Friday, 24 June 2016

Holiday Reads



It's that time of year again! Today my sister and I are jetting off to San Sebastian for a long weekend, which means two days reading by the sea, as much tapas as I can squeeze in and a shed load of wine. I've not had a break yet this year and I can feel myself reaching potential burn out stage so this short holiday is coming just at the right time.

We're not really beach holiday people, preferring to explore cities and towns and really delve into a culture, but every so often you need a lounger, some sand and a huge pile of books. We decided on San Sebastian after a couple of recommendations and an urge to experience a different side of Spain than the one we encountered in Madrid a few years ago. I've also wanted to go to Basque country for a long time, probably since reading David Boling's Guernica.

As finances are a bit tight this year and I, ashamedly, have far too many unread books on my kindle, I made the decision not to buy anything new for the trip. We'll actually only be on the beach for two full days so I shouldn't need more than two to three books anyway and I most certainly have that many (far more than that many) on my kindle.

So, in order of preference, I will be reading:

Exposure by Helen Dunmore
I Saw a Man by Owen Sheers
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton

I'm also planning on taking along one paperback - Death and the Seaside by Alison Moore - as it's an ARC I unusually requested (Moore is one of my favourite authors these days), and a book about the seaside has to be read at the seaside, right?

Finally, I've downloaded a load of Desert Island Discs and The Widow by Fiona Barton. I think I'm set.

I'm slightly concerned about the weather for this trip as the forecast is heavy rain and chilly, but I live in hope. Should our beach lounging be rained off, I'm sure we'll settle for coffee shop and tapas bar lounging instead.

See you next week!
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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Five Favourite Indie Bookshops


Persephone Books, London
I've waxed lyrical about this shop many times on this blog and I'd go so far as to say it's my favourite bookshop in London. I now work just up the road so I often take a stroll past to cheer myself up if I'm having one of those days. I've got one Persephone book left on my shelf that I want to read before going in for my next batch and I can't wait to explore the shelves once again. It's a tiny shop, but beautifully decorated and the staff are lovely and knowledgable.

Brendon Books, Taunton
In my home town we have a Waterstones, an Oxfam bookshop and this wonderful indie. I spent hours in all three as I grew up, but I always loved Brendon Books because it stocked the perfect mixture of new and secondhand books. The owner also ran a literary festival from the store and, in the last couple of months before I moved to London, I attended a book club in the shop after hours (always a strangely magical feeling).


The Minster Gate Bookshop, York
I've only been to this shop once, last September when I took a trip to York, but it left such an impression on me and I fully intend to go back. It's normal to plan a trip half way up the country just to visit a bookshop, right?! If I were to own a bookshop this is exactly the sort I'd want. I love the narrow crooked staircases, books piled on every stair and every surface, and the way it invites book lovers to find a corner and just pour over the books there, no matter the subject.

Foyles, London/Bristol
This is a no brainer really. I adore Foyles partly because it's so reliable. I can go in there looking for a specific book and actually find it, which in most bookshops is easier said than done. I also love that they stock such a range of publishers and magazines too. I always discover something new and I always need to be dragged out before bankrupting myself.


Any Amount of Books, London
I have never been in this shop and come out empty handed. Never. I have also yet to venture downstairs because I always find too many gems on the ground floor. I've talked about secondhand bookshops before and Any Amount of Books is perhaps my favourite in London. Browsing the shelves and narrowing down my purchases away from the bustle of Charing Cross Road is such a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? 

 This week is Independent Bookshop Week so spread the love and pop in to your local indie!

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Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Joyce Girl || Annabel Abbs


It often takes me some time to get into historical fiction based on real people (I've read somewhere that this genre is called 'faction'). I have to make sure I set aside the things I know, or think I know, to really give myself to the story. This process was easy with The Joyce Girl for two reasons:

1. I'm fairly unfamiliar with Joyce and Beckett. I've read their work, but never looked into their lives.

2. The Joyce Girl is written so well that from the word go I was there in Lucia's head, in 1920s Paris,  and there was absolutely no way my mind could wander from that world.

'1928: Avant-garde Paris is buzzing with the latest ideas in art, music, literature and dance. Lucia, the talented and ambitious daughter of James Joyce, is making her name as a dancer, training with some of the world’s most gifted performers. When a young Samuel Beckett comes to work for her father, she’s captivated by his quiet intensity and falls passionately in love. Persuaded she has clairvoyant powers, Lucia believes her destiny is to marry Beckett. But when her beloved brother is enticed away, the hidden threads of the Joyces’ lives begin to unravel, destroying Lucia’s dreams and foiling her attempts to escape the shadow of her genius father.

1934: Her life in tatters, Lucia is sent by her father to pioneering psychoanalyst Carl Jung. For years she has kept quiet. But now she decides to speak.'

The relationship between Joyce and Lucia portrayed in this novel made my skin crawl. His labelling of her as his muse is the ultimate method of control: shackles seeped in false flattery. His constant calls for her to dance for him made me feel quite uncomfortable and yet it's when she's dancing that Lucia feels most alive.

'I could feel the muscles in my legs burning and the perspiration rising on my lip. And yet I loved this feeling, the tautness and control, the sense of every muscle at its perfect pitch, the way my teeming brain stilled in the effort.'

Abbs has brought Lucia to life with very little source material to go on. The majority of Lucia's letters, papers and even the patient notes from her sessions with Carl Jung were destroyed, but Abbs pieces her life together wonderfully and incorporates what source material is left - such as the review of her dancing in a Parisian paper - into the text. 

As I read The Joyce Girl I was reminded of Zelda Fitzgerald and her novel, Save Me the Waltz. There are many parallels between Lucia and Zelda and I was pleased to come across Zelda in the text. Zelda's breakdown and stay in an asylum foreshadows Lucia's own and adds extra depth to the commentary on mental health that is wound into the novel.

As with Fitzgerald's autobiographical novel, questions of identity - as a dancer, as a woman, as a daughter - are at the forefront of The Joyce Girl. Lucia is constantly struggling to find her place in the world and each time she comes close, most frequently when dancing, she's pulled back by one of the many controlling men in her life. She's shaped by the men around her, rather than by herself. I felt this added a tinge of sadness and poignancy to a novel which is otherwise so alive with energy. Not that that is a bad thing. On the contrary, Abbs skilfully handles the polarity of emotions and paints a stunningly real portrait of a woman trying to forge her way through a life which is dictated by her father, her brother and by Beckett. 

'And it struck me that being in love with Beckett was not dissimilar to dancing - the breathless sense of invincibility, the feeling of time and space falling away.'

Enthralled is a pretty good word to describe my reaction to this novel. It captured my imagination with its charm and energy and, immediately upon finishing, I was googling Lucia Joyce to find out more. I often wondered how much of the novel is fiction and how much is fact and I found myself forgetting it is a novel at all. Abbs creates a world and a woman so vivid and full of life that it's easy to believe that Abbs's Lucia is Joyce's Lucia. 

The Joyce Girl is truly an impressive debut (no wonder it won the Impress Prize for New Writers), and one I would urge you to read. 

The Joyce Girl blog tour is running until Monday 27th June. I'd highly recommend visiting the other stops on this tour as the reviews and guest posts are fab and well worth a read.

FYI, if you were as yet unsure about buying this fantastic novel, the profits from the first year of sales are being donated to YoungMinds in memory of Lucia Joyce, which is a wonderful way of commemorating and celebrating her life.


Thank you to all at Impress Books for inviting me on this tour and providing a copy of the novel for review.
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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #57



1// The Joyce Girl book launch On Tuesday I took myself off to the swanky King's Road in Chelsea for the launch of Annabel Abbs' debut novel The Joyce Girl. I won't say much about the novel as I'm reviewing it as part of the blog tour next Tuesday. I will say: go read it and thank me later. I've never been to a book launch before and I was a bit out of my depth (and holding back so much anxiety I thought I might scream), but I had a really enjoyable time. It was held in Waterstones and it was lovely to be surrounded by books, celebrating a new book, and generally talking about books for a couple of hours.

2// Free prosecco Every year at around this time Zizzi send an email enticing me back with a birthday treat - a free bottle of prosecco and a free main meal. I honestly could not say no to this, so I grabbed some friends and went for bubbles and pizza. Lots of fun was had by all.

3// A good old family knees up This weekend I'm in Essex having a bit of a family get-together. We went for a fabulous meal at our favourite tapas restaurant last night and I'm certainly nursing both my food baby and hangover this morning.

4// Trying to run On Tuesday I persuaded my sister to accompany me on a 'run'. It wasn't quite as successful as the last few times I've tried to go out, but I was prepared for that as my hips have been a little fussy the past couple of weeks. Still, I worked up a sweat and managed a sprint finish (can't resist racing to the end) and I felt great at the end of it. I'm learning that I don't have to do half-marathon every time I head out, even the shorter ones make a difference.

5// Excellent Women by Barbara Pym I started this on the tube on Friday morning and fell in love instantly. Barbara, where have you been all my life?!

What made you happy this week?
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Thursday, 16 June 2016

On the Stack #4


It's been a while since I've shared anything here, so I thought I'd kick off again with a look at what I'm reading at the moment.

I currently have two stacks by my bed. One is a fairly average sized pile of books I want to get to in the next few weeks, but the other is a rather ominous pile, close to toppling, which is made up of the books I've read recently and intend to review. I'll get to that at some point.

This last couple of weeks I've been reading a lot about the Somme. The centenary of the first day of this infamous battle is coming up on 1st July (which also happens to be my birthday, what timing), and I've been busy getting reviews ready for the books page on Centenary News. I finished Sisters on the Somme by Penny Starns the week before last and now I'm reading Elegy by Andrew Roberts. My final Somme book of the month will be Forgotten Voices of the Somme by Joshua Levine. I've read books from the Forgotten Voices series before so I'm sure this one will not disappoint.

My interest in the First World War is mostly cultural rather than military so I've never really retained much knowledge about the battles or why and how they were fought. Over the last few months though I have been reading a lot more military history and I think it's giving me a much more rounded picture of the war. The Somme has only existed in my head as some hazy awful bloodbath and my knowledge has been influenced heavily by literature as opposed to non-fiction. Now, though, I feel like I understand a lot more about the thought processes behind the Somme, what happened on the first day, how it unfolded and the conditions the soldiers faced. I'm a long way from being a military historian, but I'm thoroughly enjoying the learning process.

I've been plowing through books recently and I think I've finally made a slight dent in my TBR (must not celebrate by buying more books). I've been enjoying discovering books I'd bought months or even years back and have read some corkers, including: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi and Mrs Dalloway's Party by Virginia Woolf.

I want to delve a bit deeper into my TBR pile over the next few weeks and I've got Excellent Women by Barbara Pym lined up for my next read. I think I need something a bit lighter and jollier after burying myself in the Somme and I think this will be the perfect antidote.

Finally, I have fished out my copy of Susan Cain's Quiet from the deep recesses of my bookshelf. I have dipped in and out of this, but never actually finished it. My organisation put a lot of emphasis on MBTI profiles and knowing your personality type and I've just been on a course to find out more about what makes me tick and how I work. I am 100% introvert and it causes some problems for me in the workplace so I'm hoping Cain's book will give me a boost of confidence and a few ideas about making my introversion help rather than hinder.

What are you currently reading?
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Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Running Diaries: First Steps


On Tuesday night I went for a run. I realise that this is neither exciting nor breaking news for anyone other than me, but I still wanted to share it.

Somewhat unbelievably it's not too far from the three year anniversary of the injury that set me on the road to increased weight and decreased happiness. You all know the story by now: girl runs half-marathon (though not her first), girl gets hurt, girl doesn't stop training; girl now can't do anything, girl has physio/x-ray/MRI/referral to orthopaedics, girl still can't do anything.

I have reached a point now where I'm very much stewing in my anger. I've fallen into a pit of despair and deep heat patches; one is delightful, the other not so much. The time has come to suck it up and get on. It's time to accept that I'm not as capable or as fit as I used to be. It's time to set new challenges and new goals that are feasible for my now weaker and heavier body. It's time to run again.

On Tuesday I went to a talk at Waterstones after work which was wonderful, but I had 'that' stomach ache I get when I'm tired and stressed. Experience has always proven that a bit of exercise soothes that pain slightly so, stepping off the bus round the corner from my house, I decided to get home, get changed and get out.

I ran for twenty minutes as the sun set and the clouds lit up pink and orange before fading to grey. It felt good. I called my mum, who still manages to be the best running partner from 200 miles away. We had a chat as my feet pounded the pavements and the wind fought against me. My lungs hurt, my legs hurt, my hips hurt, but I felt amazing. When I run I can almost see the worries and stress and anger and sadness fall into the dust behind me; it leaks out with my sweat and I feel lighter.

I made it home, still upright and in one piece, had a scalding shower and settled down to do one of Yoga with Adriene's post-run stretch videos before getting into bed. It felt good, I felt good. I woke up yesterday feeling better, both in my body and my mind. Running has always given me that, it's always kept me on the straight and narrow, and I need that back. So, whether it's recommended or not, I'm taking it back.

Here is where I need to be careful. I want to run again, I want to run further and faster and longer, but I know I should probably give myself time. I ought to aim for maybe one run a week with plenty of cross-training and yoga. So that's what I'm going to do and I'm going to bring you along for the ride.
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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

London Notes: Morning Walks


I am an early riser. I wake with the sun (or my lumie alarm clock if it's dull out), and I make it my mission to get as much out of those few hours before I have to be at work. Recently I've been restless, unhappy in my flat and in need of movement, so I walk.

I walk through Elephant and Castle, blindly navigating the huge roundabout now that the underpasses are gone, past the people stood at the bus stop with their headphones on staring blankly at the middle distance.

I begin to feel the warmth of my gentle exertion spreading across my skin so I take off my jacket and feel the morning air nibble at my bare arms. I love the chill of the morning, that first couple of hours before the sun really gets going.

I'm listening to Amy Phoeler. Her voice soothes and energises me simultaneously. She makes me laugh and I catch the eye of someone walking towards me, a grin on my face. This stranger and I lock eyes and I can see that they're puzzled by the smile on my face - smiles can be hard to come by in this city. I wonder for a moment whether I ought to adjust my face, hide the smile and rearrange my features into a London frown, but I decide not to. Amy Phoeler is making me laugh, it's a new day full of all the opportunities a day brings, and a smile is so rare these days, it almost feels like an act of kindness.

Walking is good for the soul. With each step I can feel the knots in my shoulders come loose, I consciously release the anger and sadness and feelings of not being enough that seem to build up. I get to work early, feeling refreshed and ready for what the day will bring. If it brings sadness, well, I guess I'll be walking those same streets again tomorrow.

///

I moved to London in the summer of 2013 and fell in love with the city. London Notes is a new series where I document the various encounters I have with this city - the weird, the wonderful, the seemly inconsequential, and, occasionally, the profound. 
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