This is Happiness by Niall Williams – review

I won’t lie: I bought this book primarily because there was a hare on the cover. It was my first Niall Williams novel and I had no idea what sort of author he was, but having now spent many happy hours basking in the luminous quality of his writing I know it won’t be my last. This is happiness indeed.

Set in 1950s Ireland, the story begins as Noel, a boy in his late teens who has dropped out of the seminary following a crisis of faith, returns to the rural community of Faha to live with his grandparents. He has arrived at a highly significant time in the town’s history: it is about to receive electricity for the first time. While Noel struggles with contemplating his future, the family are joined by a newcomer and lodger, brought to Faha by the forthcoming electrical works but with something far more profound on his mind. Christy is on a moral mission to right a great wrong he did to one of the town’s inhabitants many decades ago when he was a young man. For Noel, he provides a window onto parts of humanity he hasn’t yet experienced, the friendship he needs and the impetus to see himself and his future in a new light.

The novel’s structure places the events very firmly within a defined time frame, one that serves to highlight the momentous, quasi-mystical nature of the happenings contained within it. Much as Mary Poppins can only stay until the wind changes, so we know this magical moment won’t last, but also that the town and its characters will be shaped by it for the decades to come. The first notable herald of unusual times is the weather: in Faha, we are told, it rains almost constantly, so the appearance of sunshine is in itself a small miracle, one which is met with pleasure but also incredulity and a sense of the normal order of things being thrown somewhat out of kilter. The coming of the electricity provides another framing device, the novel starting with the news that electrification is on its way and ending with the flicking of the switch that will finally bring modernity to the community. Then there is Christy, whose residence in the town in ostensibly connected to the electrical installation, but who is almost a spiritual presence (guru? sage? I hesitate to say a Christ-like figure, but a clue in the name perhaps?) and one whose appearance in Faha we know to be transient – when the electricity comes, he will go.

This sense of spirituality is the cornerstone of the novel. Human, worldly passions are treated with a reverence that elevates them to something ethereal; even the slightly comedic infatuations of an inexperienced teenage boy are spoken of in deferential terms, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek at times. Music is vitally important, and Noel and Christy’s nocturnal sojourns to the local pubs in search of the best live performers are themselves akin to a spiritual quest. The fact that they are usually blind drunk by the time they head home, and that their inebriated cycling exploits make for some hilarious passages in the novel, strangely (cleverly) doesn’t in any way detract from the sense of joy, elevation and release that comes from following their passion. The whole novel could be said to be one of metaphor; the coming of electric power is poised to illuminate Faha just as the coming of Christy and the events that unfold as a result bring enlightenment to the life of narrator Noel. Even the name Noel has etymological links to the Latin for “birthday” or “relating to birth”; no coincidence perhaps for a character who spends the novel on a journey of self-discovery, personal growth and deeper understanding of those around him as he truly lives perhaps for the first time.

Appropriately, the writing itself is sublime; at times, reading the novel felt like being rocked to sleep in a hammock, the prose lilting, ebbing and flowing but never less than pinpoint precise. On almost every page there was a turn of phrase that made you pause for a second to take in the perfection. Niall Williams takes great care to afford even the most mundane moments a sense of beauty, as if to remind us that everything about this life is wondrous. He also clearly has enormous affection for the rural way of life that has now disappeared; technologically speaking the people of Faha may be backward but they have something special in their sense of community and determined self-sufficiency that we too come to love and admire as the novel goes on. Electricity, that great innovation that we couldn’t in the 21st century do without, seems incongruous and unnecessary here, a blight on tradition that signals an ending as much as it does a beginning.

I fell completely and utterly in love with this novel; I defy you to read it and not do the same! If you’ve read it already – or any of his other books – do tell me what you thought.

Happy reading x

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart – review

You know, I’m kind of glad I didn’t know exactly what Shuggie Bain was about before I started reading. I can think of occasions in the past when simply discovering the theme of a book – A Little Life, My Absolute Darling – has been enough to put me off even trying it, despite the fact that the writing has been praised by critics and readers alike. So if I’d known I was about to embark on a novel depicting alcoholism, rape, domestic violence and child sexual abuse, there’s no WAY on earth I would have gone anywhere near it. And I would have missed out on one of the most affecting, haunting and all-round superb books of 2020.

Set in Glasgow in the 1980s and 1990s, Shuggie Bain tells the almost unbearable story of Agnes Bain and the three children who, as the years go by, bear the brunt of the addiction that slowly dismantles their mother piece by piece. Shuggie is the youngest, and it’s he who frames the novel; we first meet him as a teenager living an independent yet pretty dismal and unfulfilled life at the very start of the book, before going back in time to his early years and following him as he grows up amid the wreckage of a family that’s breaking apart. The neglect, poverty and unpredictability of living with an alcohol-dependent parent are not the only things he has to deal with: as the book progresses and Shuggie grows older, he can’t shake the sense that he is different from the other children and doesn’t fit in. He is bullied and mocked – by adults as well as other children – and finds himself more and more alone, escaping to imaginary worlds that he creates for himself during the lonely days when he can’t face school and can’t face home.

If outside world is hostile, home holds just as many terrors. One of the most striking elements of the story is the way addiction instills fear in the sufferer’s loved ones. Is Shuggie’s mother going to be drunk or sober when he gets home from school? If she’s been drinking, is she going to be celebratory, vindictive or despairing? If she’s drunk but still cheerful, can Shuggie stop her drinking herself to the next stage of intoxication, the stage of anger and recrimination? I can’t remember the last time my heart broke so completely when reading a book as it did when I watched this little boy taking care of his inebriated mother in a way far beyond his years, desperately trying to keep further alcohol out of her reach, trying to distract her from her destructive whims and reacting with devastating practicality when she finally loses consciousness.

So far you might imagine that Agnes Bain would be an extremely unlikeable character – after all, what kind of parent would put their child through this? If I had to put my finger on the area in which the novel most excels (hard to do when it’s amazing in so many ways) I’d say it’s in the way Douglas Stuart manages to keep us on side with characters who could at first glance be incredibly unappealing. Yes, Agnes is an alcoholic whose children go hungry so she can feed her habit and whose youngest son is left vulnerable to abuse because she isn’t there to look out for him; but the things we see her go through in her own life are equally shocking. Her second husband is brutish, violent and unfaithful. Her relationship with her parents is not straightforward; she is no stranger to physical violence from that quarter. The other men she encounters while she is at her most vulnerable range from outright abusive to unreliable and enabling. I doubt there’s a single reader who’d be unable to feel sympathy for Agnes at least at some point during the story.

Calling the novel a social commentary makes it sound a bit dull and dry, and that’s absolutely not the case, but I did feel there was a hugely important wider point behind the minutely observed individual stories. Poverty and a lack of opportunity traps not just Agnes but entire communities; small wonder, then, that addiction and other substance abuse become one of the few escapes available. To say the book’s message is that Agnes’s alcohol dependency is a direct result of social policy would be a massive oversimplification, but the seeds of the argument are certainly there if you feel inclined to read the book in that way. Personally, this more “political” aspect is something that struck me very strongly and haunted me for some time afterwards: it’s all too easy, from a position of privilege, to pass judgement on others who haven’t had access to the opportunities we’ve had, and to make assumptions about what might be called their “life choices” – when in fact they have almost no choice at all.

So how does this book remain in any way readable with all its bleakness and tragedy? The answer for me is quite simply, Shuggie. No matter what happens, you read on, and you read on for Shuggie. You get through it with him and for him, and you feel as if by reading his story you’re somehow there holding his hand through the worst of times. And strangely, when it ends, although there’s no denying you’ve been put through the wringer emotionally, you’re not left with a sense of despair – because Shuggie loves his mother no matter what, and it’s that love that cuts through the novel’s darkness and provides a tiny, but absolutely crucial, light.

I prefer to recommend rather than beg, but this time I’m begging shamelessly! You won’t just read this book, you’ll live it; so please, try it – let it get under your skin and into your head, and appreciate the awesome power of what a book can do.

Bookworm in a heatwave – my week in books wrapped up

You know you’re in the middle of a heatwave when it’s too hot even to read. As for writing, well that’s been totally out of the question, as I’ve been spending my free time shifting between cool spots on the sofa and eating ice-cream while indulging in mindless TV watching that requires no effort from a brain rendered useless by my flat’s sauna-like conditions. Today however, the clouds are building and a tiny breeze has made its way into the living room, so I’m attempting my first blog post in a while – the reading and writing may have ground to a near halt but the acquisition of books has continued unabated.

*Books purchased*

  • A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan – I’ve walked past this book almost every day at work for years, and it catches my eye every time, to the point where I’m now wondering why on earth it took me so long to own it. Fantasy isn’t normally a genre I’m drawn to but there’s something really appealing in the idea of a magical story that emulates the exploits of the Victorian naturalists and explorers, only with dragons!
  • Vivian by Christina Hesselholdt – I bought this one completely on spec after browsing the Fitzcarraldo website to see if there was anything new I fancied. What piqued my interest was the fact that it’s based on the story of a real-life character, photographer Vivian Maier. It sounds intriguing, and (as I discussed in my recent post about literary style icons) will make a neat addition to the Fitzcarraldo blue section of my bookshelves!
  • Essays by George Orwell – I do feel like my brain has been on cruise control of late, and I decided I needed a bit of stimulus in the thinking department. This was the result (although I might have to wait until the temperature drops a tiny bit more before I attempt it….)

*Biggest sucker punch of the week*

And the award goes to….. Shuggie Bain, which has left me shattered into little traumatised pieces. I can totally understand why lots of people are touting it for Booker glory, although I admit I’ve had to put it down a couple of times and take a break, such is the emotional impact. If you can cope with the more distressing themes, I would recommend it passionately.

*Proofs acquired*

Just the one this week, but it’s been a nice little surprise. Ocean Vuong, the author of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, started his writing life as a poet, and it really comes across in his debut novel. Flitting from one vignette to another, it’s at once unflinching and curiously beautiful; it’s early days with this one as I’m not far in, but I sense it’s going to be rewarding.

I very much hope I’ll be able to get a couple of reviews up on the blog soon, but in the meantime, thank you for reading x

Style icons – the most stylish books on my shelf right now!

Style Icons

I have a real booknerd thing for those publishers and imprints who’ve created instantly recognisable cover styles, their books following a confident uniformity that makes them at once both striking and familiar. Some have become almost a part of our culture to the point where they mean something even to people who aren’t big readers: mention Penguin Classics and everyone can recall instantly what they look like. For the book obsessive, this is a source of both immense happiness and potential anguish; I remember being ridiculously sad when Penguin changed their Modern Classics cover design away from the silver spines, because what was that going to do to the aesthetics of my bookshelves?! Fortunately, there are some real style icons out there that look nothing short of magnificent when grouped side by side in any bookshop or bookcase. Here are some of my absolute faves!

My bookish style icons!

Persephone Books have absolutely nailed simplicity of cover design: superficially there’s almost nothing to it, but that grey, the ever so slight variation in dimensions compared to your average paperback – there’s no mistaking it. I love them because to me they have a look about them that’s somehow a little old fashioned – in the best possible way! I also adore Fitzcarraldo’s striking, plain covers. Like Persephone, they’ve eschewed detail and illustration for unique and unmistakable colour; I know they do white covers too but I’ve always been mesmerised by that gorgeous cobalt blue. Lastly, I have to give a shout out to the Canongate Canons series. Unlike the other two publishers on my podium of book styling, they do use a different illustration for each title, but still, there’s something about the design that I just love. It could be the combination of the white spines and the vibrant colours? I’m not sure – but when I was thinking about this blog post I knew they had to be in here.

I’d put money on the fact that there are many of you book lovers out there who are similarly attached to your own particular favourite cover designs, so do comment and let me know what they are!

Thanks for reading x

Sunday Stack – my July reads

This week’s Sunday Stack is all about my July reads – as ever, the prompt comes courtesy of Babblesnbooks, so do check out her lovely blog if you want to join in over the coming weeks and have fun building some imaginative book stacks!

I must confess, I always get a little tinge of envy reading other bloggers’ weekly or monthly wrap-ups, as it’s a reminder of what a slow reader I am – seriously, for someone who adores books so much I honestly seem to get through them at a snail’s pace compared to lots of other readers out there. But never mind – the quantity for July may be pretty unimpressive, but there’s no lacking in quality.

July’s book stack – impossible to pick a fave out of this lot!

There are a few books from July that are definitely going to be contenders for my top reads of 2020 come the end of the year. The Vanishing Half, Daisy Jones and The Six and Long Way Down were all absolutely amazing reads and I’d recommend every single one of them. Long Way Down in particular was one of those beautiful surprises you get when you pick up a book on someone’s recommendation that you never would have noticed when browsing the bookshop shelves, only to find it blows you away. It was a novel that hits you so hard you need half an hour or so of complete stillness afterwards to contemplate what it is you’ve just experienced; you’ll want to talk about it with everyone you meet once you’ve finished it.

I had more mixed feelings about The Cat and the City; I enjoyed parts of it, and a couple of episodes were incredibly moving – but I found that other sections started to veer a bit too much towards the surreal and/or the gritty for my usual taste. As a set of interconnected stories however, it is undeniably extremely clever – the way the different characters’ lives are linked is never trite or contrived, but very subtle. I haven’t come across anyone else who’s read it yet, so if you have I’d be very interested to hear what you thought of it.

The Truants, although it suffered somewhat in comparison to some of the other absolute standouts I read this July, was still a really enjoyable read, and one that got better and found its feet as the book went on. Lastly, there’s the rollicking slice of 14th century murder and mystery that is A Killer in Winter, from the ever-reliable Susanna Gregory. This is the ninth installment in her Matthew Bartholomew series; I don’t tend to review them on the blog as, if I’m being honest, they’re ultimately quite samey – but for me there’s a real comfort in that, and I reach for one of them whenever I feel in need of a literary hug, surrounded by familiar characters and a bit of unchallenging escapism. And who doesn’t need that every now and again?

Before I leave the blog this evening, I have a slightly unusual and non-bookish question to throw out there. In my Sunday Stack photo you’ll see a houseplant – I have absolutely no idea what it is, and Google is being extremely unhelpful! If any of you can identify it, I’d love to know! I’d also love to see your stacks to round off my weekend, so do post your links below if you’ve joined in. Thanks for reading x

My week in books – wrapped up

Shock confession: I’ve only purchased one book this week – however, fear not: that’s not to say that none have made their way into my possession by other means….

*Proofs acquired*

Well, this is the one I’ve been waiting for, and wasn’t at all sure I was going to get, so this is hands down my book triumph of the week!

The Binding was one of THE best books I’ve read in the last couple of years, so when I saw on the Twittersphere that Bridget Collins had a new novel pending I was beside myself. I was even more beside myself when I got home from work to find the parcel outside my front door, and I’m fervently hoping The Betrayals will be just as incredible as her debut.

Another proof made its way to me this week in very different, and much more personal, circumstances. The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham is a love letter to reading, books and bookselling, and the author is none other than one of the bookshop managers I’ve worked with for the last few years. Reading a book written by someone you know is an immensely rare and unexpectedly moving experience; I know how many days, weeks and months of work went into it and the passion for books that lies behind it – a true labour of love.

*Book purchased*

As I mentioned, only one this week, but it’s a good ‘un:

I’ve seen so much love for this on Twitter and various book blogs (and I may have had a sneaky read of a few pages at work today!) so I can’t wait to start reading. If you’ve finished it already, do comment and let me know your thoughts.

*Reviews posted*

Just the one this week, but it’s one I promised in my last weekly wrap-up. Long Way Down is a book that will punch you right in the gut and leave you reeling; it’s one that had completely passed me by but I highly recommend you give it a try. Check out my review here.

Hope you all have another happy week of reading ahead! See you back on the blog very soon x

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – review

I don’t normally go for YA books, and I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed any on This Girl’s Book Room, but if they’re not usually your cup of tea either please do stay with me; the book I’m talking about today is one that defies categorisation and quite simply should be read by everybody, whether you consider yourself a fan of YA or not. The book’s narrator is William, a 15 year old boy whose world is turned upside down one horrendous day when his older brother Shawn is shot dead. He is no stranger to gun violence; no one in this community is. When the first shots ring out he instinctively follows the rules that have been drummed into him and his friends: run, hide, lie down flat. But these are only the first set of rules to follow; the second set of rules are for what comes afterwards, when you’ve seen your loved ones lying dead on the ground, rules that are so ingrained among the inhabitants of the community that everyone knows them without knowing how or why. Rule 1: No crying. Rule 2: No snitching. Rule 3: Revenge. Following these rules isn’t a choice – it’s an obligation, which William sets out to fulfil, armed with Shawn’s gun. He steps into the lift that will take him down and out of his block – and then the extraordinary happens. The lift stops at the next floor, and as the doors open he is joined by a wholly unexpected companion, one who he used to know very well; one who is now dead. At each floor the lift stops and at each floor William encounters another ghost, all of them people who played a significant part in his life, and who all died untimely and violent deaths as the cycle of killing and revenge spun on and on. As they tell their stories, the biggest tragedy of all comes into focus, namely that no death in these circumstances can ever be isolated, but rather becomes the catalyst for more killing, a link in a heartbreaking chain that has no end in sight.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Long Way Down is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read; I started reading and didn’t stop until I was done, and when I was done I was a broken wreck. The subject matter alone pretty much guarantees a novel of emotional heft, but here’s the real stroke of genius: it’s entirely written in verse. I once heard poetry described as “language under pressure”, and that’s precisely the effect it has here – pressure, intensity and immediacy. The writing is sparse, sometimes only a handful of words on a page, but with this method of storytelling every single word has to count, and it does. Even the briefest phrases are chosen with almost excruciating care, and I was left completely stunned by the raw emotional power that could be contained in such spare poetry, with every single word a blow. I don’t know whether the author intended the effect to be similar to the gunshots that are pivotal to his story, but that’s how reading it felt – short, sharp hits of pain. I’ve never experienced poetry used in this way before, and it blew me away.

Then there are the searching questions that the author leaves bouncing round your head after the final page. As William rides down in the lift, he is confronted with the possibility that perhaps there is a choice. By exacting revenge, he might hope to assuage at least some of the feelings of grief and injustice triggered by the murder of his beloved brother; yet in doing so he is making himself the next link in the chain of brutality and ensuring the killing will continue – he might even be the next to die. Or he could turn round, go home and break that chain, and take a stand against the rules that call for more death, over and over again… How much of our existence is a choice, and how much is forced upon us by our upbringing, our community, the social circumstances in which we find ourselves? Judgement from a place of privilege is absurdly easy, but Jason Reynold’s mission is to make it difficult, and to sweep away any preconceptions we may have had.

Reading – and enjoying – this novel so much also opened my eyes as to how narrow my reading often is, and how all too often I dismiss books, almost without thinking about it, because they don’t fit into my preconceived ideas about what is interesting, relatable or relevant to me. I should say a huge thank you to Alfie @Elfcouncillor for the glowing recommendation, without which this amazing novel would have completely passed me by! If you’ve read it I’d love to hear your thoughts as always.

See you back on the blog very soon x

The Sunday Stack – One Stack, One Colour!

The Sunday Stack is a really fun idea created by Bronwen at Babblesnbooks – and it’s super-easy to join in. Every Sunday she provides a different prompt, and all you have to do is create a stack of books along that theme. This week it’s One Stack, One Colour….. and you can’t get much more of a free-wheeling theme than that! There was only ever one colour I could choose for this: blue, my favourite colour for as long as I can remember. It also turns out (handily) that I have an enormous number of blue books; I didn’t do a proper count up, but by eye I’d guess there are more blue spines on my shelves than any other colour. Coincidence….?

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

This wonderful debut novel is the perfect example of how to have a lot of fun with what is ultimately a serious subject. All sorts of things are going on behind closed doors up and down The Avenue, but seen through the eyes of two young girls who decide to turn detective and root out the truth behind the community’s biggest mystery, the domestic tragedies of suburbia take on an almost comedic aspect. Yet the author never loses the sense of poignancy and the genuine sadness, when it comes is all the more affecting.

The Breaking Point by Daphne Du Maurier

I’m not usually a short story fan, but this next book in my Sunday stack went a long way to converting me to the format. As with almost any short story collection there are a couple of weaker ones, but these are more than compensated for by the surprisingly large number that still stick in my head very vividly even now, a couple of years after reading. If you want to dip in and try just one? I’d go for The Blue Lenses (not chosen to fit today’s blue theme I promise!)

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

Is “Fitzcarraldo Blue” an official shade? If not, it should be – I can’t think of anything in the book world more striking than a collection of these stylish editions together on a bookshelf! This is one of my absolute top reads of the last year: witty, caustic and with more than a touch of the macabre, this book takes a knife to the heart of Polish society and clearly relishes doing so.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

The first of what has turned out to be an utterly endearing series, this book is part detective story and part love letter to the quirks of Mumbai, its citizens and its culture. And of course, there’s a baby elephant, who comes into the life of Police Inspector Chopra without any warning and subsequently proves to be immensely useful in his investigations. It’s fun, warm and has an enormous heart – a ray of light in a very dark 2020!

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

I’m finishing my Sunday stack with a book that introduced me to an author who ended up becoming one of my all-time favourites. Althought I haven’t been quite so enamoured with some of his later books, at his best, Paul Auster is in a league of his own. The New York Trilogy is undoubtedly his most famous book – and if people only read one of his works it tends to be this one – but it’s not actually my favourite; nor do I think it’s necessarily the best introduction to his writing. If you’ve never tried Auster before, I recommend starting with either Leviathan or Moon Palace. I would have featured them here but sadly neither are blue!!

I think this has been my favourite Sunday Stack so far, and I’m very much looking forward to getting my teeth into August’s selection of book stack themes. If you’ve joined in this week, do comment and leave your links below – I’d love to see your colourful collections!

Related posts:

The Sunday Stack – Sequels and Finales The Sunday Stack – Summer Reads My Top 5 Reads of 2020

The Sunday Stack – Sequels and Finales

The Sunday Stack is a simple but lovely idea created by Bronwen at Babblesnbooks. Every Sunday there’s a different theme, and if you want to join in all you have to do is create an appropriate stack of books! This week the theme is Sequels and Finales; I definitely had to do a bit of thinking for this one. I tend to read contemporary fiction with a few classics thrown in, but I’m not such a big fan of genre fiction such as crime or fantasy, and those books are much more likely to be part of a series. However, I do like a challenge, and it was a lot of fun to go through my bookshelves to jog my memory on some of the sequels I’ve enjoyed in the course of my reading life. Once I started looking, there were many I’d forgotten about, and it was lovely to revisit them – and give them their moment in the spotlight.

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh

I’ve read lots of Amitav Ghosh’s books and thoroughly enjoyed most of them; however, when I started on Sea of Poppies, the first book in the Ibis Trilogy, it took me a while to get into it. It definitely paid to persevere though – this is one series that really ramps up as it goes on, and by the time you arrive at the final book, Flood of Fire, you’ll be thoroughly immersed in the world he’s spent three books creating so painstakingly.

Meridon by Philippa Gregory

As with Amitav Ghosh, I’ve read A LOT of Philippa Gregory books (only many more so as she’s so incredibly prolific!) – but as with the Ghosh trilogy, when I started with the first book in this particular series, Wideacre, I was honestly less than impressed. The second one I enjoyed even less, feeling it was a bit of a lazy rehash of the first one with a bit of gender role reversal thrown in to distract from the fact it was almost the same story. It’s a bit surprising then when I think about it that I bothered with the third and final installment at all, but Meridon outclassed its predecessors and was back to the very best of Philippa Gregory. You could probably read it without the first two and still enjoy it, so that would be my recommendation if you fancy giving it a try!

The Glass of Time by Michael Cox

Ok, so I know the Sunday Stack is meant to be a celebration of books we love, but the minute I saw the Sequels and Finales prompt, this novel popped straight into my head – for all the wrong reasons. I felt I just had to include it here because out of all the fiction books I’ve read in my lifetime, none has made me angrier than this one! It’s predecessor, The Meaning of Night, is one of The. Best. Books. Ever. Everything about it was perfect, but particularly the ending, which brought the story to a close in exactly the way you’d want given what had gone before; if ever there was a book that didn’t require a sequel, it’s that one. However, the author clearly felt differently, and in one fell swoop managed to ruin everything that had been so successful about his first one. I’m going to stop because I could rant about this for several hundred words….. but I would be very interested to know what you felt if you too have read both of them!

The Sixth Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

I finished this book during lockdown, and it was the quality culmination of a series I’ve loved from the very beginning. Lukyanenko brings a completely unique and intelligent take on the world of vampires, witches and magicians, and I am going to miss his books very much. I don’t know for certain that he’ll never resurrect the series, but judging by the way the last one finished he’d have to take his characters off in a completely different direction; one that I’m not sure I’d want to read about. If you’ve never experienced his writing, start with The Night Watch and immerse yourself in six books of amazingness.

Tombland by C J Sansom

This was another sad finale for me; much like the Lukyanenko, the loss of this series is going to leave a bit of a hole in my reading life. Shardlake is one of the most delicately crafted literary characters you’ll ever meet, and I feel as if, over the course of seven novels, I’ve genuinely come to know him. There are many other historical crime writers of course, and lots of them have produced books I’ve enjoyed and characters I have a fondness for – but somehow C J Sansom always pips them at the post.

So that’s my stack for this Sunday! If you want to join in, you can also use the #SundayStack hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. I look forward to seeing your book stacks!

Related posts:

Why I love Sergei Lukyanenko Why I love C J Sansom

My week in books – wrapped up

It’s been another busy week in the book room – and certainly one of the most varied I’ve had for a while in terms of both buying and reading.

*Books purchased*

If I ever had any self-restraint when it comes to the acquiring of new books it went completely out of the window this week!

  • This is Happiness by Niall Williams – I’m not going to lie: I probably would not have picked this up if it hadn’t had a hare on the cover! Proof that book design works….anyway, I’m only a few pages in but the lilt and lyricism has already struck me big time. Think this could be another top read.
  • Paths to the Past by Francis Pryor – the first of a couple of non-fiction purchases this week, this lovely little book follows the author as he narrates his experiences of Britain’s historical landscapes, from the stone circles of Avebury to the structural legacies of our Victorian industrial past. Each chapter is only a few pages, but what’s so engaging is the sense of connection Pryor feels with those who’ve trodden in his footsteps hundreds or even thousands of years before.
  • Everything in its Place by Oliver Sacks – when you read an Oliver Sacks book, the essence of the man comes shining through every time. I was genuinely saddened when I heard of his death, so I know I’m going to savour every word of this last book.

*Books finished*

Only one book finished this week but OH. MY. WORD. I almost never read YA books but I bought this after a passionate recommendation and to say I was blown away doesn’t even come close to describing the effect it had on me. The book in question? Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – there will be a review up at some point in the next few days (when I’m sufficiently recovered) but do seek it out between now and then if you get the chance.

*Reviews posted*

I’m a bit behind with my reviews at the moment, but I’ve managed to get a couple up onto the blog since my last weekly wrap-up post. Both are supremely great books, so if you missed them, check out my thoughts here:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

*Best bookish hashtag*

To round off, I wanted to share a really fun hashtag I discovered on the lovely Pocket Full of Books blog. The #spinemyname stack challenge is exactly what it says on the tin: the object of the challenge is to create a pile of books the initial letters of which spell out your own name. I’m going to have a lot of fun choosing my books for this challenge next week (although an initial reconnaissance tour of my bookshelves revealed I own only 1 beginning with J!) If you’ve done this already, do leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to see your stacks!

That’s all for this week – thanks for reading and I’ll be back with more reviews and bookish musings very soon.