Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Thank goodness it's over: July

What. A. Month. I'm not going to lie chaps, it's been crazy and I'm ever so glad it's over. I'm not terribly good at dealing with change and this month I started a new job and moved 200 miles up country, to the capital city no less. It has been a month of biggies. 

In all the excitement I have neglected the blog somewhat. Much to my distress. But I'm back, more enthusiastic than ever (watch out) and ready to get back into a routine of reading and writing. I may have neglected you guys (a slap on the wrist is thoroughly deserved) but I have not neglected my books. Oh no, my books and I are getting along swimmingly. I suddenly have more time than ever to read. That obviously goes hand in hand with the fact that I have no life as yet in London. So to fight off the loneliness I have been immersing myself in my ambition to read ALL THE BOOKS. I may not have managed to read ALL THE BOOKS this month but I think I've made a recognisable and commendable effort. Particularly considering I finished the stonker that is AK. An achievement? I think so.

42. Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley

43. The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
44. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
45. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
46. Strange Meeting by Susan Hill
47. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Classics Club and Translation Challenge double whammy)
48. The Pre-War House by Alison Moore

My total for the year so far is up to 48. I have no idea if that's a good or bad year because I've never kept track before but I think it's a healthy number. I am pleased.

This month I set myself the challenge of reading more non-fiction. I have read 1.5 non-fiction books so far although, in typical Lit Nerd fashion, neither of them are on my list of to-reads for the challenge. Both are memoirs, one about running and the other about books (The Yellow Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee). Obviously not hard to see where my loyalties lie. I do think that both of these reads have set me on the path to non-fiction enlightenment. Here's to another few thoroughly enjoyable non-fiction fuelled months.

I'm excited for August. In terms of life things (getting more settled in London) and reading things. I'm joining in on Adam's Austen in August event for which I'll be reading Sense and Sensibility. I do think summer is the best time for a bit of Austen lovin'. There is also Bout of Books 8.0 coming up at the end of the month which I am definitely going to sign up for after the awesome time I had earlier this year.

This month I have been to see War Horse (you'll be pleased to know I held my emotions together. Just), a play about the suffragettes called Oxygen, and stumbled into a comedy club to find Jack Whitehall was headlining. I've found a local independent bookshop I will be making my home. I have adjusted to a long distance relationship. I have missed my friends and family. I have tried new restaurants and attempted some home cooking. I have visited the South Bank Book Market more times than is healthy. I have attempted to train for the half marathon in this heat. I have failed in that attempt. I have trialled one gym and joined another. I have started to get used to my own company again. I have turned 23. I have surprised people. And myself. I have explored my area. I have been scared of my area. I have been reading and I have been writing. August: let's be having you.

Sunset from my balcony

Yes, I live with a chef

Sunny days on the South Bank

Moving day

My bookshelf on moving considerably more populated

I hope everyone has had a fantastic July!


Friday, 26 July 2013

Anna Karenina: Classics Club Spin

Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy

What an emotional roller-coaster  I mean, PHEW, I feel pretty drained right about now. AK should come with a health warning or something to allow those of a sensitive disposition (by this I mean myself, obviously) to prepare themselves for such an emotional reading experience. There was wonder, there was disgust, there was adoration, there was joy, there was anger, there was confusion (THOSE farming bits), there was love and there were moments when I just felt like flinging the book and everyone in it across the room. 

This is a hard review to write so I'm not actually going to bother. Instead I'm going to share with you my thoughts. Or at least, some of them. It is a chunk after all. Insert the bullet points:

  • Is it just me or do most of the characters have the most ridiculously expressive eyes? Seriously, the amount of times Tolstoy is all like 'her eyes told me this' or 'his eyes told me that' is kinda excessive. People can't honestly say all the stuff he thinks they do just with a narrowing or a widening of the eyes or an extra intense gaze. If they can, well then, I must be missing out on a whole load of exciting public transport liaisons. 
  • Vronsky makes me think of a spoilt public school boy. With lots of hair. I don't know why but I get the impression he is very hairy. He annoyed me. All that whimpering over Anna, the failed attempt at suicide that was apparently not a suicide attempt, becoming a painter etc etc. Dude was a pain.
  • Kitty = wet blanket. Although marrying Levin does show quite the awareness of the role of the unmarried woman. Basically, get married or have a crappy life.
  • The Kitty/Levin proposal scene (take 2). Chalk? Writing letters that are essentially acronyms of sentences? Likely? I think not. Sickly? Very much so.
  • Levin in general: in regards to this barrel of laughs, much of the time I was thinking 'Jeez Levin, put a sock in it will you'. All that farming chatter throughout and then all that faith stuff and then all that meaning of life stuff. I thought for second I'd be reading about another suicide. Dude got depressing. And all that jealousy? Respect your wife, Levin, and she'll respect you back. She always did anyway but you were just too wrapped up in self-deprecation to see it. She may have fancied Vronsky more than you (can you blame her?) but you got her in the end so man up and respect her. Rather than kicking guests out of your house like a stroppy child. Ah, Levin. It's so hard not to picture an angry little man. Although, when he joins in with the farm DH Lawrence a run for his money that's for sure.
  • The issue of women. I could not avoid having a little chuckle to myself when the whole woman question rears it head. It is all just so laughable. Particularly with that Russian chap repeatedly sticking his nose in to lament that fact that he is not 'allowed' to be a wet nurse. Mate, surely that's pretty obvious, no? I don't know what Tolstoy's actual thoughts are on the matter because I didn't look into it and wasn't in the mood to deeply analyse the section but, whether he is pro-woman or not, this section sure did tickle me.
  • Anna. Anna, Anna, Anna, what are we going to do with you, eh? I loved her and hated her pretty equally. More often that not it veered towards pure hatred but, all in all, it was pretty balanced. I just wouldn't even know where to start talking about her. Kitty calls her a despicable woman at some point quite near the beginning and this is so true. She is despicable. And yet, she is only how society created her. She is a victim but also culprit. She is made miserable but she creates her own misery. She is like the ultimate contradiction. So much so that I find it very hard to even decide how I feel about her, let alone sum up those feelings. I think that because of the ending and her determination to punish Vronsky and the way she ultimately does so, I will always see her as a despicable woman. It is such a tricky one! Anyone have any thoughts? Who likes her or hates her?

As you can tell, I find it easier to write about things that I didn't like or had an issue with than things that I loved. Trust me though, I loved this book. Anna Karenina drove me crazy but I loved it. It was not what I expected at all (it was an easier read than I expected for starters). There are some unbelievably beautiful sentences, images and paragraphs and there are some surprisingly funny ones. A book that makes me ride that emotion train mentioned above is one worth reading in my opinion. Plus, the sense of achievement I'm feeling right now is pretty phenomenal. It's fair to say that I am more than a little pleased that this was my spin book and that the bloggers who persuaded (bullied) me into reading it and not giving up did so. You guys are awesome.


Monday, 22 July 2013

Review: The Colour of Milk

The Colour of Milk 
Nell Leyshon

'this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand.
     in this year of lord eighteen hundred and thirty one i am reached the age of fifteen and i am sitting by my window and i can see many things.

i am not very tall and my hair is the colour of milk' 

Since moving to London I have had a lot more time on my hands to read. My friends and boyfriend are back home in Somerset and the two people I live with work in catering so are basically never here. To fight off that 'I have no friends' depression and avoid wallowing I have been throwing myself into reading. It has been SO good. I'm cracking on with Anna Karenina still but I picked this one up just before I moved in a second hand bookstore. I have seen it around a fair bit on the interwebz and it is on the Fiction Uncovered list for this year (which now I want to look into). I thought I'd have a break from Levin philosophising about farming and read a book about, well, actually, farming for the most part. 

It has been quite some time since I have read a book in one sitting. Mostly because, you know, life and stuff. But I can't imagine reading The Colour of Milk any other way. It's a short book and one to be devoured and devour it I did. 

The Colour of Milk tells the story of Mary (whose hair is the colour of milk). She is 15, works on her father's farm, shares a bed with her sisters and generally leads a not particularly great life. The father is a figure of fear and violence lurking behind the text and the power of the patriarch in this society is well and truly evoked. When Mary is sent to the vicarage to look after the vicar's sick wife she enters into another unhappy, male dominated household. She finds affection and knowledge but, most of all, danger.

There are women's rights things in here that made me so mad (Mary is pretty much sold by her father and some other guy knocks a girl up, claims complete innocence and gets away with it). From this perspective it is a very interesting read. It manages not to fall into the territory of 'poor downtrodden girl finds man to save her' by having a completely wonderful and totally un-fair-maiden-y protagonist. Mary is bold, witty and goes straight for the jugular with everything she says. Her voice even added humour to a book that I imagined could only be humourless. 

I loved the repetitive nature of the writing and the way it has been written as Mary herself would write it. There is a distinct lack of punctuation and capitalisation and it is written in a very believable dialectic voice. It comes frequently back to Mary saying 'this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand'. Sometimes I can find that a bit gimmicky but not here. I loved it here because it makes the ending even more shocking. I'm obviously not going to give the game away but what starts as a seemingly average story about life on a farm in the 1800's changes quite dramatically. It is so good and it caught me completely by surprise and pretty much left me reeling. I love it when a book has the power to knock you for six.

I would highly recommend this as a refreshing take on the downtrodden girl.


Saturday, 20 July 2013

Review: Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park
Rainbow Rowell
I must say I have held off on writing this review because I am SLIGHTLY worried that I will have book bloggers (complete with torches and pitchforks) chasing me down the street when my thoughts are revealed. I feel like I am the only one who did not enjoy this book (seriously, is there anyone else?). BUT, and this is the biggest of buts (like mine *snigger*), I think any issues I had with this book can be put down to my own failings as a reader and my general book snobbishness. Yes, I will put my hand up and own to it: I am a book snob. In general I just do not enjoy YA, chick lit, new adult etc etc. I actually find it difficult to read, not from complexity, I think I just can't connect with the writing. I am strange, get over it.

I will fully admit that I completely fell prey to peer pressure and the excitement and hype in choosing this book. Some of my favourite bloggers raved about this so I thought, why not, let's have a crack at it. Also, there was a little something to do with the fact that the protagonist is called Eleanor and that is totally my name. 

I liked the concept, it was readable and it was slightly different (but still cliche in my opinion). I obviously loved the sci-fi/Star Wars references - that will get me every time. Although there is one bit where Park says 'You can be Han Solo...and I'll be Boba Fett. I'll cross the sky for you' and I did think that isn't all that romantic since Boba Fett is a bounty hunter and all and totally tries to capture Han and deliver him to certain death in the arms (or slug bits) of Jabba. I would not be happy if my boyfriend said that to me. 

I liked the split narrative and I liked how Park is constantly influenced by the people around him and how those people view him and his attitude towards the way people view him. I thought that was very real. 

There was the odd sentence that I read and was like 'yes, that is a corker'. Like this bit:

'She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice, it was supposed to make you feel something.'

I actually don't know why I didn't like Eleanor and Park. It is hard to pinpoint any particular reason. I just know I was semi-bored whilst reading it and disappointed when I finished it. Perhaps the genre just isn't for me. Please don't chase me with pitchforks!


Thursday, 18 July 2013

Desert Island Books

The other day I was merrily listening to Desert Island Discs on radio four. I tuned out for a bit while I was listening (I can never concentrate on radio) and started thinking about what books I would want with me should I ever get stranded on a desert island (although I am hoping the likelihood of that happening is slim to none). I limited myself to five books but placed no other restrictions. It was surprisingly hard to decide. Would I want books I've already read? Or ones I've not? Would it be dangerous to take something I've not read in case it's rubbish? Would I want fiction? Non-fiction? A play? Poetry? Seriously, the possibilities are endless.

After all that effort I went to in my head I thought I'd share the list with you.

1. The Regeneration Trilogy - I AM NOT CHEATING, PROMISE. I have this trilogy in one book (which is a beast) so it is only one book and not three. I love Pat Barker, you all know I love the First World War, and I love anything that is linked to shell shock/neurasthenia. This trilogy is brilliant and I would happily read it over and over again.

2. The Woman in White - I think I've made my love for Wilkie Collins clear on numerous occasions now. This was my first foray into his writing and will always be my favourite. It's a good size, a good story and wonderfully written. Plus Marian is just a total babe.

3. Bleak House - I have not read this Dickens but I have seen a brilliant BBC adaptation. I think a Dickens would be great as a reminder of home (albeit a slightly skewed version of home) and long enough to keep me going for a bit.

4. To the Lighthouse - it's short but oh so dense. Another one of my favourites (definitely my favourite Woolf) and one I can re-read and interpret differently every time.

5. The Complete Works of Shakespeare - is this cheating? I think not, I have the complete works in one book so technically... I adore Shakespeare, always have and probably always will. I can re-read his plays and take different things from them each time. There is something for every mood - romance, comedy, tragedy, history, sheer unadulterated violence (I'm looking at you Titus). I know this is a cliché choice but, for me, it is clearly the most obvious choice. To demonstrate quite how much I loveth the bard and how obvious it is: for my birthday the other week my best friend bought me Shakespeare postcards and my sister got me a poster on which the entire text of Much Ado About Nothing is written (have you seen these?! They are awesome).  So now my room is practically a homage to Willy-Shakes. 

I would love to hear what your desert island books would be and whether it is a difficult decision or an easy one. TELL ME!

This would obviously be the view from the desert island.


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Review: The Pre-War House

Yesterday Salt, the publishers, announced on their twitter feed (which I love) that this week is Salt Summer Reads Week. They invite readers to buy/read/review books published by Salt and spread the world. Salt came on my radar when I read Alison Moore's The Lighthouse and ever since I have kept an eye on what they have been doing. I kinda figure that anyone who would publish The Lighthouse is worth my overenthusiastic attention. This announcement was actually a massively coincidental moment because last weekend I discovered my local bookshop (Kennington Bookshop, which is totally amazing) and in it I found Moore's short story collection The Pre-War House. I finished this spread out in the park as I slowly roasted on Sunday afternoon. So I thought, what better time than Salt Summer Reads week to write and post my review? I couldn't think of a better time so here is my review (took a while to get there, I agree).

I adored Moore's debut because of the mix of simplicity and complexity in her circular narrative. I was not let down by this collection. In fact, Moore is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

This is a collection of twenty or so short stories of varying lengths and very varying subjects. Yet whilst the subject matter is different in each there are several underlying themes which crop up in each story. Things like the nature of memory, family breakdown, secrets and lies and a general sense of the past creeping up on each of the characters. Some of the stories are soaked in sadness and loneliness and some of the stories are seriously sinister and sent multiple shivers down my spine. But this is not overt 'horror' (for lack of a better word), rather she creates an atmosphere of discomfort pervaded by that niggling feeling that all is not quite as it should be. Clever stuff. I found this in The Lighthouse too; Moore has this skill of saying so much more than she actually does.

As most of you know (because I haven't stopped talking about it for a while), I am reading Anna Karenina. When I finished this collection that famous first line from AK popped into my head and I realised it is perfectly matched to this book. Many of the stories centre around families, all of whom on the surface seem relatively happy (reading some of these stories made me realise that Tolstoy is a complete genius and speaks the truth about families). It is not usually until the end of the story that something is revealed that destroys that assumption of normality. Seriously, some of these revelations felt like a slap round the face, almost like Moore was shaking me and saying 'how did you not see this before?!' A couple of the stories I even re-read after that vital thing had been revealed and it becomes so clear that something is wrong, not obvious, but the word choices are trying to tell you something. 

Quite often in story collections there is one that really sticks out as a favourite. Here I find myself unable to pinpoint just one. Every single story is brilliantly written and structured and has a original storyline. There are a couple that I will highlight for a special mention: 'When the Door Closed, it was Dark', 'Overnight Stop', 'Sometimes You Think You are Alone', 'Small Animals', and the title story 'The Pre-War House'. Each of these stories surprised me in some way, made me feel uncomfortable (as only a well crafted story can), and left me questioning my own ability to perceive good and bad or right and wrong.

In a nutshell I would highly, HIGHLY recommend The Pre-War House. It is emotive, it is chilling, it is a gem to read and I could not put it down (no matter how hard I tried to make the experience last). I think exploring Salt's entire catalogue is the only way I can move on from this book. I'm particularly interested in their anthologies of Best British Short Stories. Can anyone recommend a good year to start with?


Saturday, 13 July 2013

Review: Running Like a Girl

Running Like a Girl
Alexandra Heminsley

'Every time I looked down to check I was confronted with the expanse of my thigh looming towards me'

Being quite the enthusiastic runner myself I was really quite excited to read this. Last year I read Murakami's 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' which completely merged my two favourites: reading and running. Since then I've always been on the lookout for similar memoir-type-things and I think I found a winner in this one. I can't say it is completely without fault, but any problems with it are only my own little issues and not actually important (mostly, I am a book snob).

So. Running Like a Girl. One thing I will completely praise about this book is its ability to ignite (or re-ignite) an enthusiasm for running as you read it. Every time I picked it up I felt like whacking my trainers straight on and heading out to pound the pavements. Which I did, by the way, but in horrendous heat so my enthusiasm quickly died or rather, melted away. I ran my first half marathon last year, my second in April and will be doing my third in September and I consider myself to be 'a runner'. I have been running since I was about 14 and even though to start with I disliked it (with a passion), something clicked in my second year of uni and I began running everyday. Initially for weight loss purposes but then as I realised the distances I could run it became more a way of challenging myself and proving to myself that I could do something. Something which she puts into words very well:

'The secret that all runners keep is that they don't do it for their bodies, but for their minds.'

The book is split into two parts. The first is Heminsley talking about her running journey and how she came to be a marathon runner. The second is more practical and includes some very interesting history on women in running and some less interesting advice and such on injuries, buying running kit etc. I found this less interesting because it seemed aimed at newer runners but it is a quirky and useful little addition to an entertaining book. The best bit of the second part is the history. Being a history lover, particularly when it comes to the ol' females, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the obstacles that were placed in the way of women who wanted to run. Seriously, guys back then had the WEIRDEST ideas. For example, did you know that distance running could cause the uterus to fall out? No, me either...It never actually occurred to me that there would have been a time when women were not allowed to compete but it was not until 1972 that the Boston Marathon accepted women runners. 

I loved reading about Heminsley's journey. She does not hold back and really speaks the truth about the ups and downs of running (including some very amusing and oh so truthful anecdotes about underwear situations...I've had a few of those). She highlights the hardships of long-distance as well as demonstrating how much you can get out of it weight loss, a sense of achievement or just an improved outlook on life.

I would recommend this to runners and non-runners alike. It is moving (seriously, I had to try and control myself on the tube more than once), funny, informative and most of all, honest (which I love). HOWEVER, I am (as yet) still adamant that I will never run a full marathon. It's the only thing I intend to do by half.

Insert shameless plug: I mention further up that I am doing another half in September (the 8th, to be precise). This one will be different though because it is in London and I am a charity runner. I applied for a place as a runner for Leukaemia and Lymphoma research and was accepted (WOOHOO). It is awesome and scary and I will probably tear up as I cross the finish but it will be SO WORTH IT. Anyway, if anyone fancies maybe supporting me, I have put a link to my justgiving in the side bar. End shameless plug.

Copy received via NetGalley


Friday, 12 July 2013

Hi my name's Ellie and I am a non-fiction failure

A few months ago, before I started blogging, I read The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz. Without sounding horrendously dramatic, it kind of changed my life a little bit. In fact, it was because of that book and my insatiable need to talk about that book that I started to think about blogging. I forced my parents to read it (no parents were harmed, I had better add), but they just didn't have the same enthusiasm and life-altering reaction as I did. But all that is beside the point. That book opened my eyes to the world of non-fiction, memoirs, biographies etc. Suddenly I really had an urge to suck up ALL THE KNOWLEDGE. Non-fiction can do that for you. It can teach you things, broaden your horizons and generally make you feel like you're getting a little bit smarter with every page. Want to know the best thing about non-fiction and it's general air of intelligence? Reading it in public makes you look really smart (I think so anyway). And I love to look like I'm smart because most of the time when I talk it comes out like 'blaaaahhhhh Star Wars I love books blaaahhh' so people think I'm a tad dense. I mean, I did get through my MA by faking intelligence but random people on the street don't need to know that, right?!

Goodness me, I'm tangent girl today. Back to the point: non-fiction. So, after having my life altering experience I realised that I wanted to read more non-fiction and so I made the decision to do that (are you bored of me yet?). I read a few things, mostly historical, bookish memoirs and arty things. And I bought a few more. I now have a non-fiction pile on my shelf waiting patiently for me to get to it. It's been there a while. After all my pro-active decision making and book buying in preparation for the devouring of non-fiction, I kind of stopped. Hit that metaphorical runner's wall (but a reader's wall) with a giant bang, crash and, potentially, a wallop.

This is where me being a non-fiction failure comes in. I have the books, I want to read the books but I just can't bring myself to choose one over a fiction book. I've even been reading poetry over non-fiction which is practically unheard of for me. I have read a few this year (A Room of One's Own being the one I enjoyed the most) but that pile is still there and in need of conquering. And conquer it I shall! (Bear in mind that it is this sort of fighting talk that got me in this mess in the first place).

The following are books that I have on my pile that I would definitely like to read this year. In fact, I wouldn't merely like to get to them, I WILL be reading them. I am going to try for a non-fiction read every month. That means I will have read  6 (7 including the one I am still finishing off) by the end of the year.

First up, I intend to finish Fifty Shades of Feminism. I have talked about this on here quite a few times now and it is absolutely amazing. I sped through the first 15 or so essays then stopped because I thought I was reading it too fast and not giving myself time to consider each essay and form an opinion on the argument. So then I thought to myself that I'd read one a day but eventually, it slipped to the bottom of the pile and then I had a reading slump and then everything just went a bit rubbish on the old reading front. But now I'm back, I will aim to finish this slice of feminist heaven. Then I'll spred the feminist lovin' with you lot and do a monster review. Who's exited?

My Preliminary Non-Fiction List for the Next Six Months:

1. The Woman Reader by Belinda Jack
2. Shapely Ankle Preferred: A History of the Lonely Hearts Column by Francesca Beauman
3. Between the Sheets: The Literary Liaisons of Nine 20th Century Women Writers by Lesley McDowell
4. Elsie and Mari Go To War by Diane Atkinson
5. What Are You Looking At? 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye by Will Gompertz
6. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Any ideas of where to go first after Fifty Shades of Fem?


Saturday, 6 July 2013

I did NOT buy books (but I did)

Happy weekend, chaps. And what a scorcher! Yes, I am sunburnt. Good effort. Today was my first Saturday as a Londoner so after going to Argos to buy an iron and a microwave (as you do) my sister and I trotted off to the Southbank (which is so close to us - exciting!). I adore the Southbank on any old day but with the sun making an appearance today it was particularly lovely just ambling along looking and stuff and eating ice cream. Since World Book Night my sister has become almost bookish and it was her not me who suggested we have a sneaky browse around Foyles. Never a good idea really. I was restrained though, you should all be proud. I bought two mini Penguin Modern Classics (I can't resist a mini book) and Ann Patchett's essay The Bookshop Strikes Back (I can't lie, it is the allusion to Star Wars, intended or not, that got me). I believe this was released as part of Independent Booksellers Week. All for a good cause.

I walked out of Foyles happy and satisfied with my purchases thinking that I needn't buy any more books now I've fed my addiction. How wrong I was. Southbank is amazing for one reason and one reason only: the Southbank Book Market. I'm not sure how I'd ever manage to walk past it without looking. I've not managed it yet. The Book Market is basically rows and rows of tables set up under Waterloo Bridge (I believe). It's all second hand and you can get some real treasures there for a bargain. Today was a particularly good day (I came away with 7 books *slaps wrist*).

Resistance is futile, right?!

Ok, the two little ones on the top are from Foyles: The Lady in the Looking-Glass by Virginia Woolf and The Tooth by Shirley Jackson.

Ann Patchett's essay I read as I walked home (I wouldn't advise that...) and I thought it was very interesting. She talks about how she started her independent bookshop and why bookshops are important.

All of the others are from the market. All are amazing finds. From the bottom:

Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation by Noel Riley Fitch (*fist pumps sky* awesome find)

Strange Meeting by Susan Hill (war, Owen and Susan Hill - winner)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Classics club)

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (which I am going to see soon thanks to my amazing boyfriend - literally the best present ever. Theatre AND war? How will I cope?)

Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain (I am a fan of Winifred Holtby and Brittain so this sounds interesting. Plus, it completes the set with Testament of Youth which I already own)

*Prisons and Prisoners by Constance Lytton* I have starred this book because it has made my day. I was happily looking through the titles when this caught my eye. I grabbed hold of my sister, jumped up and down, did a little dance, all the while shouting 'ohmygod ohmygod'. Know why? I practically wrote my MA dissertation on this woman. She is my favourite suffragette and, for me, the most inspirational. But it's a book that is ridiculously hard to acquire so I wrote my dissertation using excerpts found in anthologies and on the internet. Finding this on a random second hand book stall literally made me so happy. Let's just hope I'm over the trauma of my dissertation enough to read this...

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Amiee Bender (for my sister who has read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake)

I had to share these finds with you straight away because I am just so excited by all of them. I suspect there were a few people sending questioning glances my way or even disapproving glances at my outburst but I wouldn't have known, I was in my book bubble. No one can get to me in my book bubble!

Have a good weekend guys.


Thursday, 4 July 2013

Review: The Cleaner of Chartres

The Cleaner of Chartres
Salley Vickers
"We are all better off dead, in a way, I suppose," said the Abbe Paul. "But I do believe that we have a duty to try to keep on living."

I love a bit of Salley Vickers (Mr Golightly's Holiday is a brilliant read), mostly because she doesn't disappoint. I was certainly not disappointed with The Cleaner of Chartres.

The novel follows the life of orphan Agnes Morel who arrives in Chartres as a young woman and is slowly absorbed into the community as a cleaner, babysitter and general handy-woman. Every knows who she is but no-one really knows her. The novel is told through a sort of dual narrative as we learn about Agnes's less from perfect past at the same time as we experience her present. I liked this technique and I think it is cleverly written and devised.

Agnes is mysterious and by the time she arrives in Chartres she has had a hell of a life. I think as much as her past and her attitudes are revealed I don't think we ever really know Agnes. She remains an enigma right through until the end and I finished it wishing there was more just so I could find and peel back the final mystery. I do love a book that leaves you like that, though. It has such an impact.

In quite typical Vickers style the novel is dotted with snatches of dark humour. Vickers comments on the characters and often precedes such comments with 'naturally'. It amused me, anyway. Particularly this: 'He tried his best but the wedding night was the biggest flop, if you'll pardon the pun'.

It is essentially a character study of a small French town. Each character is revealed in relation to their contact with Agnes. She has an effect on everyone she meets and this is narrated well without making her seem too unreal and irritating. The emphasis on gossip, particularly malicious gossip, fits well with the setting. I actually got so mad at some of the characters I had to put it down and pick it up later when I'd cooled off.

I was reminded a lot of Joanne Harris's Chocolat (another goodun) which is no bad thing but there were obvious similarities: small French town, mysterious female protagonist with a past, gossip, winning over the locals...I am pretty ambivalent about these similarities though because they are still two very different books but it's worth pointing out.

In a nutshell, Vickers has done it again. An intriguing, enthralling and humorous novel that I would obviously recommend to everyone (even more so if I know they've read Chocolat).

I received the copy via netgalley (thanks).


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Mini Reviews: Bernadette and Hadley

Where D'You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
'A little social anxiety never hurt anyone, am I right?'

I suppose you are all wondering why I'm only writing a mini review on Bernadette considering I've gone on and on AND ON about it for months now. The answer is simple: it is so awesome that all words dry up in my head when I'm faced with its awesomeness.

It is funny (hilarious, even), poignant, life-affirming and thoroughly entertaining. The voices of each character are crafted brilliantly. I am particularly fond of Audrey Griffin, not because I like her as a person but because I think her character is just brilliant. Her antics in the hotel had me chuckling away somewhat uncontrollably. I loved that it is character based rather than overly descriptive and flowery. I think the epistolary format has something to do with that and that is one of the main reasons I love the epistolary style.

I have no doubt that this will be on my top ten for the year. Basically, read it because you will not regret it.

'Hello, can I help you with something? If not, please step aside because I am about to kick the shit out of life.'
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Going from one extreme to another - I did not enjoy The Paris Wife. Well, tell a lie, I enjoyed it for the first half but then I just started to get a little bored. I was entertained but I think my biggest issue with it (which to be fair is not really a negative) is that it was all just a bit too familiar. I've read A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises and you can practically see McLain's research from these texts waving at you from the page. It was interesting and the writing was occasionally really wonderful but just not for me. I am still intrigued by the relationship between Hemingway and Hadley but I think I may read about it in non-fiction rather than fiction in future.
I think I was just so excited to read it that I had hyped it up in my head. I was bound to be disappointed. You win some, you lose some I guess.


Classics Spin #2: The Results

I am a little late on this one but...better late than never.

Back in May I decided to join in on the second Classics Club spin after thoroughly enjoying the first. We were challenged to read #6 on our spin list and I ended up with Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. If anyone follows my obsessive ramblings on twitter you may know my initial reaction to the selection was one of horror and generally quite 'oh my god'. Since that initial freak out I was somewhat hounded by various bloggers WHOM I SHALL NOT NAME. I was promised that it is a brilliant read and so far I have not been disappointed.

So, did I finish it? The answer is no (to be fair I only started it halfway through June). But I'm not giving up because I am loving it. I am so thankful that it was my spin choice because it is one of those intimidating novels that I have been putting off and putting off. Being challenged to read it has been the best encouragement and quite a kick up the backside.

I'm not going to go on about my thoughts on the novel because they may change as I read. Suffice to say, at the moment I'm loving it and am reading it every chance I get. Unfortunately, I don't have much chance at the moment but I'm whipping it out on the tube every morning and evening so that's like twenty minutes of reading a day...

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