Thursday, 28 January 2016

Instructions for a Heatwave || Maggie O'Farrell

‘The heat, the heat.’

‘How is it possible, when there are so many people in the world, for a life to be so shockingly solitary?’

Maggie O’Farrell is a household name these days. A reliably brilliant author, she writes real people and real emotions, none more so than in Instructions for a Heatwave.

This novel has been languishing on my kindle for a couple of years now. I bought it spurred on by rave reviews, but inevitably it slid further and further down the pile.  A couple of months ago it was announced that O’Farrell’s next novel (This Must Be the Place, coming in May), is forthcoming so I decided it was high time I got around to it. Suffice to say it didn’t disappoint and I am now very eagerly anticipating her new novel.

The heatwave is the perfect crucible in this novel. Everything feels tense and claustrophobic and the people are strained, tired and irritable.  Emotions are running high and when Robert Riordan, devoted husband and father of three, goes out one morning for the paper and doesn’t come back, everything seems to collapse. His wife Gretta claims not to know where he’s gone, but in a family where half-truths are regularly told and miscommunication is the only communication, it is hard not to wonder if there is something she knows.

Perhaps my favourite thing about this novel is the multiple narrative strands which delve into each character’s background. These strands are seamlessly woven together until they merge at the climax. I love a novel with multiple stories anyway, but I think O’Farrell does it particularly well. She hints at secrets and slowly reveals them across the strands until we somehow know the family inside out and also not at all.

It feels like all the characters are striving for some sort of fulfillment, whether from their jobs or their relationships, but family ties, miscommunications, and struggles with their own identity more often than not get in the way.

I was unnecessarily worried that the ending would be disappointingly anti-climactic, that Robert, who barely features except as shadowy figure from the past, would suddenly be written into the novel disjointedly in an attempt at resolution. I had no need to worry because the ending is in fact perfect.

In three words: tense, enthralling, uplifting

Have you read this? If so, did you love it? If not, do you think you might?

Monday, 25 January 2016

On the Stack

I decided at 6am this morning, when I couldn't think of what to post today, that it's time to start a new series on the blog. Aside from a little mention here and there in my 'Things That Made Me Happy' posts I don't often talk about what I'm currently reading or the books on my stack. I thought it would be nice to check in every couple of weeks with a little round up of what I'm reading and what's coming up next - let me know in the comments if you'd find that interesting.

At the end of last week I started the much anticipated sequel to Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, A God in Ruins. It's been slow going so far purely because I've not had more than ten minutes to properly sit down and dive in, but I can tell I'm going to really enjoy it. I'm a big fan of how Atkinson plays with time and I love it when she reveals details from the future through interjections. I find that she is quite present as an author and it works really well here.

Next up is a non-fiction pick that I treated myself to after Christmas. First Bite by Bee Wilson is all about food habits and how they have been shaped by our culture, families, gender etc. I have a pretty unhealthy relationship with food so I'm looking forward to reading this and hopefully re-learning more positive habits. After buying this I realised that my sister has another of Wilson's books in her TBR pile (Consider the Fork), so I suspect I'll give that a go too if First Bite is a good read.

I'll be heading back to WW1 after my brief foray into food writing. Fear is a novel/memoir written from the French perspective and published in 1930. It came as part of a wave of such books in the 30s as many still struggled to come to terms with their war experience. I don't think this one is going to be an easy read by any stretch as the words that crop up in most reviews are brutal, visceral, and honest. There are a number of these novel/memoirs that I'm hoping to get to this year, including Under Fire and A Storm of Steel, and I think Fear is as good a place to start as any.

What's on your stack?

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #47

1// Somerset I went on a flying visit back home this weekend to see my best friend and her new arrival. I spent Saturday snuggling her beautiful daughter and it was amazing.

2// A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson I finally started this sort-of sequel to Life After Life this week and I'm very excited about it. I've not had much time for reading so I'm snatching ten minutes here and there, but I'm in love already.

3// Time Out's Rising Stars evening at the Jazz Cafe Camden thanks to spotify I discovered the band Brother and Bones just before Christmas and I've listened to them non-stop ever since. They happened to be playing this week as part of Time Out's Rising Stars evening so I quickly grabbed Mike and I some tickets. It was an amazing evening and Brother and Bones were so good. Time Out host these evenings monthly so I'm sure I'll be going along to another in the future as they're a great way to discover new and upcoming bands and singers.

4// Swimming I managed to squeeze in two swims this week and I feel great for it. I'm still very fed up at not being able to run, but I'm quite enjoying feeling myself become a stronger swimmer.

5// Feeling supported at work sometimes my job can be pretty tough but I'm forever grateful for my team who are always on hand to share a laugh with and who seem to send around animal gifs at just the right moment.

What made you happy this week?

Friday, 22 January 2016

Reading Playlist

Music is a pretty big deal in my life. I grew up surrounded by musical people and started learning an instrument when I was seven. I crafted my teenage identity around the music I liked and my eclectic tastes have long been a source of amusement with my friends (having my ipod on shuffle was always interesting, jumping from metal to classical to pop punk to acoustic in one sitting). Essentially, if books are my life raft, then music is my comfort blanket.

Music is associated with reading quite heavily in my memory and listening to a piece of music can bring to mind a particular book or character. Linkin Park's Hybrid Theory album even now takes me straight back to one of my favourite teenage reads, The Scent of Magic by Cliff McNish.

I definitely listen to music less when I read nowadays because my mind is not always able to multi-task, but when I do I stick to my favourites which I can tune in and out of. Mostly it's quite calm and acoustic with a smattering of classical, but I will mix it up with something more lively every once in a while.

I'd love to know whether you listen to music when you read and, if so, what kind of music you find sets the mood without distracting you from the book. This is my reading playlist:

Brother and Bones - For All We Know
Jack Garrett - Weathered
Rhodes - Wishes
This Wild Life - Sleepwalking
Emarosa - Say Hello to the Bad Guy (Reimagined)
Chon - Story
Charlie Simpson - Comets
Florence and the Machine - Heartlines
War Games - Holding Patterns
Flyleaf - City Kids
Jonny Craig - Stand
Walking on Cars - Hand in Hand
Alex Clare - Sparks
Lifehouse -  Everything
Mallory Knox - She Took Him to the Lake
Ludovico Einaudi - Divenire
Michael Nyman - The Heart Asks Pleasure First

Do you listen to music when you read?

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Wintry Reads

Since about mid-October 'it's not cold enough' has been a daily moan escaping my lips. I really dislike that inbetween weather where it deceives you into thinking it's chilly, but in reality it's mild as hell and I end up sticky in too many layers. The last week or so however, has seen a significant drop in temperature which has had me delightedly reaching for my bobble hat and blanket scarf. I just love to get cosy, to roll myself into a duvet cocoon with one hand poking out to hold a book. In celebration of the cold weather I've selected a few snowy reads that will have you reaching for the duvet in no time.
The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton
I read this last autumn and was thoroughly blown away by the dark and snowy Alaskan landscape, which provided the perfect setting for such a creepy tale.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Another Alaskan setting, this time in the 1920s. Deeply rooted in folklore and fairytale, The Snow Child is a beautifully descriptive novel and perfect to curl up with.

December by Elizabeth H Winthrop
December explores a child's selective mutism and the impact it has on her family. It's an interesting read and the claustrophobia of the cold winter adds further tension to an already tense family.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
A heartbreakingly tragic novel if there ever was one, but also very good. 

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Winter in The Road's post-apocalyptic landscape is particularly bleak, dangerous and harsh. It's an immersive novel (thanks to the punctuation, or lack of), and should certainly be accompanied by a large mug of something warming.

Can you recommend any wintry reads?


Monday, 18 January 2016

The Mask of Dimitrios || Eric Ambler

    'He needed, and badly, a motive, a neat method of committing a murder and an entertaining crew of suspects. Yes, the suspects must certainly be entertaining. His last book had been a trifle heavy. He must inject a little more humour into this one. 
    As for the motive, money was always, of course, the soundest basis. A pity that wills and life insurance were so outmoded. Supposing a man murdered an old lady so that his wife should have a private income. It might be worth thinking about.'

The Mask of Dimitrios, or A Coffin for Dimitrios as it is known in America, is the first novel I've read by Eric Ambler. It will not be the last.

It's hard to summarise the novel without giving away massive spoilers so I'll keep it short and sweet: our protagonist, Charles Latimer, is an author of detective novels who decides to trace the history of the notorious criminal Dimitrios, who was recently found murdered. The search takes him across Europe, reveals many secrets, and reaches a somewhat dangerous climax in a building in Paris.

For a mystery/thriller there is very little action in this novel, but it did not feel lacking in this respect.  Aside from the brilliantly crafted characters, there was something about exploring 30s Europe and the simmering unrest that propelled the novel forward until a point when action became necessary. This is an intelligent novel that slowly reveals startling elements of Dimitrios's history - it twists and turns and does the odd backflip, until everything suddenly slots into place.

Perhaps my favourite thing about the novel is the fact that Charles Latimer is an author of detective novels. It makes him a touch arrogant as he seems to think that he knows how these things work - as if the real world truly resembles fiction. He ends the novel (as the above quote demonstrates) planning a straightforward novel which follows a reassuring structure, where there is a believable motive, a 'neat' murder, and entertaining suspects, because life is possibly just too heavy. I think his background adds something particularly special to the novel, making a story that is quite understated gripping and brilliant.

In three words: intelligent, understated, gripping.

Have you read any Ambler?

I received a copy of this novel for review purposes - thank you.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #46

1// Maggie O'Farrell In anticipation of O'Farrell's new novel coming in May I decided it was high time to read Instructions for a Heatwave, which has been languishing on my kindle since its release. I now regret not getting to it sooner because it is fantastic. Her characters are spot on and she writes family tensions perfectly.

2// Finding purpose again Over the last week or so I've been putting a lot of effort into my voluntary role as books editor of Centenary News. Some of you will have heard me talk about this before and it's something I love to do (yay WW1), but it's fallen by the wayside in recent months. It feels good to be back on track and I have so many ideas for the page.

3// Sunrises/sunsets This week we've had some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. It's been an absolute treat seeing the sky light up. The sky is perhaps my favourite thing to photograph so I was constantly whipping out my phone to try and capture the light.

4// Book club This week was the first meeting of the book club I set up at work. We talked about The Secret Place by Tana French (I shared our thoughts here) and I had so much fun. It was great to have the opportunity to talk about a book in detail (although I did tone down the enthusiasm a notch or two) and I look forward to our next meeting.

5// Courgetti I received a spiralizer for Christmas and have been furiously spiralizing ever since. I've been loving courgetti with pesto, cherry tomatoes and salmon. So simple, so healthy and so delicious!

What made you happy this week?

Friday, 15 January 2016

10 Classics to Re-read (again and again)

Persuasion by Jane Austen
This is by far my favourite Austen and one I will continue to re-read even as my interest in her other novels wanes. I love that parts are set in Lyme, I love Captain Wentworth, but mostly I just love Anne. She is such an 'ordinary' heroine with a kind heart and I'd quite like to know her in real life.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Even though mysteries can lose something on the second or third read, The Woman in White manages to still keep me guessing and not just because I've forgotten how it plays out. Returning to Marian Halcombe is like saying hello to an old friend and missed details always surprise me.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
I've talked about re-reading this novel before, but I wanted to give it a mention here too. I think any of Woolf's novels would fit in this post as they seem to jump and shift depending on your circumstances.

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
I've not yet re-read The Good Soldier but I know it's inevitable that I will. I still have strong memories of this short, impressionistic novel which is rare for me (unfortunately) and I look forward to returning to it. It also has a tremendous first line: 'This is the saddest story I've ever heard'.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Another mystery to re-read. It has been about ten years since I turned the final page of this novel and it still haunts me. The atmosphere! The tension! The denouement! All brilliant, and it's another contender for best first line.

The Return of the Solider by Rebecca West
This is both one of my favourite ever WW1 novels and one of my favourite novels. It has withstood multiple re-readings, enthusiastic analysis and being the focus of two essays, and I still want to sink into its pages again.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Although I only conquered this beast last year, I know it'll be a book I discover again and again. The BBC adaptation has me itching to return to it already.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Again I only read this two years ago, the first summer I lived in London as a matter of fact. Every time I hear it mentioned or if I brush past it in Waterstones I have this sudden urge to find out how it all went so horribly wrong all over again.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I would argue that this novel benefits from multiple re-readings. The first time I read it I absolutely despised it and vowed never to read another Fitzgerald ever again. Two years later it was required reading for one of my uni modules and I fell hopelessly in love. Another few years later and I lost my heart irretrievably to Gatsby.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
This is perhaps an odd choice but The Wind in the Willows is such a multi-faceted novels. Whilst being the jolly story of Moley, Toad and the gang, it's also a very revealing commentary on Edwardian society. Read once for Moley and a second time for cultural historical analysis.

Is there a classic you will always re-read?


Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Secret Place || Tana French

"If I've learned one thing today, it's that teenage girls make Moriarty look like a babe in the woods."

At the beginning of this week I walked out of work at the end of the day with a group of colleagues and bundled into the nearest pub for our inaugural book club meeting. Out of three options we had settled on The Secret Place by Tana French as our first book, which turned out to be the perfect pick for getting people talking. Although opinions were divided we mostly really enjoyed this novel and it certainly stuck in our minds.

Have some thoughts in bullet points:

  • There was a general consensus that this book was unnecessarily long. One person argued that the detail added intensity to the crucible-like setting, but in general we all thought it could benefit from being 100 or so pages shorter.
  • We all felt frustrated by the characters individually and as a group. This wasn't because of how they're written, quite the opposite as we actually recognised parts of ourselves as teens and others  we knew within them. Rather we wanted to know more about why they did certain things and occasionally slap them, as you do with fictional characters.
  • The choice of murderer was felt to be a bit cliche (I personally felt she was the perfect person and I had no clue until it happened) - although only one person guessed the twist early on.
  • The dialogue (particularly in the interviews between the detectives and the students), style, and dual narration were very well received. I liked how we started at the beginning and the middle simultaneously and met at the end.
  • The 'magical' subplot was lacklustre and pointless. Although one or two of us laughed that we too had messed around with ouija boards and the like whilst at school, in this context it felt too disjointed and the suggestion that the girls had special powers seemed obscure. One member argued that it demonstrates the power of their pact and the bond between them, but agreed that the whole plot line was a touch messy and not followed through to the end.
  • It was agreed that having more from the perspective of the boys school would add an interesting dimension to the novel.
  • I asked whether the novel would still be as powerful if the boarding school setting was taken away. All agreed that the boarding school setting is too important for that. I loved this setting and felt it was perfect for ramping up the tension.
  • All in all we loved the story, but the execution was a bit off.
  • Less than half of the group would give French a second chance, but those that would were excited by the prospect.

This novel very much split the group. Although we all enjoyed and even loved elements of the novel, it was generally disappointing and we expected so much more. Personally I'm not sure whether I will pick up another of French's novels - we shall see.

In three words: frustrating, complex, deceptive

Have you read The Secret Place? Should I give Tana French another chance?

Monday, 11 January 2016

In Cold Blood || Truman Capote

'But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises - on the keening hysteria of the coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them - four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.'

Earlier last week I discovered that 10th January 2016 marks fifty years since the publication of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. As this book had been languishing on my shelves for the better part of a decade (since I'd watched the film Capote and decided I need to know more), I used this anniversary as the perfect nudge to finally pick it up. I sure am glad I did.

In Cold Blood is part journalism, part novel and writing it is said to have taken an incredible toll on Capote to the point that he never published another book again. I can truly see how that happened and I would say that this is a difficult, if phenomenally rewarding, book to read. I found myself gripped from start to finish and in a state of near anxiety from the minute the murders are committed to the capture of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. Capote's writing style made this possible as he breathes such life into each individual and constantly reminds us that they were real and these events actually happened.

I won't say it was a comfortable read because it wasn't. Capote dives so deeply into the lives of all involved  - the Clutters, the killers, the police and FBI agents, and even the neighbours and friends - that it almost breaks down the barrier of the page. This has a really powerful effect and illustrates just how immersive non-fiction can be.

Initially I struggled to keep up a little with the changes in narrative perspective and the way the book moves along and around the timeline of the case. Once I'd got a handle on who's who and what's what however, I found myself thoroughly sinking into the case.

I'm a big fan of shows like CSI and Criminal Minds and the Serial podcast and I found myself contemplating my enjoyment of such shows whilst I read In Cold Blood. There is something that draws us to crime, whether true or otherwise, that I can't quite understand. I think perhaps it's a need to know and understand humanity and why we do the things we do. Certainly with In Cold Blood part of what kept me turning the pages was a need to understand why Perry and Dick would commit such a horrible, senseless deed. As I closed the book I realised that I'm still at a loss, although the psych evaluations included in the narration were fascinating and added a lot to the case. On further consideration I wonder if it's important that I cannot understand why they did it - perhaps that's what separates them from me. If that's the case, then there is a very thin line between us and that in itself is terrifying.

Regardless of my momentary tangent into philosophical thought, I think In Cold Blood is a thought provoking and engrossing book. Capote's writing is just perfect and his handling of such a brutal crime is sensitive and deft. I would certainly recommend it.

In three words: brutal, dark, enthralling

Have you read In Cold Blood?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #45

I landed back in the working world with a bang and a deep sigh on Monday morning, after a delightful ten day break. I won't say it was easy readjusting to the 9-5, but I do love the routine a workday brings so I'm almost a tiny bit pleased things are moving again.

I've thrown myself into a lot of routines and slightly stricter schedules this week, including: regular 6am wake up and morning yoga, daily exercise and more commitment to other projects. By Friday I was exhausted, but it does feel good to be busy and I know I'll get used to it again in another week or so.

1// The Ballroom by Anna Hope I finished this novel early in the week and I am in love with it. It's due for release in February so I will talk about it more then, but rest assured I will be recommending it highly and most enthusiastically.

2// Updating my morning routine before Christmas I'd started to slip back into a love/hate relationship with my snooze button which I'm determined to stop. I love waking up before the rest of my flat and doing fifteen minutes of yoga before showering and getting ready for the day. It's hard to get up that bit earlier, but I do feel better for the extra time.

3// Feeling motivated although my motivation has dipped again this weekend, I did really well during the week to keep up with my workouts. I've been back to the pool and I'm sure that swimming is my new favourite thing. Forty minutes before work kept me energised - and calm - all day.

4// Getting to the bus stop at the same time as my bus on Friday after work need I say more?

5// Testament of Youth I re-watched this on Netflix and it was just as good as the first time. It made me cry more, but I think that's purely down to being in my own home and having access to all the tissues. I think this is a really well done film considering it has to cover so much. I'm pleased it avoids romanticising/sensationalising war.

What made you happy this week?

Friday, 8 January 2016

Classics Club Reboot

A couple of years ago I joined the Classics Club and created my list of fifty classics to read before 2017. The list was later extended to fit in some new purchases and ended up totaling sixty-six books to read before 2017. To date I've read a grand total of twenty-eight - just under half. Having read those in the first couple of years I then hit a bit of a wall and haven't ticked a single book off this year. Shocking, I know.

I think part of my reticence to tackle the remaining books on the list is caused by a general feeling of disinterest. I no longer find that the list inspires me to read more, rather it feels like a bit of a chore. I'm well aware that this is down to my choices of what to include on it, by which I mean all the books I feel I ought to read. 

I've become a lot more floaty (yes, that's a technical term) with my reading and no longer feel tied to 'hype' books or the one's everyone 'should' read; nor, for that matter, do I take much stock in 'best ever' lists (though I do love to read them). For that reason the decision to re-create my Classics Club list was not a hard one, even if it has taken me three paragraphs to explain it. 

To avoid boring you all with my loquacious ways any longer, I'd like to introduce you to my new Classics Club list of fifty novels to read before 2020. Drumroll please... 

  1. Nightwood by Djuana Barnes
  2. The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
  3. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
  4. Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain
  5. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  6. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
  7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  8. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  9. Poor Miss Finch by Wilkie Collins
  10. Consequences by E. M. Delafield
  11. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  12. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevesky
  13. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevesky
  14. Some Do Not (Parades End 1) by Ford Madox Ford
  15. No More Parades (Parades End 2) by Ford Madox Ford
  16. A Man Could Stand Up (Parades End 3) by Ford Madox Ford
  17. Last Post (Parades End 4) by Ford Madox Ford
  18. Still Missing Beth Gutcheon
  19. The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby
  20. The Land of Green Ginger by Winifred Holtby
  21. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  22. Joanna Godden by Sheila Kaye-Smith
  23. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay
  24. The Playroom by Olivia Manning
  25. Razor's Edge by W Somerset Maugham
  26. Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
  27. The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray
  28. The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow by Margaret Oliphant
  29. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  30. Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes
  31. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
  32. Daughters of the House by Michele Roberts
  33. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville West
  34. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  35. The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
  36. Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
  37. The Last Man by Mary Shelley
  38. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  39. The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor
  40. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
  41. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
  42. Down Among the Women by Fay Weldon
  43. The Time Machine by HG Wells
  44. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
  45. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  46. Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf
  47. The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf
  48. The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
  49. The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig
  50. Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories by Stefan Zweig

Suffice it to say, I'm VERY excited to read through this list.

Have you updated your Classics Club list recently?

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Feel Good Books: Carrying Albert Home

January blues? Yeah I feel you, but I've got the perfect antidote:

Carrying Albert Home
Homer Hickam
November 2015

In 1930s America, Elsie Lavender finds herself stuck in the coalfields of West Virginia with her stoical husband and Albert, an alligator and the sole memento of her time spent in Florida and the man she loved there. It's not all fun and games living with an alligator, at least not for her husband Homer, who offers Elsie an ultimatum: me, or the alligator. Elsie decides that there is only one thing for it, they must carry Albert back home to Florida.

So begins their whirlwind journey across America. On the way they encounter all manner of obstacles and people (including Hemingway and Steinbeck), and have the most wonderful and occasionally terrifying adventures. 

Carrying Albert Home is a fantastically feel good novel with a serious dose of happiness in every page. I smiled until my cheeks hurt and laughed out loud on more than one occasion.  

Albert carries the novel in my opinion and is such a wonderfully written character. It seems strange to say that about an alligator, but he truly is larger than life. Any mention of his 'toothy grin' and the 'yeah-yeah-yeah' sound he makes put a smile on my face. I think 'endearing' is the perfect word to describe him and, even though I read this novel all the way back in November, he's stuck with me.

Although I'd call this a mood-boosting novel, there is still a lot of depth to it and the characters have their struggles. Homer and Elsie are so very real as people (they are based on the author's parents) and you could take away the adventures and the alligator and their journey would still be a heartwarming one because, ultimately, it's more about finding their home with each other than it is about getting Albert back to Florida. It's a love story really - not in the traditional sense, but in a much more real and adult sense. Elsie and Homer have lost each other and forgotten what their love is. Metaphorically this journey is about finding themselves and each other, and boy is it a beauty.

I always find January to be such a miserable month so settling down with Carrying Albert Home and a mug of tea could be just what the doctor ordered.

Can you recommend any other feel good books for January?


Monday, 4 January 2016

January Goals

Take one photo a day

Swim once a week

Practice yoga at least twice a week

Plan my meals and cook from scratch at least six out of seven days

Write something daily

Read at least a book a week with one to be non-fiction

Do you have any goals for this month?

Sunday, 3 January 2016

December in Books

The Book Collector by Alice Thompson
Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe
The Shore by Sara Taylor
The Secret Place by Tana French
Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers
A Coffin for Demitrios by Eric Ambler
Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon
The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol
A Snow Garden by Rachel Joyce

What a month for reading! It started off strong with The Book Collector and ended even stronger with A Snow Garden. So many favourites and so many new discoveries.

It would be impossible to pick a favourite for December as more than half of these books would battle for the top spot. Perhaps ever so slightly above the rest would be The Shore as that made my top 10 of 2015 for it's sheer beauty, lyricism and humanity.

The Secret Place was probably my least favourite, but that was a book club pick so I am looking forward to discussing it with the group in a week's time.

I tried something new this Christmas and read Christmassy books for the entire week. I never quite found my festive spirit this year, but reading seasonally certainly helped put me in the mood. Joyce's A Snow Garden also helped remind me how our experiences with Christmas differ hugely and pushed me towards making gratitude a priority in my life for 2016 and beyond.

Do you have a favourite book for December?

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