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.