January wrap-up 2021!

I don’t know about everyone else, but this January has felt sooooooo loooooong. It’s not been a bad start to the year for reading though, with a couple of real gems popping up already. I’m just sorry I haven’t got round to reviewing them all, but in lieu of that, here’s a run down of January’s book discoveries – I’d love to know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of these too!

  • The Hand of Justice by Susanna Gregory – I come back to this series periodically after first getting into it in 2018, and this is number ten. If you’re a fan of historical crime that’s not too dark or heavy-going I’d highly recommend them; the first is A Plague on Both Your Houses. Perfect escapism from the trials and tribulations of the modern world!
  • Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers – Do you ever come across a book that you love and want to produce a glowing review for…… and then find that somehow you just can’t write about it?! Unfortunately this was one such book, but I want to put a word in for it here because it was excellent, and if you’re interested in retellings of ancient myths then it will fascinate you. It’s the story of Oedipus as told to a dying Sigmund Freud by a mysterious figure who visits him in his final weeks – a figure who it transpires was a participant in the story itself! I thought Salley Vickers’ novel was an exceptionally clever twist on the idea of how we retell old tales, and it’s definitely worth a look.
  • Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession – I wrote a review of this only a few days ago (which you can check out here) so I won’t say too much more other than, put it on your tbr pile now!
  • The Foundling by Stacey Halls – I’m aware that I’m very late to the party as regards Stacey Halls, and having LOVED this book I’m sorry I didn’t read her sooner. It was one of those novels that kept you up until the small hours, desperate to find out what was going to happen; her previous book, The Familiars, has just arrived in a parcel this morning, and I’m currently debating whether to leap into it straight away or save it for a time when I need a guaranteed page-turner.
  • The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley – and this was a guaranteed page-turner that I’d been saving! I thought The Guest List by the same author was enormous fun (read my review here); to be perfectly honest, this was pretty much an identikit format with an incredibly similar cast of characters, but actually, I found I didn’t care as what was also identical was the level of enjoyment I got out of it!
  • Little by Edward Carey – Before I started on this wrap-up post I was debating whether to pick a January Book of the Month and decided I couldn’t because the choice was too hard. If I had to though, this would be a definite contender. My full review is here, but in summary it was a thoroughly original, striking, macabre and imaginative piece of historical fiction: highly recommended.
  • Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer – This was the final installment of the Southern Reach trilogy, which I started reading not long before Christmas, and I can honestly say I can’t remember a series that disturbed me as much as these. It’s not outright horror by any means, yet the ideas at play here are so terrifying when you really start thinking about them, that it’s difficult to get them out of your head. I am SO lucky to have just received a proof of his latest novel, Hummingbird Salamander (out this Spring), and it’s next on my list to read.

As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read any of these, as well as any must-reads I need to add to February’s list! Until next time, happy reading x

My week in books – wrapped up!

It’s Sunday night so that means it’s weekly wrap-up time! I’ve been in a bit of a weird reading limbo over the last couple of days, principally because I know I have some AMAZING proof copies and online orders on their way and I’m reluctant to start anything too involved or lengthy as I want to get onto them as soon as they hit the doorstep. More about those later in the wrap-up, but first a run down of the books I’ve finished this week:

*Books finished*

  • Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession – this is one of those books for which I have to thank the book twitter universe; if it hadn’t been for the reviews and general enthusiasm that I kept coming across on there it would have passed me by completely. It definitely wasn’t without its flaws but nonetheless there was a real charm and warmth about it, and most important of all a willingness to grant its central roles to the kind of characters that wouldn’t normally get much of a look in. Review to follow this week!
  • Little by Edward Carey – if you’re a regular visitor to This Girl’s Book Room you’ll know how much I love a novel based on real life figures from history (if you’re interested, you can read about some of my all time faves here). This one is haunting, macabre and features one of the best female leads I’ve come across for some time: she is Marie Grosholtz, the woman who later became known to the world as Madame Tussaud. It comes highly recommended by yours truly, and you can read my full review here.
  • The Foundling by Stacey Halls – I was reading this thinking, how on earth has this fabulous author gone undiscovered by me for such a long time??? It’s a gripping story of a mother’s attempts to find the child she gave away only hours after it was born and it’s WONDERFUL – I was up reading well into the night, totally unable to put it down until the small hours, desperate to find out how the story was going to unfold.

*Books purchased*

Luckily I still have some Christmas gift vouchers to burn (although they’re diminishing fast!) so another hefty book parcel was definitely on the cards. I’m currently waiting for all these beauties to pop through the letterbox – I’d love to know if you’ve read any of these already and what you thought.

  • Unfollow by Megan Phelps Roper – I don’t read a whole lot of biographies but I do find the world of these kind of closed religious communities (and the damage they can do) absolutely fascinating so looking forward to this.
  • The Familiars by Stacey Halls – because after loving The Foundling so much I just had to get her back catalogue ordered asap!
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami – I’ve seen quite a few bloggers and bookstagrammers taking part in the January in Japan hashtag, and while I don’t quite have the time to commit to that on top of all my other reading, I’ve picked up on some intriguing-sounding titles from their reviews, and this one in particular caught my eye.
  • We are all Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan – I tend to save my hardback purchases for books that look REALLY amazing, and this certainly does! Again, I’ve seen lots of bookish peeps talking about it so very excited to get going.

*Currently reading*

Lastly, onto my current reads; as I mentioned earlier I’m kind of treading water until my proofs and new book purchases arrive, so in the meantime I’ve gone for a thriller that I know I can race through and simply have fun reading. I read The Guest List by Lucy Foley last year and loved its page-turning pace and multiple-character narrative, so I’ve gone for The Hunting Party, which to be honest is more of exactly the same but I’m more than happy with that!

That concludes the wrap-up for this week! Next week will be the last one of January already (which I can’t quite believe) but until then, happy reading.

Reading in tough times: the books that got me through 2020

It’s been a recurring theme on my blog over the last 9 months: how reading has been a genuine lifeline for getting through sad, worrying and uncertain times. When things are at their worst, sometimes it’s a question of simply getting through a day, an afternoon, an hour – never mind coping for the long haul. We all know 2021 hasn’t got off to the most joyful of starts, so I thought I’d bring a little ray of reading sunshine with a rundown of some of the books that got me through 2020. To be fair, there wasn’t a single book I read that didn’t contribute to my sense of wellbeing, but I’ve gone through my reading log and picked out some titles that have, in my eyes, a particular uplifting quality to them. If you’re after something to raise your spirits on a cold, dark winter’s day then maybe you’d like to try one of these!

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare

It might seem a bit of a strange inclusion this one as it’s not an easy read by any means, addressing as it does themes of forced marriage, domestic abuse, violence and oppression. However, while reading it I was taken aback at what could, bizarrely, be described as the almost fairytale-like quality of the story; Adunni, the girl of the title, fights to overcome the most horrendous of circumstances with a fortitude that is both inspiring and almost unimaginable given the extreme nature of the obstacles she faces. If you want a tale of triumph over adversity this will not disappoint.

This is Happiness by Niall Williams

Like the previous choice, there is certainly an element of sadness to this novel, albeit of a more gentle variety; lost love, uncertainty around your place in the world and deep regret for the things we leave undone and unsaid as the years catch up with us. Yet the overwhelming sensation here is one of calmness and a quiet optimism that things will turn out as they’re meant to. It almost feels like a novel-length meditation, with prose so beautiful it catches your breath, and you’ll close the last page with a feeling of having been very deeply moved.

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

I started this back in February last year and finally finished it around Christmas, which has got to be some sort of record! My excuse (and I’m sticking to it!) is that it’s the kind of book that lends itself to being read in small chunks due to its episodic format, and I actually really enjoyed reading it in that way, coming back to it a couple of chapters at a time when I was in need of a burst of humour without needing to get embroiled in a must-read-on-and-see-what-happens kind of linear storyline. Despite its age, the comedy is as fresh as ever and it’s simply a huge amount of fun.

Murder at the Grand Raj Palace by Vaseem Khan

I absolutely adore this series of detective novels (if you’ve never tried them, you can read my review of the first in the series here). The Indian setting is alive with sound, smell and colour, and transports you to a world very far away from this one, which is what we all need sometimes. But the ace in the pack is without doubt the addition of Detective Chopra’s unorthodox sidekick, domesticated baby elephant Ganesha – and if you can read a novel featuring a baby elephant without feeling completely cheered then I don’t know what else to suggest!

A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles by Ned Palmer

I going with a non-fiction title to finish off my list of uplifting books, and it’s the kind of history book I love: quirky social history written by an author who clearly has a life-affirming passion for his unusual subject. I do happen to be an enormous fan of cheese in all its forms, but if you’re thinking this is too niche for you and only of interest to the extreme cheese-nerds out there then think again. The beauty of the book is that it encompasses yes, the history of cheesemaking of course, but also works as a more general social history, autobiography and travelogue. It was Ned Palmer’s infectious enthusiasm however that really earned the book its place on my list; you feel like you’re being gently ushered into a fan club you didn’t know you wanted to join.

I really hope you enjoyed my list of reading for tough times, and of course if you have any of your own suggestions I’d love to hear them! Thanks for reading x

The Outstanding Blogger Award #2

First off, a huge thank you to Isha from the lovely Paperback Tomes for nominating me for this award. Do take a minute to go and check out her blog; she writes really thoughtful, detailed reviews and her page is well worth a visit. It’s ages since I’ve taken part in a blogger award, but before I get down to answering Isha’s questions here are the rules for this particular one.

  • Answer the questions provided
  • Create 7 unique questions of your own
  • Nominate 10 bloggers to take part
  • Include the link to the creator’s original post – now I should say here, that according to the initial rules when this award was set up, everyone who pinged back to the original blog by the end of 2020 would be eligible for an overall award. Clearly I’m too late to be part of this aspect of the blogger award tag, so I’m doing this just for fun!

The main reason I love taking part in these awards and similar book tags is that I really enjoy getting to know other bloggers by reading the answers to their questions; so let’s get down to Isha’s 7 questions for me….

What are your thoughts so far on blogging?

It’s difficult to give a definite answer to this one actually, as I swing between days that are more positive and days when I get a bit grumpy about the blog! I really love writing and chatting about books and having a book blog is the perfect outlet for that. However, it’s hard not to get disheartened when you put a lot of effort into creating something and the number of views just don’t seem enough to make your work worthwhile. I’m not rigid in any way when it comes to writing as I’d rather keep it as something I do when I feel like it, rather than being tied to a blogging schedule.

List 3 of your favourite fantasy books

I’m not a big fantasy reader at all, so I’m going to have to broaden the category a little to include books that fall somewhere a bit more generally on the magical spectrum! My top one without a doubt would be The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko – the whole series is excellent but this first installment blew my mind. Close second is a book that’s probably more sci-fi than fantasy strictly speaking: Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Again, this is part of a series that taken as a whole is immensely powerful, but you could treat the first book as a standalone if you wanted to dip your toe in the water. Lastly, I have to give a shout out to A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, a book I loved because the world it depicts is close enough to our own for it to seem completely real and relatable – except there are dragons!

One bookish hobby you want to cultivate

A few years ago I had a go at making 3D creations out of book pages (there’s a really good book called Playing with Books that has loads of inspiring craft ideas) so I’d love to have a proper go at this at some point.

What is your favourite go-to TV show/series?

Being someone of very limited concentration span or patience, I’ve never been one for immersing myself in those epic TV shows that run for season after season with 24 episodes in each series! The best I’ve managed on this front is The West Wing, which I loved to start with but then ground to a halt mid-way through season 5. I prefer comedy series where you can dip in and out and watch a half hour episode here and there as you feel like it; I can’t say I have one all-time favourite but some of the ones I go back to again and again are Father Ted, The IT Crowd, Friends and Flight of the Conchords.

There must be at least one book that shattered your world. Which book would this be?

After some consideration I think I’d have to say A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell. It definitely won’t be for everyone due to the fact it has suicide as its main driving theme; however, the skill of the author to create something so bleak, devastating and yet shot through with black humour that makes you laugh out loud even in the midst of tragedy blew me away. And it did also break my heart into little pieces.

What is your favourite trope in books?

I don’t think I really have a favourite – the only ones that spring to mind are the ones that absolutely drive me mad! My least favourite: romantic novels in which the two leading characters “fall in love” after a ridiculously short time or after a cringeworthy contrived meeting that makes them inexplicably obsessed with each other.

Name one self-care tip that you follow every day.

Eat what you like and don’t stress too much about it. If you want another biscuit, for goodness sake have another biscuit!

Now for my seven questions…..

  • If you had to live out the rest of your life in a book or fictional world, which one would it be?
  • What was the last book that took you by surprise?
  • Have you ever come across a movie that was better than the book and if so, which one?
  • Reading is, of course, your favourite pastime – but what’s your second favourite?
  • What are your top tips for getting out of a reading slump?
  • Do you keep a record of the books you’ve read and if so, where and how?
  • Which book due to be published in 2021 are you most excited about?

I always find it really difficult to choose who to tag for these blogger awards, so I’m going to make the decision to keep it open. I want anyone who would like to join in to be able to do so, so if you’d like to answer my questions and then create some of your own, please jump in!

My week in books – wrapped up!

Like most of us I’m spending a lot of time looking at the same four walls at the moment; a grim sense of groundhog day on one hand, but on the other hand immensely grateful that I’m in the enormously lucky position of getting to stay safe at home, and also incredibly thankful for the books that surround me and that are going some way to keeping me sane. I don’t do reading or blogging resolutions for the new year, other than read what I want, when I want and write about it when the mood takes me. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t even a little bit pleased with the bookish start I’ve made to 2021 so far!

*Books finished*

  • Where Three Roads Meet by Salley Vickers – a book I picked up in a charity shop ages ago, this is one of the Canongate myths series, and is a highly imaginative take on the Oedipus story. A dying Freud receives a mysterious, otherworldly visitor, who it transpires played a key role in Oedipus’s sorry tale, and who shines a new light on the psychology of a story that we – and Freud – thought we knew so well. There have been loads of ancient myth retellings recently, and if you’re a fan of the genre this gives it a fascinating spin.
  • The Hand of Justice by Susanna Gregory – when things are getting me down I always reach for a Susanna Gregory book; easy, escapist reading that takes you to a safe place many centuries ago and a world away from everything that’s going on right now.
  • Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer – this is the conclusion to the Southern Reach trilogy, which I started just before Christmas, and I can honestly say I haven’t been this haunted by a story for a very long time. There was something about the psychological ideas at play here that really got under my skin and disturbed me; notions about what it means to lose your identity, to face a long and drawn out contemplation of your own death….. it’s chilling stuff. But SOOO amazing to read, and I highly recommend.

*Books purchased*

It wouldn’t be lockdown without a Waterstones parcel arriving on the doorstep, and these are the first arrivals of 2021:

I’m really looking forward to all of these, particularly The Foundling as I’ve been meaning to try a Stacey Halls novel for ever. Leonard and Hungry Paul seems to be the book of 2020 that I somehow completely missed, and from what I hear it’s a really uplifting read, which is just what’s needed right now. But first, I need to finish my current pile:

*Currently reading*

  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau – this was one I read at uni but raced through before I’d really had a chance to appreciate it, so I’m revisiting it now when I can really take my time with it.
  • Little by Edward Carey – a friend recommended this novel to me a while back but it’s only just made its way on to my currently reading pile, and I’m sorry I waited so long because I’m absolutely loving it!

Having been away from the blog for a little while, I haven’t quite got back into the swing of writing regular reviews yet, but I hope to have some up here for you before too long. In the meantime, happy new year and happy reading!

Six Degrees of Separation – January’s journey in 6 books

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books are my Favourite and Best. Every month she chooses a different book as a starting point, and from then on it’s up to everyone to create their own chain of 6 books that follow on from it. The last book doesn’t have to be connected to the first in any way; all that matters is that each book links somehow to the one before. Hop over to the 6 Degrees page to learn more or see previous connections, or follow the hashtag #6Degrees on Twitter – I’m a bit tardy taking part this month but it’s not too late if you want to join in!

The jumping-off point for January is a book I haven’t read yet, but is high on the list for 2021: Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet. So where to go next…..?

The Tutor by Andrea Chapin

Hamnet is a re-imagining of an episode in the life of Shakespeare and his family, so I’m taking the 6 degrees chain straight on to another book featuring a fictional version of The Bard. I’m a sucker for novels featuring real figures from history, and this one in particular is a lot of fun.

The Truants by Kate Weinberg

This gripping novel, like the previous one, explores the relationship between student and teacher – the mood, however, is very different! I started off thinking it was going to be just another campus drama, but in fact the author ended up taking it somewhere quite unexpected. It was one of several debut novels I read in 2020, so this seems like a good opportunity to mention another favourite first novel from last year:

The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley

This dreamlike and – I’m going to say it – slightly weird novel lodged itself in my head long after reading, and I was completely taken by surprise in terms of how much it moved me. It’s a seemingly fragmented tour of Tokyo that starts to link together in more and more intricate ways as the book progresses: all overseen by the enigmatic cat of the title as it stalks the streets. Which leads me to another book featuring a fantastic feline (or two)…..

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T S Eliot

This is actually the first poetry book I remember coming across as a child, although I’m pretty sure I didn’t appreciate it to its full extent, Michael Rosen’s comic verse being much more to my taste! In fact, my abiding memory is of thinking it was pretty odd and not entirely fathomable. What I did appreciate, however, were the much more accessible versions of the stage musical – which leads me to the inevitable, and very non-literary (sorry, but I am going to do it!) connection:

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

From singing cats to singing revolutionaries, this is – as you will well know – another book made famous to millions by the all singing all dancing musical version. Apparently it’s also much more entertaining than the book, which I’m told is a bit of a slog. It does, however, lead me nicely to my last book in the 6 degrees chain:

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

As I was writing this I inevitably got sidetracked by Google and starting reading about the genesis of Hugo’s masterpiece. Apparently – pub quiz fact for you – it’s the longest novel ever written in terms of word count (in the original French), so in celebration I decided to finish today’s literary linkage by scouring my shelves for the longest novel I own. Hands down winner is Vikram Seth’s doorstop, a mighty book that reads so much more easily than its intimidating page count would suggest.

If you’ve taken part in 6 Degrees this month do let me know below: I’d love to see your connections!

My top 10 reads of 2020

Hello book friends! It’s been SO long since I’ve written anything for the blog, but seeing everyone’s best books of 2020 posts inspired me to come back on here and share my faves from this year with you all. Honestly, it’s been one of the absolute best years for reading I’ve had in a long time, so whittling my favourites down to just ten was hard, but the ten that have made it are all truly amazing reads. Being a wait-for-the-paperback sort of reader for the most part, many of these weren’t published in the last year, so think of this as the books I’ve enjoyed most this year rather than an award ceremony for the 2020 publishing schedule!

Anyway, down to business – drumroll please, for my top ten books of 2020!

As I said, it was a head-achingly difficult decision, but here’s a rundown of my top ten and why I choose them.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

When I saw the live announcement of this novel’s Booker Prize win I actually teared up, partly because I’d been so moved by it and partly because I knew a win would bring it to the attention of thousands more readers, who I hoped would fall in love with it as I did. A book with this subject matter should be a bleak, painful read – and it was, but the genius lies in the fact that this almost unimaginable tragedy is tempered by a sense of hope in the form of unconditional love between parent and child, taking it to a place where it’s not merely readable, but somehow inspiring.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

This novel had some of the best characters I’ve come across all year: complex, authentic and as alive as if they were standing in front of you, an achievement echoed by the vividness of the backdrop, again so expertly created you can almost feel, see and smell it. And on top of this, it’s a cracking page-turner and one of the most engaging stories of 2020. It lifts the lid on some uncomfortable issues around racial discrimination and abuse – some sections left me both shocked and immensely saddened – and does so in a very clever way.

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

From two books published in 2020 to a classic from last century now. I’m including it in my top ten because it’s one of those novels that, when you’ve finished it, you feel as if you’ve spent a lifetime with the characters and they’re almost part of your own family. It was a fascinating window onto the world of Japanese marriage culture in the first part of the twentieth century, and also an affectionately written family saga pervaded by a subtle sense of sadness at the disappointment of lives that have not played out in the way people would have hoped.

This is Happiness by by Niall Williams

If I was going to award a prize for beauty of writing alone, then this novel would win hands down: the prose is, quite simply, exquisite, and I think unsurpassed by any other book I’ve come across this year. It’s matched by the quiet charm of the story itself, a coming of age tale mirrored by the coming of electricity to a rural Irish community, a progressive step that brings about change for the inhabitants in ways they could never have predicted.

Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk

This novel brought something really different to the table and I loved it. It was macabre, anarchic and completely ruthless in its attack on the corrupt, patriarchal society against which the heroine Janina wages subtle war. I haven’t come across many books with such a well-realised older female protagonist, and it was really refreshing to have a main character who stood out from the pack with such impact. If there was any character I was cheering for in 2020, it was this smart, compassionate and unbreakable woman.

Chernobyl by Serhii Plokhy

Chernobyl is the only non-fiction book to make my top ten, which surprised me a bit as I’ve read more non-fiction than usual this year, but then again it’s a tough shortlist to crack! It’s not an easy read, partly because of the very obviously harrowing nature of the subject matter and also because the machinations of various government agencies are so complex it can be tricky to keep track of who’s who – but I promise you it’s worth it. We all know the very basic history of the tragedy, but I wasn’t prepared for the extent to which the authorities were prepared to sacrifice the lives of civilians in order to maintain the illusion of a flawless, blameless Soviet state. It also raises the question for me of whether we really have moved past such times to an era where this level of state corruption could never happen again. Terrifying and extremely sad, but a must-read.

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I gobbled up this novel like the Christmas turkey. The fact that it’s presented almost entirely as a series of interviews with the story’s key players gives it a magazine-like feel, and keeps it rattling along at an unrelenting pace. Given that the novel revolves around the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll excesses of a 70s band I thought it was going to be quite a flimsy, if enjoyable read, but it turned out to have emotional depths that I really didn’t see coming. One I’ve been recommending to lots of people this year for sure.

Pine by Francine Toon

This is the first of three books on the list that share a common theme: they all freaked me out in different ways! From the cover I assumed this was a thriller, albeit one with a gothic tinge, but in fact it’s more of a troubling character study melded with a supernatural tale. The mix of the very real story of alcoholism, grief and a father’s relationship with his daughter, and the ghostly goings on in the very creepy setting of the Scottish Highland forests was a really interesting combination, and unlike any other book I’ve read in the way it juggled both sides of the story. I have to say, for every person who enjoyed it I’ve met another one who really didn’t so it’s a bit of a Marmite one I think; it’s not flawless to be sure, but there’s just something about it that made me feel I wanted it in my top ten.

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley

If Pine was creepy, this scared the pants off me to the point where I had to keep it at work because seeing it on my coffee table unnerved me so much! Granted, I am definitely at the fragile end of the spectrum when it comes to being scared by books, but I’m reassured by talking to others who were just as freaked out by it as I was! Someone I know said it had an M R James feel about it, and I think he’s right; it’s a full-on tale of the paranormal but grounded in some very eerie local folklore that gives it a hint of an old-fashioned feel. The mood-building is superb, right up until the shocking climax….. and you’ll never look at a hare the same way again.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

This is my most recent read on the list, so recent in fact I only finished it a couple of weeks ago; just in time for it to sneak into my top ten! A bit like Pine, it’s here because of the way it not only got under my skin at the time of reading, but haunted my mind afterwards, almost disturbing me more the longer I thought about it. Any author who can burrow into your psyche in this way is undoubtedly incredibly skilled, and hats off to Mr. Vandermeer for managing to pack such an immense amount of atmosphere, fear, tension and dread into what is a relatively short novel. I read part two, Authority, right off the back of Annihilation, and am about to start part three, fervently hoping the trilogy’s conclusion lives up to the skillful mind games of part one.

So there’s my top ten reads of the year! Only one question remains: is there an overall winner claiming the top spot of Best Book of 2020? Well, yes, there is. As soon as I decided to compile my top ten (and even before actually) I knew there was one book that’s stood out among all the others in the past year; and that book is Shuggie Bain.

My Book of the Year 2020

I suspect it will be a long time before I read anything that touches me as deeply as this novel did, or anything that explores a tragic subject in such an unequivocally beautiful way. If you haven’t discovered it yet, why not make it your first read of 2021?!

If you’ve read any of the books on my list I’d love to hear your thoughts, both good and bad, so please do comment below and join the bookish chat 🙂

Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year to you all!

My week in books – wrapped up

Welcome to this Friday night’s foray into the books that have been in my life this week!

*Books finished*

The Guest List by Lucy Foley – I’m a bit late to the party with this one, but in this case the adage of better late than never definitely applies. If you want an easy to read, just-one-more-chapter page turning thriller then this is perfect. The personalities on show are hideous, the grudges, secrets and backstories grubby and twisted as you like, but this is still an immense amount of fun.

*Books purchased*

I’m being very restrained at the moment as I know I’ll be getting book vouchers for my birthday and Christmas (the requests are already in so no risk of being disappointed!) My aim therefore is to hold off buying any books for the whole of November; I’ll keep you updated as to how that goes…..

*Currently reading*

Lots!!

  • The Betrayals by Bridget Collins – feeling a bit ho-hum about this one at the moment, and I’m SO sad about that as I loved The Binding so much. It’s one of those books that when I’m reading it I enjoy, yet somehow don’t feel a pressing need to go back to when I’m away from it. As a result it’s been on the “in progress” pile for a few weeks now, but I remain hopeful it will pick up.
  • A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles by Ned Palmer – yes, I know this doesn’t sound like the most riveting of reads but you’d be surprised how a few fascinating facts about Neolithic cheese production can brighten an evening. Seriously, it’s light-hearted, informative, celebratory and just the sort of thing that suits my mood right now.
  • Light by Eva Figes – I never would have even heard of this if it hadn’t been for the recommendation of a fellow bookseller. It’s a brief but beautiful novella following an imaginary day in the life of Claude Monet, and it reads like a painting, full of light and colour.
  • The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – I read the original novel many, many years ago, but this is a wonderful new version, transformed into a graphic novel by sisters Scarlett and Sophie Rickard.

The book’s political message made an enormous impression on me, and if anything this revisit is even more effective; the novel, I’ll be honest, is a bit overlong and repetitive, but its power is condensed here, and the illustration style is a perfect match for the mood of the story. If you can’t face Robert Tressell’s tome, then I would urge you to try this.

*Reviews posted*

The gloriously spooky thriller Pine is the subject of my latest review, which you can read here – just in time for Hallowe’en! Half ghost story, half missing person crime thriller, it’s got atmosphere in spades.

That’s it for another busy week, but I hope to have more reviews for you soon x

The Sunshine Blogger Award

It’s always lovely to be nominated for a blogger award! Huge thanks to the wonderful Bethany who blogs over at Portable Magic – I really enjoyed answering her questions and I hope you enjoy getting to know me a bit better!

How does it work?

· Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you in a blog post and link back to their blog.

· Answer the 11 questions prompted by the person who nominated you.

· Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.

· List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

1 – What is your favourite book from your childhood?

The first question and already it’s a hard one to answer!! There are a few that stand out in my mind for different reasons, but I think I’d have to go with Woof! by Allan Ahlberg. If you don’t know it, it’s about a boy who spontaneously turns into a dog at the most unfortunate moments and I read it to death – I still have my battered copy, which is just about holding up!

2. Paperback, hardback or e-book?

I do like a hardback every now and then, but 99% of the time I’ll go for the paperback. I’m fully aware that there will be outrage at my next comment, but I really like the creases in the spine that make the book look loved by the time I’ve finished!

3. Favourite publisher?

I think I’d have to go with Persephone; I love the stylish, minimalist cover design but more than that, I’m a massive fan of their mission to bring forgotten female voices to a modern readership.

4. In your opinion, what makes a good book review?

When I’m writing reviews, I tend to stick to books I’ve felt reasonably positive about – my blog is primarily about recommending and encouraging (hopefully) other people to try the books I’ve loved. Having said that, I do actually find negative reviews just as interesting to read – it’s just not something I find easy to write myself.

5. List your 3 favourite books. Now choose which you would burn if it was the only source of fuel on a desert island.

Now if I was feeling devious, I’d list two of my favourite books and then list a third that I haven’t enjoyed as my one to burn!! However, I’m going to play by the rules so here goes. It’s incredibly hard to pick just three all-time favourites but after much consideration they would be: The Secret History by Donna Tartt, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. As for which one I’d burn for fuel, it has to be A Suitable Boy – at 1474 pages it would keep the fire going for at least 4 times as long as the other 2!!

6. When writing, do you think good writing is inherent within a person, or do you think it is something which can be practiced and improved?

I think writing can definitely be improved! I’m still in awe of some other bloggers whose writing talent beats mine hands down, and I’m pretty sure that’s something you’re born with to some extent, but I like to think it’s possible to get better for sure.

7. What is your go-to comfort read?

I almost never read a book twice, even ones I’ve really loved, so for this answer I’m going to have to go with a comfort series rather than a single book. Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew historical crime mysteries are my perfect comfort read – escapist, easy to read and with characters that you get to know so well over the course of what amounts to over 20 books so far that they feel almost like your friends.

8. Which book cover would you re-design if you were given the chance, and what would it look like?

This is a really interesting question! I started thinking about books whose cover had put me off picking them up but which had turned out to be brilliant on the inside, and I’ve decided to go for Austerlitz by W G Sebald. I bought it (slightly grudgingly I fully admit) on a recommendation while not letting on that I’d avoided it for years because the cover looked so awful! It turned out to be one of the most powerful books I’ve read in recent years, so what kind of cover would reflect that? The things is, once you’ve read it the poignancy behind the cover photo makes perfect sense, but in order to draw uninitiated readers in, I’d go for something elegantly architectural, possibly a photograph or illustration of the railway stations that form a key element of the story.

9. Do you like to share your favourite books with the people around you or keep quiet and savour it?

No deliberation needed here: I’m a sharer without a doubt! I kind of have to be working in a bookshop, but even outside of work I’m always telling friends and family about my latest favourite reads. I DO NOT share my actual books though – ever since my beautiful (now out of print) edition of The Hobbit came back to me with half the cover ripped off (with no apology I might add) I’ve kept my precious books safely in my own bookcases….

10. Do you eat snacks whilst reading or do you have a strict no snacks policy around those precious pages?

I hadn’t ever considered this but on reflection I realised I don’t tend to mix eating and reading. Snacking for me is something that happens in front of the TV or movie and usually involves unrestrained access to a biscuit tin, but I think once I’m reading I’m usually so absorbed I can’t even think about food.

11. What book was has been your biggest disappointment in your life?

Sadly I think it has to be The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I adored her first two novels (The Secret History, as I mentioned earlier, has the honour of being classed as one of my all-time faves) and I’d waited YEARS for her third. Honestly, it wasn’t just ok, it was awful. Overlong, tedious and not a single character I cared about, it was the biggest bookish disappointment I’ve ever had. Took me a while to get over, I have to say.

Now here are my 11 questions for the people I tag…..

  1. To lend your books or not to lend – where do you stand?
  2. Which book or author ignited your love of reading?
  3. How do you organise your bookshelves?
  4. If you had to choose one book you think everyone should read, what would it be and why?
  5. Is there any genre of book that you absolutely refuse to read?
  6. Which book has turned out to be the biggest surprise compared to what you expected it to be?
  7. Do you think physical books will ever become obsolete in the digital era?
  8. What do you enjoy most about book blogging?
  9. What’s your favourite book cover of all time?
  10. If you were only allowed to read one more book EVER which one would it be?
  11. If you could choose one author to write a novel about your life who would you pick?

Thank you again to Bethany – I had a load of fun writing this! Pop over to my book twitter @GirlReading1 to see who I’ve tagged for the next round of Sunshine Blogger Awards xx

My week in books – wrapped up

As I’m sure all the booklovers out there would agree, with all the dreadful things happening around us at the moment the significance of our reading time has ramped up and books themselves are playing an ever more crucial role in mental well-being, escapism and reassurance. I myself have undoubtedly been doing more reading and less writing, as I’ve turned to books as a comfort blanket in what have been some testing recent times. Some of my recent reads I haven’t reviewed just yet as the mood for thinking critically about them hasn’t taken me, but (of course) that hasn’t in any way quashed my appetite/obsession for book buying, and so there are plenty more adventures in reading to share with you this week. I normally do these wrap-up posts on a Friday, but it’s been a busy old week so Sunday it is!

*Proofs acquired*

It’s a beauty this week: the paperback is due out any minute now, but I count myself extremely lucky to have got my hands on the hardback version, as it’s just so gorgeous.

It’s one of those stay up late, miss your stop on the train kind of reads, and I’m rattling through it at great speed. It’s a revealing novel, laying before us with uncomfortable clarity the horrific treatment that women and girls endure to this day in patriarchal societies; but I get the sense as well that it’s also going to be a story of empowerment and determination in the face of oppression and injustice. This is one I will definitely be reviewing when I’m done, so watch this space.

*Currently reading*

As well as The Girl With the Louding Voice I have some others on the go:

  • The Betrayals by Bridget Collins – you may remember I mentioned this in a wrap-up post a few weeks ago, but I decided to save it, hence the delay in its reappearance on the blog. So far so good; it was always going to have to go some to live up to The Binding, which I absolutely adored, but it’s off to an enjoyable start.
  • Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi – honestly I’m on the fence with this one at the moment! I’m intrigued by the idea of separate murder mystery stories linking together to provide clues to a bigger mystery (at least I think that’s what’s happening!!) but I’m finding the writing a little bit clunky and grating in places. It’s not one I’m rushing to come back to after I’ve put it down, but I’ll certainly read to the end and let you know if my opinion changes!

*Books completed*

The last book I finished was a technically last week, but hey, I might as well mention it again: Vivian by Christina Hesselholdt, a fictionalised account of the life of photographer Vivian Maier. It had a few little niggles but by and large I really enjoyed it, and you can read my review here.

That’s all for this week. I wish you a happy, healthy and safe week of books and reading to come x