Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 || Top 10 Non-Fiction Reads

Dead Wake by Erik Larson
I know a handful of people now who've either read or gifted this on my recommendation. It's a fascinating book, perfectly written, and hugely compelling. I'd really recommend it.

Edith Cavell by Diana Souhami
Cavell has always been one of my idols, but it was only this year that I decided to find out more about her. She was a fascinating woman and my reading was topped off with a visit to the prison in Brussels where she was kept before her execution.

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell
A slightly off the wall book, but absolutely brilliant.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
No non-fiction list from this year would be complete without Haig's memoir on life and depression.

Shell-Shocked Britain by Suzie Grogan
I adored this study of shell-shock and it's impact on post-war mental health treatments.

Late Fragments by Kate Gross
Although this memoir was published shortly before Gross's death, it is surprisingly uplifting. I found myself adjusting my perspective on life as I read it and I would really recommend this heartwarming book.

Worrying by Frances O'Gormon
A fascinating cultural history of worrying.

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz
I really loved how very human this book was and how much there was to take away from it.

Executed at Dawn by David Johnson
Although this was a slightly frustrating read (it's hard to read about our own army killing its soldiers without getting mad), it was really interesting and I feel like I can actually have an opinion on the subject now I know more about it.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This was my first audiobook from Audible and I listened to it over a month or so on my occasional walk home through London. Although I hated Strayed at times, Wild has stuck with me and I'm sure I'll be reading/listening to her other works.

2015 was the year I really found my feet with non-fiction and I'm really looking forward to what I can learn in 2016. Any recommendations would be great!

Have you read any of these? Do you have a favourite non-fiction book from this year?


Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015 || Top 10 Fiction Reads

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
It wouldn't be far off the mark to say that War Peace was both my book of the year and one of my greatest achievements of the year. I adored it and I know there's a re-read somewhere in my future. Bring on the BBC adaptation in January!

The Shore by Sara Taylor
This collection of interlinked short stories had me gripped from start to finish. It's not often I'll turn to short stories, but here it felt more like a cross-generational novel and I loved it.

Wilfred and Eileen by Jonathan Smith
From the top of my head I think this was one of my only Persephone reads this year. I found this based on truth story of a relationship very moving.

The Blue Room by Georges Simenon
This year I discovered a number of wonderful authors, but Simenon has probably been my favourite. I read The Blue Room on the way to Brussels (I still try to match my reading with my travelling) and now I can't wait to get stuck in to his Maigret novels.

Noonday by Pat Barker
Barker is up there with my favourite and go-to authors, so I was really looking forward to the release of this novel in the summer - it didn't disappoint. It's the third in the trilogy that began with Life Class and I found it a really excellent conclusion. It dealt with the blitz, but also explored relationships and the impact of war on relationships. There are some images that will stay with my for a long time.

The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
The Winter's Tale is possibly my favourite Shakespeare play of all time which meant it was inevitable that I'd buy Winterson's re-write as soon as it was released. I read it in a couple of sittings and almost started from the beginning again as soon as it ended.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
I read this almost a year ago now way back in January and I can still remember how it made me feel - I think broken is the perfect way to describe it. Powers's history as a poet shines through the lyricism of his prose, but it is the characters that I can't seem to shake.

The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins
For me a best of list would never be complete without a Wilkie. This is one of his shorter novels, but by no means less brilliant. Valeria Woodville is perhaps the best female character I read this year.

Girl at War by Sara Novic
I read this Zagreb/US-set novel whilst in Zagreb which transformed both my reading and travel experience. I'm very interested to see what Novic writes next.

The Enchanted by Rene Delfeld
Powerful, moving, exceptionally written.

Have you read any of these? What made your best of 2015?


Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Christmas Reading List

Every year I make a big deal about which book will be crowned 'The Christmas Read' (see here, here and here). Sometimes it's a re-read of an old favourite, others it's tackling an almighty chunkster, and still others it's all about picking something from the depths of the TBR pile, dusting it off and showing it some love.

This year I'm trying something a little different and will be reading seasonal and festive reads. My picks for Christmas 2015 are:

A Snow Garden and Other Stories by Rachel Joyce
Old Mr Fry still has his grips firmly on a little space of my mind a couple of years down the line which is a rare thing I find these days. For that reason I adore Rachel Joyce and will read anything she writes (although I'm yet to get to Queenie Hennessy - next year!).

The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol
Mostly this was a 'judge it by its cover' choice because ain't it a beaut?! I have, however, enjoyed Gogol's stories before so it's not a complete shot in the dark, and we all know I'm a fan of the Russian lit. Ticks all the boxes.

Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon
I've been unable to escape the love surrounding this British Library reprint. I remember the buzz from last year and seeing some of my fave bloggers review it over the last few weeks pushed it right to the top of my list of essential pre-Christmas book purchases.

I'm leaving London for the countryside today and I aim to be snuggled in front of the fire, with Mystery in White in one hand and a glass of fizz in the other, by 4pm at the latest.

Merry Christmas you lovely lot! Be sure to let me know what you'll be reading throughout the festive season.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Life Lately

Things have been a little quiet around these parts recently so I thought it might be nice to have a catch up. This time of year is always a little tricky and I find I expend all my energy trying to keep myself on an even keel, which means that doing things like writing and blogging fall by the wayside. That in itself is frustrating because they're two of the things that make me feel better. Don't you just love a vicious cycle?!

So, what have I been doing recently? I have...

  • Attended an advance screening of the film Room, based on the novel by Emma Donoghue (take tissues)
  • Missed my work Christmas party because I messed up my neck
  • Watched Star Wars and fangirled so hard I almost cried (the excitement in the photo above is very real)
  • Attended the Young Writer of the Year Award winner announcement in the London Library (swanky venue)
  • Wandered around London a lot (Borough Market on the second to last Saturday before Christmas was not a good idea)
  • Partaken in Lots of mince pie eating and wine drinking
  • Been reading up an absolute storm and loving it

My #25daysoffitness challenge had to be put on hold much to my dismay, as a result of hurting my neck. I still don't know what I did to it, but I do know that I'd like to cover my whole body in heat patches (aka the cosiest things ever). I was doing so well with this challenge after such a long time feeling very demotivated so I'm still feeling very disappointed. I guess I'll just have to tack an extra 5 or 6 days onto the end after Christmas day to keep it going.

I've also been having lots of 'do I/don't I' thoughts about Lit Nerd and I've still not made up my mind whether I do or don't continue with it. All too often in the last few months I've forgotten why I write this blog and have been sucked into that darn comparison trap. I always feel somewhat mediocre anyway (probably that middle child syndrome), but constantly comparing myself to others is having quite the shitty effect on my mood. I love this blog because I love having the space to write and to talk to others, but I'll be thinking long and hard over the next few weeks whether this space is the best space for me.

All in all I'm tired (mostly in a good way) and ready for a few days sat in front of my parent's log burner with a good book (keep your eyes peeled for my Christmas reading list).

Let's chat! How are you all?

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Monday, 14 December 2015

Things That Made Me Happy Last Week #44

1// Being busy I've had lots going on this last week and it's going to continue to be quite hectic until Christmas now, but it does feel good if a little tiring. One of the highlights was doing some extra voluntary work for the charity I work for at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a very cool throwback to my theatre days.

2// Young Writer of the Year on Thursday I trotted off to the London Library to hear the announcement for the winner of this award. Sarah Howe won for her poetry collection 'Loop of Jade', which I started reading the next day. It was a stunning venue and I'm proud of myself for being brave and going even though I was anxious to the nth degree.

3// Doctor Who marathons to make up for a busy week I had a slightly quieter weekend. Although I still managed to get out and about, Mike and I also watched a fair few episodes of old school Christopher Eccleston Doctor Who. Just what you need on grey December weekends.

4// Getting crafty whilst watching the aforementioned episodes I got busy with my Christmas card making (I'm no longer able to just watch something, my hands also have to be busy). I love how they turned out and I'm very excited by my new found interest in calligraphy/lettering. I sense a new hobby in my future.

5// Trying new things at the gym/ swimming to go along with my #25daysoffitness challenge I've been mixing my workouts up and trying a few new exercises. I've also rediscovered my love for swimming and a dip before work just makes the day so much better.

What made you happy this last week?


Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Stasi Child // The Spring of Kasper Meier

A couple of weeks ago, by some happy coincidence, I found myself reading two thrillers set in post-war Germany back to back. One was Stasi Child by David Young, set in Communist East Berlin around the time of the wall, and the other was The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson, set in the years immediately after the war. Both are fantastic and engrossing novels which seamlessly blend history with a thrilling plot.

It's never happened before that I've ended up reading two books on a similar topic in a row (oddly, perhaps, given my interests), but it's certainly something I would repeat. It was fascinating to dive deeper into post-war Germany and experience through words the changes the country went through and how its people lived.

Stasi Child is the first in the Oberleutnant Karin Muller series and sets it off to a promising start. Muller is called to investigate a teenage girl's murder at the foot of the Berlin Wall; the murder doesn't seem too unusual at first until the arrival of the Stasi suggests more sinister undertones. Karin Muller is an excellently portrayed character. She's a relatively high-ranking female police officer with a male deputy and a husband who strays a little too far from the laws of the East. She's tenacious and sometimes unexpectedly harsh, but ultimately she is a character you root for. I was particularly pleased that Young created a plausible backstory for her which merged seamlessly into the central plot.

Stasi Child is a dark novel and sometimes quite unsettling, but it is compelling nonetheless. Whilst reading The Spring of Kasper Meier I found myself thinking back to Young's novel and comparing the characters' various experiences in relation to the period they lived in. 1970s East Berlin didn't seem too far from late 1940s Berlin.

The Spring of Kasper Meier is set in the ravaged remains of Berlin and follows Kasper as he tries to make a living from the black market. The arrival of a young woman asking him to find a British pilot triggers a series of events that draw Meier deeper and deeper into a dark and dangerous underground operation. Like Stasi Child this is a dark and unsettling novel. There's no quirky and upbeat character to add some cheer, instead Fergusson has written very real characters who are products of their circumstances. In amongst all that darkness, however, are moments of true hope and, almost, happiness. I was completely drawn in by the relationship between Kasper and Eve and they both stuck in my mind long beyond the final page.

In both these novels it is the characters which really stood out for me. Regardless of characterisation however, a good thriller is never complete without atmosphere. It seems a copout for me to keep referring to both novels as dark and unsettling, but that is also the most fitting description. Whilst The Spring of Kasper Meier ends on a high note, Stasi Child continues until the darkness seeps out of the pages. I'm glad of this distinction because it leaves me wanting to find some glimmer of hope in Karin Muller's life.

Something that made my personal reading experience of these two novels even more immersive is the knowledge of Berlin I gained during my trip in the summer. I stayed in east Berlin and explored many of the areas mentioned in Stasi Child so I could picture quite clearly the streets and routes the detectives walked. Similarly in The Spring of Kasper Meier, the bombed out church at the bottom of the Ku'damm features and I can clearly recall walking past it one evening. It felt like it added an extra level of meaning each time I recognised a place name and could orientate myself.

I would recommend both these novels for quite different reasons. Stasi Child is a fast paced thriller with memorable characters and has the potential to be a compelling series. The Spring of Kasper Meier on the other hand is one to be savoured. Although the plot moves along apace, it's the lyricism of Fergusson's writing which is the real winner.

The Spring of Kasper Meier is on the shortlist for the Young Writer of the Year Award and Stasi Child is currently available in ebook and is due for paperback release in February 2016.

I received both of these books free of charge in exchange for a review, but that in no way influenced my opinion. Thanks to the publishers for the review copies.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #43

1// The Shore by Sara Taylor This has been brightening my day all week. The writing is beautifully lyrical, the stories are well crafted and the characters will hang about in your mind for days. I'd like to see this one win the Young Writer of the Year Award.

2// The Book Collector by Alice Thompson I read this over two days at the beginning of this week. A stunning read and one I would encourage everyone to read.

3// Swimming yesterday morning I dragged Mike with me to try out the swimming pool that's close to my work so I can then go myself in the week. The pool itself is ok, but I absolutely loved the time we spent swimming and how good I felt afterwards. Swimming is wonderful.

4//  Finding motivation this week I managed three evenings at the gym which is more than I've done since I started my new job back in August. I end up being there at the busiest time because of my hours, but I always feel so much better when I go. I'm very proud of myself for pushing through this week particularly as the weather has been crappy.

5// Die Hard the weather was awful again yesterday (seriously, the wind freaks me out), so we decided to have a night in with the tesco £10 meal deal (classy birds that we are) and Die Hard. Starting December as I mean to go on. Plus, on a more romantic note, it was a throwback to the Die Hard marathon Mike and I had on our third date. Aww.

What made you happy this week?


Saturday, 5 December 2015

Classic Club Spin

It has been an absolute age since I joined in on the Classics Spin, run by the Classics Club. I've read some corkers thanks to the spin - Anna Karenina being a clear favourite - so I felt it was about time I participated again.

The Idea
// Take twenty books from your Classics Club list and share them on your blog by Monday 7th.
// On Monday, the Classics Club guys will post a number from 1-20.
// The challenge is to read whichever book falls under that number in your list.
// Read that book by February 1st.

My List
Five Women
1. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
2. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
3. The Crowded Street by Winfred Holtby
4. The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
5. Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain

Five Men
6. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
7. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
8. Moon and Sixpence by M. Somerset Maugham
9. Animal Farm by George Orwell
10. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Five I'd Love
11. Parade's End (Book 1) by Ford Madox Ford
12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
13. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
14. The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf
15. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Five I'd Rather Not
16. What Maisie Knew by Henry James
17. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
18. Beloved by Toni Morrison
19. Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
20. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It feels like it has been a while since I delved into a classic novel so here's hoping I get lucky with the number.

Are you participating in the spin this time?


Friday, 4 December 2015

Ambler and Allingham

Last Saturday afternoon I walked, with Mike in tow, rather nervously up to an inconspicuous yellow door in the middle of Soho. This door lead to the Wonderland, for lack of better description, that is The Groucho Club. Was I excited? Of course I was, this is me. We were there to find out more about the lives and works of Eric Ambler and Margery Allingham and spent two glorious hours in literary heaven.

I was familiar with Margery Allingham prior to this event having had a slight obsession with the Golden Age of detective fiction since, well, as long as I can remember. I've been reading Agatha Christie since I was young, but it wasn't until Dorothy L. Sayers came on the scene that I realised quite how much I loved the genre.

Eric Ambler, on the other hand, I had never heard of and after hearing that he is generally credited with having brought thrillers to the level of literature, I was intrigued to find out more. Simon Brett, crime author etc. (I understand he is a man of many titles), spoke about Ambler to kick off the event. What I found particularly fascinating was Ambler's focus on realism which is actually pretty revolutionary when you think about it - you wouldn't expect Christie's or Sayers's stories to be plausible in the real world. Ambler creates ordinary characters that could function in the real world and puts them in extraordinary situations.

Brett suggested The Mask of Demitrios (in the US it's known as A Coffin for Demitrios) as a starting point for Ambler's work and also recommended The Levanter, which is one of his personal favourites. I picked up both titles and will share my thoughts in due course.

I for one, fell totally for Ambler after reading some of his correspondence here and this little nugget in particular: 'For me, still, a book to read makes almost any adversity tolerable'.

I had the joy of speaking to a couple of members of the Margery Allingham Society and it was the chairman of the society, Barry Pike, who introduced us to her work. Suitably attired in his Albert Campion tie, Pike talked us through Campion's evolution as a character. He began as a very Bertie Wooster-ish character in The Crime at Black Dudley, probably because Allingham though he'd be a one-off character, but through the series you can see him develop and mature into the sleuth we all know and love. I'm intrigued to read more of the Campion mysteries in order to experience his development as I find that detective characters don't always have character progression, but rather have new skills added to their CV as if by magic.

I came away with a number of recommendations for Allingham's work and it's Traitor's Purse and Death of a Ghost which I'm most looking forward to.

If you're interested in finding out more about Ambler or Allingham visit and There are free ebooks available on both sites too - happy reading!

I'd like to thank the team at PFD for inviting us to this event and providing review copies.

Have you read any Ambler or Allingham?


Thursday, 3 December 2015

November in Books

Possessed by Elif Batuman
Worrying by Francis O'Gorman
The Blue Room by Georges Simenon
The Meantime (short stories) by Various
Late Fragments by Kate Gross
Stasi Child by David Young
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson

This last month has been a great one for reading. I've not read a particularly huge number of books, but what I've have been reading has been particularly wonderful.

I started the month reading a fair bit of non-fiction and then slowly moved back to fiction after finishing Kate Gross's Late Fragments, which left me needing a bit of escapism.

I then ended the month on a high by finishing Carrying Albert Home, a new release which has found itself firmly in my 'feel-good favourites'.

I loved getting my teeth into more non-fiction this month and I can safely say that I'm definitely a convert - a far cry from this post a couple of years ago! Although I didn't read the full pile I was hoping to get through, I read some corkers and I'm very glad I treated myself to Worrying at the beginning of the month.

Non-fiction book of the month: Late Fragments by Kate Gross

Fiction book of the month: The Spring of Kasper Meier by Ben Fergusson

What was your favourite book you read in November?


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

December Goals

Complete the 25 Days of Fitness challenge

Complete the 'return to running' program my physio started me on

Take one photo a day - don't forget to capture life's little moments

Read the books I want to read and take one evening a week to do just that

Be aware of what I'm eating and try to eat eighty percent of my meals at home

Don't give in to the blues - make a daily to-do list to keep busy and be sure to take note of the things I am thankful for

What are your goals for this month?

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