getting better but retaining a complicated plot with multiple characters is still too hard. Books of letters however are ideal and I was very excited to come across this mentioned in a catalogue and then to discover that it was a book I could borrow from the library.

Annie Spence has written letters to books that have had an effect on her - whether positive or negative and all these notes are wonderful and often hilarious. Not only are they heartfelt but often they are written in a pastiche of the original which just adds an extra dimension.

Spence talks about many books that I am familiar with, which makes me think we are of a similar age (or have at least worked in the book world for a similar time) and there are many books I have added to my must read or reread lists. Her asides about working in libraries also give an insight into some of the other things we do as well as stamping books!

The end of the book is comprised of amusing articles full of book recommendations, the one called I'd rather be reading: Excuses to tell you friends so you can stay home with your books made me laugh a lot. I also like the article about how books lead to other books, taking The Virgin Suicides as a starting point Spence then takes us on a journey through 10 books that lead on from each other.

I do enjoy books about books and this one is a real treat, now to keep building my reading stamina so I can enjoy all the new titles I've added to lists!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Two Steps Forward (in my reading recovery)

Two Steps Forward by Graeme Stimison & Anne Buist.

Book provided by Bookbridgr.

This book caught my eye as soon as I saw it advertised on the Bookbridgr website - it is a book told in two viewpoints by two authors, in this case with each chapter being told by the alternating protagonist. It is also a book that could easily be a non fiction, travel writing book and I love them.

Zoe and Martin both end up walking the Camino de Santiago from Cluny in France all the way to Santiago de compostela in Spain - well over 1000km. They have very different reasons for undertaking the walk, Zoe is recently bereaved, and Martin recently divorced and from the start you know that their paths will cross and there will be sparks of all sorts.

Despite the mental place that both lead characters start from, this isn't a book that focuses entirely on the spiritual journey the pair take, nor does it read like a diary of the journey taken by the two authors in real life. All aspects of the journey are covered. It is a fulfilling read, but it is always believable - perhaps because Zoe and Martin have time to tell their stories as the walk progresses.

All of the incidental characters we meet on the way have their own reasons for walking and are well rounded if used slightly in deus ex machina roles. While the ending could be seen as a little predicable and trite the authors have the confidence to extend the story on a little beyond the pilgrimage and tie up loose ends in a satisfying, but believable, conclusion.

This was a brilliant book to continue my reading recovery with, again the short alternating narratives were great for my concentration but unlike previous books I had to follow the plot from one chapter to the next. I did find myself having to reread chapters as my concentration slipped but the story was so good I didn't give up - I had to find out how it ended!

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Book Post

Book Review

All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman

I recently received an advance copy of this book from Belgravia Books and once more the format of the novel again worked in my favour.

Kidman's novel The Infinite Air made my top fiction reads of 2016 and I was r keen to read more from this New Zealand author. While being very different indeed to The Infinite Air I really enjoyed this novel.

It follows the life of four (half) siblings over more than 50 years:
When war widow Irene Sandle goes to work in New Zealand’s tobacco fields in 1952, she hopes to start a new, independent life for herself and her daughter – but the tragic repercussions of her decision will resonate long after Irene has gone.
Each of Irene’s children carries the events of their childhood throughout their lives, played out against a backdrop of great change – new opportunities emerge for women, but social problems continue to hold many back. Headstrong Belinda becomes a successful filmmaker, but struggles to deal with her own family drama as her younger siblings are haunted by the past.
A sweeping saga covering half a century, this is a powerful exploration of family ties and heartbreaks, and of learning to live with the past.

What made this book ideal for me currently is that it is told in short, 'snapshot' chapters. We start in 1952 with the Irene's story and then chapter by chapter we follow what happens to the four siblings throughout their lives. Each chapter is self contained and as we jumped through time with each one I found the experience to be more like reading a series of connected short stories featuring the same characters.

The writing style was easy to follow and I really did get the feel that this book could only have taken place in New Zealand - in an indefinable way the location and feel of the country came through. The story details about politics added to this with the detail that absolutely grounded this feel.

The book was very different from the first Kidman I read, much darker and grittier but I still loved it and will be looking out for more of her books as they are published in the UK.

Many thanks to Belgravia Books for sending me the book.