Thursday, 25 April 2019

The nature cure

As the days have lengthened and the weather improved we've been spending a lot more time outside in beautiful Norfolk (and Yorkshire). Rather than just reading about natural wonders we've actually been seeing them first hand.

Recent trips have included seeing the nesting seabirds at Bempton Cliffs - including dozens of puffins, and then also the wader spectacular in the Wash. We've also explored 'secret' gardens closer to home and taken a boat trip out on the Broads.

Even allowing for pub lunches in sunny gardens all of this fresh air has been exhausting and by the time everything is sorted and I can curl up with a good book I'm finding I'm dozing off.  My reading has definitely slowed down again - although for the healthier reasons!

One book that really did capture my imagination recently was The Girl from Yamhill by Beverley Cleary. I can't remember who or where this was recommended but I am so glad that I got a copy from the library with ease.

Cleary wrote the Ramona books which I enjoyed these as a child indeed when I flicked through a few of the books recently I was surprised at how much I remembered from them. The Girl from Yamhill is an autobiography of Cleary's childhood and was utterly wonderful - I think that it was written for a younger audience but it didn't shy away from some harder hitting plot lines, nor did it wrap everything up with happy endings.

Cleary was born in 1916 and so this is very much a book about America post WW1 and during the Great Depression. I think it taught me more about this era than any other history book has done. Cleary also grew up in an area of America that we have visited so I think that made it even more visual for me. The culture clash of moving from a rural life to a city one is also very well shown.

The book has echoes of both the Little House on the Prairie and Betsy Tacy books, although these series are set earlier than Yamhill, and as these are longtime favourites of mine it is easy to see why this one appealed so readily.

It isn't particularly profound, just very human and full of happiness, wonder and sadness all in the right proportions.

Now it looks as if the weather is returning to more normal conditions I expect I will have more time for reading again - although I will miss the fresh air. I think that my tbr piles from NetGalley and the library will appreciate the attention however.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Reading Challenge Updates

Personal Reading Challenges.

As was proved in 2017 I really suck at reading challenges, even ones I set myself for fun!

This year I am trying to do a little better. My job has changed somewhat and for the first time in 21 years I am not working directly with books, authors and readers.
As I've survived a brain hemorrhage and regained the ability to read it feels very important to not lose my book world knowledge or my love of books.

I belong to an online book discussion group linked to Norfolk's libraries and for this we created two challenges for 2018.

One is a simple monthly challenge:

And so far I have managed to complete the first quarter's challenges

  • In January I read Flat Share by Beth O'Leary
  • In February I started If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura, a book I only bought because I fell in love with the cover! (I didn't actually finish this one in Feb but I'm counting it as a challenge sucess!)
  • In March my reservations for Two Weeks in Florence and Yesterday Morning by Diana Athill arrived and I enjoyed both of these short books, one a diary of a holiday to Italy and the other a memoir of a Norfolk Childhood.
We also launched a bingo style challenge to inspire reading:
Without even realising it I have actually 'ticked' many of the boxes here as many of my reads do tick more than one box!
  • Is a story about a real character - Becoming Mrs Lewis
  • A debut novel - The Flat Share
  • A number in the title - Vintage 1954
  • Set during war time - Island Song
  • A non fiction book - The Cut Out Girl
  • Award Winning - The Cut Out Girl
  • A book from my wishlist - Chasing the Sun
  • An item from a library that is new to me - Beauchamp Hall
  • Read a children's book/watch a children't film - The Lego Movie 2
  • Read a book set in Norfolk - Beauchamp Hall
  • Read a book in translation - Vintage 1954

If I do complete this one, I might go back and try to get a unique item for each prompt.

Just this week one of my closet friends shared the reading challenge that she has developed as part of her job and I am tempted to start that one too.

I think that I like these challenges so much because I don't have to read anything set but can retrofit my choices!

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Travelling through time and literature - book reivew

Vintage 1954 - Antoine Laurain (trans. Jane Aitkin & Emily Boyce)

It is hard to say whether I am a bigger fan of Gallic Books or Antoine Laurain. As a publisher they've introduced me (and countless other readers) to so many great new authors from around the world *and* they translate Antoine's books into English.

I was very happy when Jimena from Gallic press sent me a very advance copy of Vintage 1954 and even more excited when I was told I could talk about it now and didn't have to wait until nearer to official publication in mid June.

Laurain's books for me are total comfort reads, something to turn to when you are a little under the weather or just longing to be anywhere other than Britain right now.

This one brings together a disparate cast of characters from around the world, and throughout time who are all linked by a particular wine. It takes you to a Paris that you instantly recognise and then to another Paris that (if you're like me) you'd love to visit.

This isn't deep sci-fi although there are elements and while I'm not sure it would stand up to a lot of scrutiny from die hard fans of that genre I found that the 'rules' Laurain created worked and while it is a fantasy it didn't stretch my credulity. Of course if you time travel you want to interact with famous people but even here Laurain is pretty restrained and again it all feels natural.

I'm being very circumspect with describing this book because most of the charm is discovering the twists and turns for yourself, and I think that the blurb Gallic Books have on their website (where you can pre-order the book) is just perfect:

After drinking a bottle of vintage Beaujolais, a group of Parisian neighbours are transported back in time to 1954.When Hubert Larnaudie invites some fellow residents of his Parisian apartment building to drink an exceptional bottle of 1954 Beaujolais, he has no idea of its special properties. The following morning, Hubert finds himself waking up in 1950s Paris, as do antique restorer Magalie, mixologist Julien, and Airbnb tenant Bob from Milwaukee, who’s on his first trip to Europe.
After their initial shock, the city of Edith Piaf and An American in Paris begins to work its charm on them. The four delight in getting to know the French capital during this iconic period, whilst also playing with the possibilities that time travel allows. But, ultimately, they need to work out how to get back to 2017. And the key lies in a legendary story and the vineyards of the Chateau St Antoine…
I recommend that you settle down somewhere comfortable, open a bottle of something nice and enjoy this whimsical, fantastical story.

Many thanks to Gallic Books for providing me with an advance copy, I was under no obligation to review this book but it is so good I had to!

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Book Review: The Flat Share

The Flat Share - Beth O'Leary

This is a book that really took me by surprise when I read it. 

I'm lucky enough to read for several different projects and this was one that was on a review list a couple of months ago - it blew me away then but I've not been able to talk about it until now!

I really did think that it was going to be a run of the mill chicklit/romcom book. 

Tiffy needed to find a cheap place to live after a relationship break up and Leon also needs to raise some cash.
Tiffy works during the day and Leon by night so they are actually bed sharing, and not flat sharing and the idea is that they will never meet.
As I said so far, so fluffy, and it is obvious that they will meet...

But slowly, as you get drawn into their worlds, the plot takes several twists and becomes much darker. However the story unfolds slowly and the darkness slipped in and right under my skin before I realised it, very much like it does in real life I would imagine! I found my heart pounding at certain parts and wanted to shout at the characters to look out. I love being that involved in a book.

This is all very cryptic but while I really want people to read this book without knowing anything other than the bare plot outline.

I really did think that this was going to be a light, frothy, inconsequential read - perfectly fun but nothing more - I was pleasantly surprised and hope that this book does well. I look forward to reading more from Beth O'Leary too.

This books was provided as an electronic proof from Net Galley and Quercus and I was under no obligation to review the title.