Welcome to this Friday night’s foray into the books that have been in my life this week!
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.
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…..
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.
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
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…..
To lend your books or not to lend – where do you stand?
Which book or author ignited your love of reading?
How do you organise your bookshelves?
If you had to choose one book you think everyone should read, what would it be and why?
Is there any genre of book that you absolutely refuse to read?
Which book has turned out to be the biggest surprise compared to what you expected it to be?
Do you think physical books will ever become obsolete in the digital era?
What do you enjoy most about book blogging?
What’s your favourite book cover of all time?
If you were only allowed to read one more book EVER which one would it be?
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
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 AKiller 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
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….
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’sTale 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.
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.
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
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….?
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 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!
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 ofNight, 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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Six Degrees of Separation is possibly my favourite book tag, and is hosted by Kate over at Books are my Favourite and Best. Each month, she chooses a different book as a starting point, then it’s up to each participant to create a chain of 6 more books, each one linked to the one before. The connections can be thematic, personal, or even visual – the beauty is that everyone’s six degrees will be wildly different! If you want to join in (and it’s a lot of fun) check out the 6 Degrees page on the host blog for inspiration, or follow the #6Degrees hashtag on Twitter.
The jumping off point for July is What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt. It’s a book I haven’t read (although it’s one of those I really feel I should have done) but no matter: I know exactly where I’m going with my first connection!
4321 by Paul Auster
My first book is written by Siri Hustvedt’s husband, Paul Auster, whose earlier books I count among some of my favourite novels. This one, however, I just could not finish: I found it too repetitive and even though his writing style had lost none of its flair and fluidity, that sadly wasn’t enough to hold my attention. It’s always an immense disappointment to feel let down by a novel for which you had high expectations, and it’s that sense of deflation that links me to my next choice,
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers is one of my most beloved books of all time but this one? My word, it was slow going. Like 4321 I had to admit defeat before the end; I suspect part of the problem was that I came to the book after the film (the version with Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce) which is a firm favourite and one I never get tired of. It’s very rare for me – or any bookworm I reckon – to prefer the movie over the book, but there’s one other novel that jumps straight into to my head as being the perfect example of this:
The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien
Yes, I know it’s a classic and an unsurpassed example of fantasy world-building blah blah blah but my over-riding impression of it? A lot of walking interspersed with tedious elvish council meetings and digressions into the history of Middle Earth that feel, well, pretty self-indulgent. Sorry. Give me the movie trilogy any day of the week. I even own all the extended editions on DVD but in book form, not for me I’m afraid (although in case you’re sensing a theme emerging, I did actually finish it!) But I’m going to move away from the personal now and give you a bit of a different connection to my next book, this time via the author. Tolkien served in the trenches during World War I, and the creator of this next story went through the same experience.
Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne
Milne, like Tolkien, was at the Somme during WWI, but survived to write one of the most wondrous works of children’s literature ever created. One of my most enduring childhood memories is listening to the audiobook night after night – I can still hear Alan Bennett’s voice in my head when I read it today. When I was still quite young, my family and I went to the Ashdown Forest, which of course provided the inspiration for the book’s setting and many of its famous episodes – Pooh-sticks on the bridge being a particular highlight. It’s this connection between a real-life setting and my own personal experience that leads me to the penultimate book:
The Widow’s Confession by Sophia Tobin
Much of this novel is set in Broadstairs on the Kent coast, not a million miles away from where I live. And this is where being a bookseller certainly has its perks: I was lucky enough to attend the novel’s launch party, which took place in the hotel that forms the backdrop to some of the novel’s key events. This hotel, The Royal Albion, was built in the late 18th century, and boasts none other than Charles Dickens among its clientele. Dickens had connections to numerous part of my home county of Kent, so it seems fitting to end with a book of his that draws on the surroundings of his childhood home.
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
One of the funniest episodes of this joyful novel is the excursion taken by Mr. Pickwick and his friends around Rochester, Chatham and the Medway area of Kent. There’s something about the way the hapless companions fall into scrape after scrape and yet somehow always manage to emerge with their joie de vivre unscathed that leaves you with an enormous smile and feeling a little bit better about the world.
So that’s my six degrees for July – if you’ve joined in this month, please do comment and let me know; I’d love to see where your literary journey takes you.