Saturday, 29 June 2013

Well I guess that was June then

I'm in the middle of an EMOTIONAL weekend. Yesterday was my last day at work which was very sad because I loved that job. The owners of the business took me back so readily after I was made redundant (I worked here before the theatre) and I think that is the nicest thing.  I was showered with presents (Charlotte, my lovely colleague, got me a Waterstones voucher because 'I know you love books'. Yeh, that provoked the feels) and good wishes and hugs from everyone and I am still quite overwhelmed. Then tonight is my leaving party with my girls and the boy. I can only imagine the state of me when the alcohol is a-flowing. So thinking about the fact that I am leaving my home town and moving to the big city on Monday is threatening to push me over the edge and smother me with feels. But I am nothing if not British and my stiff upper lip is working overtime.

June has been good. Busy, but good. I have been to America and London, started my new job, got a new reviewing job and been offered freelance writing work by my (ex-)employers. I am going to be a busy bee but I function better that way.

So, to the books. I have had quite the successful reading month because of my holiday, reading a total of 6 (and a half) books:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Ignorance by Michele Roberts
Where D'You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (half of it, anyway)

I am still behind on reviewing these but they're coming, don't fret. I have many MANY thoughts. I have read some stonkers this month and I am still thoroughly enjoying AK. I have a weird crush on Levin but I have a suspicion that change somewhat in the course of the rest of the book. So far I'm just imagining this fit Russian farmer joining his peasants, doing the mowing, getting all sweaty and slowly removing his layers of Russian clothing...AHEM. Well, that's sounding altogether too Lawrencian for my tastes. Let's move on.

On Monday, July 1st I am packing my life into a van and hitting the motorway to move to London. Monday is also my birthday (I've reached the big 23) so it will be an interesting day. Birthday's have never meant much to me but I think this one may be quite memorable. I've got a whole evening planned for when we finally get there. My brother, his girlfriend and housemate will come across from Essex, I'll be with my sister and our housemate and my boyfriend will come up from Taunton. I'm thinking takeaway and cider. Healthy, as always.

I have a question for you all, particularly for Wilkie lovers out there. I have a couple of Wilkie novels on my Classics Club list (The Moonstone and No Name) and I have been considering organising a readalong. Any thoughts? Some of you have already expressed an interest but if anyone had any ideas of which book to choose then please let me know. I'm thinking it wouldn't run until autumn/winter because I think his novels match the stormy days and dark evenings rather well. Anyway, just talk to me people.

I hope June has treated everyone well. How has your reading gone? Let's see how the second half of the year pans out for us all. 

Who doesn't love a blogger picture?

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Favourite First Line: Classics Club

To say that I am unimpressed by the speed with which this year is passing is an understatement. I am thoroughly unimpressed. I mean, really, we're in June already? In fact, we're one week away from July already? How the hell did that happen? I feel like I should be getting motion sickness, the earth must be spinning at speed.

Anyway, as much as it pains me, it is June which means there is a new monthly question from the Classics Club:

What is your favourite opening sentence from a classic novel (and why)?

Now, before I get cracking I have to add a disclaimer: I am going to talk about several opening sentences. Not because I am greedy, just because it was far too hard to chose just one. It is pretty harsh to limit us to just one. I can't even decide on a favourite book let alone a favourite opening line. There are just TOO MANY BOOKS.

I had a whale of time trying to answer this. I sat in front of my two fiction bookshelves and considered my options for some time. Weighing the pros and cons of each sentence. Getting carried away with reading and finding myself at the end of the first chapter and not the first sentence. What can you do? I'm a Lit Nerd through and through.

A long time ago my favourite opening sentence was from Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier:

'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.'

It still does give me spine shivers and I do still love it but it has been bested by four other magnificent openers.

1. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

'This is the saddest story I have ever heard.'

I only have to read this line and the entirety of The Good Solider floods right back. It is simple, decisive, intriguing and completely draws you in.

2. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L Sayers

'"What in the world, Wimsey, are you doing in this morgue?" demanded Captain Fentiman, flinging aside the Evening Banner with the air of a man released from an irksome duty.'

Oh, Dorothy you babe. This was the first time I met the delightful Wimsey and I pretty much fell in love straight away. Bellona will always be my favourite out of the series (I've not quite read them all, mind) because of the whole shell shock issue. I have a fascination will shell shock and spent about half of my MA year writing essays about its representation in literature. I do have a tendency to get quite obsessive...I'm sure you all haven't already guessed that. I really love the way this one sentence is so active, introduces two characters and sets the tone of the entire novel. Winner.

3. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

'This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure and what a Man's resolution can achieve.'

I cannot resist spreading the Wilkie love*. You've just got to love Victorian gender roles, haven't you? I have a strange urge to completely analyse this sentence but I will refrain, for all our sakes. Let's just say it's Wilkie, it's The Woman in White, it's intriguing and it's Victorian. Just how I like it.

4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

'All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.'

This is a newie on me as I only started reading it a couple of weeks ago. I did dip into the first page after the spin number was announced and I think I put something on twitter about this opening. It's famous and well-loved and rightly so. What a line. You've got me, Leo.

Wilkie = babe

*In fact, who would fancy a Wilkie readalong or event of some sort? I'm dying for some of his narrative goodness and it's the sort of thing you just want to share. Unless anyone knows of a planned something or other already? TELL ME NOW.


Wednesday, 26 June 2013


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Top Ten Tuesday

Top ten books read so far in 2013

I must say I really struggled with this one. Mostly because of the fact that I have already forgotten what I've read this year. Fail. But thankfully I have been keeping track this year so I had a handy list to look back at. Seriously, it is not surprising that I have accidentally started to read a book I've already read on more than one occasion. My memory is the worst. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when I perused said list. Nothing jumped out at me as being completely knee-knocking, mind-blowing amazing but I have amassed a fair number of very good reads. To the top ten:
1.The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman
This has popped up a lot on this blog basically because of the giant lighthouse on the cover and the fact that it is set in a lighthouse and I love lighthouses. Great setting, great atmosphere, interesting story that brought up many questions about morality and parenthood. Thought-provoking and beautiful.
2. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
VW is my fave. At least, now she is. I did not like her at all at one point but To the Lighthouse (there I go again) and this short polemical piece swung my opinion. She is a babe and one I will be re-reading continually throughout my life.
3. Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley
I felt like I learnt something from this as well as being completely dragged in, shaken around and th spat back out by the story. In a good way, of course.
4. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Paris, philosophy and an ending that cut me real deep. A surprising novel but ever so good.
5. Where D'You Go Bernadette? By Maria Semple
Epistolary and laugh out loud comedy? Need I say more really...
6. The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes 
This was my first foray into graphic novels and interested me because it is a retelling of my favourite epic poem. It is epic in graphic format too.
7. The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barbery
I read this during the Bout of Books readathon so it almost can't not be on my top ten. I love the conspiracy surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare's plays and this one is just so clever. And written in verse so Ros is just awesome.
8. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
KA has long been one of my favourite authors. She's a classic who I will always rely on a return to. This is no exception. Probably one of the cleverest books I've read this year but also the most entertaining. I would recommend this and all her other novels like a shot.
9. Ignorance by Michele Roberts
Set in the war but not set in the war. It had me cursing the world which is always a sign of a mighty fine book. Read it (if you get chance). 
10. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
I'm cheating a bit with this one because I am still currently reading it but it is fast becoming my favourite of the year so far. Even though at times it teeters on the edge of becoming a mediocre soap opera. Maybe Tolstoy was the early and unacknowledged influence behind soap operas. We will never know. It's just the melodramatic looks and the fact that AK is always putting herself in sticky situations that gets me. But still, I love it and I hope I continue to do so until the end.

I realise I am a day, you know.


Monday, 24 June 2013

Austen in August Event

AustenInAugustRBR-ButtonAdam at Roof Beam Reader is hosting an Austen event in August. Excited much? Indeed.

Since this Classics Club question I have been thinking it's high time I reacquainted myself with the lovely Jane and what better time than August. With a load of other lovely people.

I'm not giving myself a huge challenge as I'm only really planning to read one novel, Sense and Sensibility. But (and this is a big but), I may treat myself to a cheeky re-read of Persuasion (oh Captain Wentworth *sigh*). S&S is the priority though and I am really looking forward to getting stuck in. I loved the film (and no, not just because Alan Rickman is in it) and I do love being able to put a film to a book if I've not read it first.

I think Austen is perfect summer reading material. Hello weekends sat in the park with the sun on my back, the grass between my toes and an ice-cold beverage in my hands...who am I kidding, I live in England.

Who else is joining in? It's going to be a goodun!


Saturday, 22 June 2013

Review: Ignorance

Michele Roberts
Women's Prize Longlist

'The words in my brain could not be squashed. They wriggled and squelched and inched back and forth.'

Reading this was quite the emotional roller coaster. It made me sad, angry, occasionally pleased in that smug kind of way, and generally shocked at the state of humanity. Towards the end it even had me shaking my fist at the sky and shouting 'THE INJUSTICE'! Yes, that happened. 

I read this just before going on holiday and it was on my mind for some time after. It is powerful, painful, ultimately hopeful and one of the characters just made me sick to my stomach. 

Ignorance is set in a small French town before, during and after the Second World War. It mostly involves the occupation of France but actually the war is only a small character in the novel. It is there and necessary but only, I think, to provide context to the exploration of personal relationships. It follows the lives of Jeanne Nerin and Marie-Angele Baudry. I would say it is Jeanne's story rather than a joint narrative because she is the victim, the one that the events revolve around. Chapters are told alternately from the point of view of these two characters as they grow from school girls to women and mothers. Occasionally a chapter is narrated by other characters but to say who would spoil it.

I don't want to say too much about Ignorance. It is a short but intricate novel that deals with some difficult issues through an examination of the lives of Jeanne and Angele Baudry. It is significant that it is a dual narrative because it is through that that the extent of the 'ignorance' is exposed. There is one scene which is narrated from the point of view of both chapters at different times which really makes you stop and question the truth of everything you've already read. It's a powerful novel that can do that. It blew my socks off more than once.

The most powerful and distressing scene for me was the parade of French women who had slept with the German occupiers. I have seen this done in other novels and in films but Roberts really hit me hard. After the occupation had ended all the women who had 'betrayed' France by sleeping with Germans were shaved and paraded through towns and cities. Humiliated, basically. There is something about the way it is described in Ignorance that really made me think 'you bastards'. Was that the intended effect? I don't know but that was definitely my reaction (this is where the fist shaking came in).

Oh, but the language! It's like poetry. Dense, rich, lyrical, emotive...I could go on but I won't. Put it this way, it packs a punch and hits you real hard.

This is not a lenient novel. It doesn't hold back from exposing the realities of occupation and the lengths people will go to survive and get ahead. It is brutal and frustrating but the language is oh so beautiful and the story so incredibly powerful that I would recommend it to anyone. I got it from the library but I will be buying this one, if only to re-read it in order to soak up the language.

'The city flared around me. As though the bus were a knife, tearing into flesh.'

I would love to hear any of your thoughts on Ignorance if you've read it...


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

I wasn't going to go to America and not buy books

I bought books. Of course I did. I already mentioned in this post that I bought Call Me Zelda in Washington but then I went to New York and stupidly asked for bookshop recommendations. Laura, devilishly I now think, recommended The Strand, thus introducing me to my own version of heaven. It has 18 miles of books guys, what am I meant to do with that?!

The day we went to The Strand was the day of the poncho incident. It had been raining torrentially all day and I was, to put it nicely, not in the best of moods. But then I walked into the bookstore...and the excitement of it all nearly knocked me flat. Nothing makes me happier than being surrounded by books (can you imagine a better death than by a falling shelf? I'm looking at you Mr Bast) and the number of books in that one building was almost unimaginable. It was a beautiful moment. Once my jaw had come off the floor I got cracking with the display tables and then onto the stacks. Before I'd even tackled 'A' Mum, Dad and Liv had already wandered off to the pret opposite for a coffee. They knew I'd be some time and some time I definitely was.

It was hard to actually browse the store because of the sheer number of books so I tactically decided to look for books on my wish list and authors I am fond of. Three of the books I bought were used and only one was new and yes, I only bought four books, who's impressed?


Not really sure why my hand is there...just roll with it.

The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf
I read parts of this at uni but never really took it in. Reading A Room Of Ones Own for the Modern March event really put me in the mood for reading more of Wool's opinions and ideas so I thought why not start with some bite size essays. 

A Rooms of One's Own/Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
Another Woolf! I'm definitely over that fear I had of her when I started my degree. I read a review of Three Guineas the other day and it provided a bit of a synopsis which pointed out that this extended essay includes Woolf's thoughts and arguments about war and women. I don't think I'll ever get over my obsession of women and war so I figured this is a good place to go next. I almost bought a version that was just Three Guineas but I thought this double whammy was much more attractive and means I can take one book instead of two to London. 

Ransom by David Malouf
I mentioned this book when I reviewed The Lost Books of the Odyssey as another retelling of the Iliad/Odyssey. I studied one of Malouf's books and uni and I remember his writing to be quite spectacular so I'm looking forward to encountering him again retelling one of my favourite stories.

The End of your Life Bookclub by Will Schwabe
I've had my eye on this for quite some time now but the last time I looked it was only available in hardback in England. I will always prefer a paperback for ease and to protect my poor back so I snapped this one up without a thought. It's a bookish memoir, need I say more?

There we have it, my very restrained but rather successful shopping trip to The Strand. I will be dreaming about that shop forever more.

Has anyone else been there and had a similarly mind-blowing experience? If you've read any of these books I'd love to hear your thoughts!

On a side note...I realise I've been a bit M.I.A around here recently, much to my own distress. I've got a million book reviews to write so with any luck I'll get a bit of down time when I can happily warble on about books again. I'll be posting regularly and spamming all your readers soon enough.


Friday, 14 June 2013

Holiday Reading Round-Up

Well there you have it, I'm back in England and it's raining. I should learn not to be surprised really, it is standard for the uk after all. Although, to contradict myself entirely, it is actually quite pleasant. I'm not one who goes in for heat, intact I tend to turn into a mumbling, muttering golem walking a few paces behind my family. I burn and I get heat rash so the sun practically has it out for me. But that is all beside the point, I am home and enjoying the British weather and now I'll get onto the interesting bit - books.

Considering this was never going to be a reading holiday, I am very pleased with the number of books I have finished. When my family 'do' a city we spend much of the time walking and the rest of the time eating. I adore museums, art galleries, historical points of interest and just nice buildings so we always find a lot to do. We did have a couple of wash-out days though when I squeezed in some reading and the jet lag meant we hit the sack earlier than usual giving me time to devour a few pages before I conked out on the pillow (snoring lightly and drooling steadily. What an image). I finished a total of four books and got three-quarters of the way through a fifth. Not bad going. Impressive, you could say, most impressive...(you know the rest and if you don't, well, I, frankly, am shocked and appalled).

Ignorance by Michele Roberts
Where D'You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers

And I made significant progress with The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. 

I obviously have thoughts on all these books which will be following shortly. I have quite the backlog of reviews to write but I'll get there eventually. 

I think it's fair to say that she no longer be slumpin'.

My sister looking like a complete babe.


Friday, 7 June 2013

Missing me yet?

So I know you've all been distraught without my constant posting and going mad on twitter (yes, I am aware that I tweet probably a bit more than is healthy) but fret not, I am here.*

I am writing this on my new iPad (squeeee) sat in our apartment in Washington DC. It is raining. Very hard. Hello, British weather. BUT that is ok because I have sat in comfort reading my book all afternoon. We did brave it this morning to go to the Museum of Women in Art which I was super excited about because, well, it's women, I love women and I love getting all feminist. The museum turned out to be a massive let down (they advertised as having Georgia O'Keefe's but had none in display and half of it was shut off). Not cool, Washington, not cool.

Washington in general is pretty awesome though. The Hirschorn art gallery was brilliant (I love all that weird modern stuff), we cycled the Mount Vernon trail and Mother and I ran to the Lincoln Monument and the Reflection Pool. Really quite amazing. 

I obviously have been browsing the bookstores but I have only purchased one book (so far). Continuing my love affair with Zelda, I bought Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck. It is a lovely looking book with those jagged, uneven pages that I love so much. I have actually bought more running gear than I have books. I love me some running Lycra. (How many times have I said 'love' there?)

I have finished three books THUS FAR. Ignorance by Michele Roberts, Where D'You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. I have enjoyed all three immensely.  Ignorance had me cursing humanity and then loving humanity again. Bernadette was just awesome and Eleanor and Park...well, actually E&P has been a disappointment but it was full of Star Wars references which got me all nerdy and excited so that's a redeeming factor. I will be reviewing all of these so I'm not going to go on and on. I have just started Salley Vickers's latest and she has never let me down so I'm looking forward to getting into it a bit more. We have a four hour bus trip on Sunday to New York so I'm sure that'll give me chance to read plenty. I do love being on holiday. All the flat madness is still going on (just don't even go there) but I am literally hundreds of miles away so I am chilled to the max. Reading, eating, walking around and spending time with the fam. Excellent.

Anyway, how are you all? What have you been reading? Any recommendations? Any bookstore recommendations for New York City? I do need to buy more books before I go home.

* please note, my ego is not that big.


Saturday, 1 June 2013

I blinked...and missed May.

Ok, so, what happened to May? Anyone know? It was kind of there and then suddenly it wasn't. Ah the elusive month. In terms of life things May has been rather uneventful. I've been busy at my job, busy applying for jobs in London, busy seeing friends, family and the boy. In fact, I tell a lie. If I think about it May has just been one continuous stream of stuff. Job hunting and flat hunting in a city which is at least two hours away whilst I'm working a full-time job is not fun (to say the least). I am one big ball of stress. BUT, I've got a job and I have a flat (sort of) so things are slowly getting calmer.

In terms of blogging things, May has also been CRAZY. I participated in my first bout of books which was completely amazing. I found new blogs to follow, stalked my favourites  chatted to people on twitter and obviously read a little bit. It was such a fun experience and I will be joining in for the next one. Although I have still be slumping fractionally (whether it's actually a slump or if I'm just really busy and really tired, I'm not certain), I have finished a fair number of books including two from the Women's Prize Shortlist, two from my Classics Club list and one for the Translation Challenge. Looking back, it has been quite successful. I have read:

The Rime of the Modern Mariner by Nick Hayes
Yellow Tulips by James Fenton (poetry)
Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald
The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barbery
If I Close My Eyes Now by Edney Silvestre
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I'm not going to plan my reading for June because, well, don't even get me started on June. If I thought May was hectic, June is going to be a whole other level of hectic. For starters I am going on holiday on Monday, although technically I am going on Sunday because we are staying at an airport hotel on Sunday night. The flight is hella early and we live a good three hours drive from Heathrow so, yeh, just no. BUT, the fact that we're going on Sunday is really quite awesome because it means my whole family will be together for a meal (that almost never happens). Anyway, holiday on Monday until the following Thursday, back to work for the Friday and then on the Saturday we are driving all the way from 'down South' to 'up North' to go to my cousins wedding. Excellent. Busy busy. 

AND THEN (this is the big thing that's going to make June a mental month)... I am home for two weeks to pack up all my worldly possessions, say farewell to my friends, adieu to my boyfriend, so long to my parents before moving up to London on July 1st (which is coincidentally my birthday and the deadline for the classics spin - special day). PHEW. I'm going to be, like, an actual adult. That two weeks is going to be EMOTIONAL. I'm having a leaving thing on the last Saturday of June and I can foresee hysterical laughter followed by hysterical crying, much inebriation, and general frivolity interspersed with many confessions of love. 

The weird translation.

I am excited for June but also so very apprehensive. I've never been one to cope well with drastic changes and moving to the capital is quite a biggie. I know I'll be a jittering, emotional wreck in the week running up to the big day but I'm just going to go with it. It's London. I love London. I'm comfortable in London. I'll be with my sister. I'll be with Imogen (the third in our little party). There are museums, art galleries and theatres galore. There are new running routes to explore, a new book club to join, new people to meet. It is a good thing.

I am reading Anna Karenina for the Classics Club Spin so I'm guessing this will be my main read for the month, though hopefully I'll find some time to squeeze in another book or two. We will see. I'm going to have a no pressure reading month.

I hope everyone else has had a lovely May and here's to June...

I'm going to leave you with a picture of my pooch. I think we should use it as a reminder that, no matter how bad things get, at least we don't have to wear the Cone of Shame.

She wears the Cone of Shame! And gets in the way of bed-making...
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