My week in books – wrapped up

It’s been a busy week in books this week. Here’s a round up of what’s been happening in the book room….

*Books finished*

My habit of having multiple books on the go at once means it takes me longer than most people to finish them; however, it also means the completions tend to come in spurts!

  • The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry – a timely look at toxic masculinity and the damage it’s doing to people of all genders, written by, in my humble opinion, one of the most awesome people alive on the planet today.
  • The Truants by Kate Weinberg – a book that turned out to be a pleasant surprise, setting off on what I thought was going to be a predictable path but then turning into something else entirely. In case you missed it, my review went up last night!
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – I’m working up to writing my review for this one; it was such an outstanding book I’m struggling to get myself into the headspace to do it justice!

*Book journaling*

I’ve kept a log of all the books I’ve read for the last couple of years but, after becoming slightly worried about the integrity of the notebook used for this purpose (the glue has already been out once) I’ve decided it’s time for something more robust. So I bought this GORGEOUS notebook by Esmie and am a little bit in love with it. I’m currently deliberating over whether I transfer everything that was in the old book log to the new one so it’s “complete”; the perfectionist in me feels I probably should…..

*Books purchased*

Just the one this week but something a bit different from my usual fare. During the pandemic I’ve become more and more fascinated by all the statistics presented to us and the questions around their usefulness, their accuracy and the alarming ways that different organisations or groups of people can come up with wildly varying conclusions while supposedly using the same data. This book by David Levitin caught my eye and I hope it’s as illuminating as the synopsis suggests.

*Currently Reading*

Lastly, here are the books I’ve got my nose buried in this week:

  • The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley – I’ve had this on the go for a few weeks now, not because I’m not enjoying it but because its episodic nature lends itself to being read at a leisurely pace. The page turning drama of The Truants and The Vanishing Half lured me away this week, but having done with those I can go back to immersing myself in Nick Bradley’s hypnotic vision of Tokyo once more.
  • Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid – I’m not going to say too much about this as I want to save as much of my enthusiasm as possible for a blistering review, but, wow. Already totally obsessed with this novel and its colourful cast of characters.

It’s been a great week in my little book world – I hope next week is as exciting! Thanks for reading and see you back on the blog soon.

The Sunday Stack – Summer Reads

This is my first ever Sunday Stack, a neat idea from Bronwen at Babblesnbooks. Every Sunday there’s a different prompt from which to build your stack – this week it’s summer reads.

I very much read with the season: wintry books when you’re curled up with a cup of tea to fend off the cold, sunny and exotic books in the midst of summer. So while for some, the idea of summer reading might be a light and easy beach read, for me it’s absolutely literal – novels where the sun is shining, the heat’s cranked up and you feel like you’re on holiday!

The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff

Could anywhere be sunnier than Greece? I remember reading this on a sun lounger in Kos a few years ago and nothing could have been more appropriate. To be fair, the story itself isn’t quite so sunny – a family drama in which a woman returns to her old home in Athens and comes face to face with some heartbreaking truths about her family’s past – but for setting alone this had to be in the stack.

The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella

We all need a bit of romance every now and then (yes, even me) and if you’re feeling in the right mood then this ticks all the boxes. Set in Naples during the Second World War it has Italian heat, Italian passion and Italian food – in other words, a complete package holiday in a book.

Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim

While this doesn’t quite have the wall to wall sunshine of the previous two books, it does encapsulate all the pleasures of summer, and in fact every season, in its depiction of the garden as a perpetual sanctuary from all the family madness that goes on behind the claustrophobic walls of the house. Elizabeth is not always the most endearing of characters, but you will for sure covet her garden.

A Month in the Country by J L Carr

When telling people how much I love this book, I always describe it as quietly heartbreaking. Behind the apparent peace, tranquility and gentle warmth of an English summer lies a silent anguish that will leave your heart in bits without you being sure exactly how or why.

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

This novel positively radiates summer. Set in Morocco, the combination of the vicious mind games played out by the main characters and the city’s searing heat creates a stifling, oppressive feel that takes hold from the first page and never lets up. Not a light or fluffy summer read, but a compelling one that will scorch itself into your head.

This has been a really fun post to do – look out for more Sunday Stacks in the coming weeks! If you want to join in, don’t forget to use the #SundayStack hashtag; I’d love to see your summery suggestions.

Why I love….. Sergei Lukyanenko

It’s been absolutely AGES since I did one of my Why I love…. blog posts, so I thought it was time to resurrect it as a feature! If you’re new to This Girl’s Book Room, the idea behind these posts is super-simple: I pick one of my favourite authors, then tell you what it is that makes me love them so much, and why you should try their books if you haven’t already. Today it’s the turn of an author who I think deserves a wider readership outside of those who naturally gravitate towards fantasy or horror: Russian writer extraordinaire, Sergei Lukyanenko. Without further ago, here’s why I love him so much.

He has an appeal that goes beyond fantasy fans

One genre conspicuously absent from my blog is, as I’m sure you will have noticed, fantasy or fantasy-horror. My general rule of thumb is that is if a book features either a map or an absurd fantastical character name on the first page then I’m not going to like it. I just about made it through Lord of the Rings and even slogged my way through a Juliet Marillier novel to prove to a friend I was willing to try something different, but nope, I’m definitely more at home in a real-world setting. I really thought, then, when The Night Watch (the series’ first book) was recommended to me, it was going to be another politeness read – but no! To my joy it’s set in modern day Russia (and other countries as well later in the series) and despite the presence of vampires, werewolves and magicians it’s fully grounded in a recognisable world.

Sexy vampires? Not here, thank you very much.

Let’s be honest, the constant fetishization of vampires is a bit yawnsome isn’t it? That’s not to say it can never be successful, but I for one was mightily relived that there are no brooding, sultry bloodsuckers here – at least none who take on that role unironically. On the surface Lukyanenko’s vampires appear almost no different to everyday people: they’re licensed, regulated, and most of them go about their business in a law-abiding fashion while holding down apparently normal lives in Russia’s capital city.

His books will make you think. And then think again.

There are 6 books in The Night Watch series, and while I’d say the first one is probably the biggest mind-bender of the lot, all of them have complex and well-executed plotlines and even more complex characters. The novels imagine a world in which magical forces are battling and collaborating by turns to maintain the elusive balance between Light and Dark that keeps society running as it should. There are constant questions being asked of the characters, and by extension the readers, about the nature of the false binary that we conventionally term “Good” and “Evil”. What sacrifices are acceptable in the pursuit of a greater good? Is it possible to do the right thing without ever having to compromise on your values? And most importantly, is there such a thing as being unequivocally on a single side?

Anton Gorodetsky

Light Magician Anton Gorodetsky is hands down one of my favourite literary creations. Despite having the power to rip dark magicians to shreds in battle, Light Other Anton is still somehow an everyman, walking the streets of Moscow alongside its human inhabitants while juggling the blessing of extreme power with the crushing curse of responsibility. I think that’s the secret to how Lukyanenko manages to make you so attached to him; despite his fantastical abilities he’s more human than many mortal characters we come across in the course of our reading lives. When I parted company from him at the end of book 6 I was broken.

I really hope I’ve tempted you into trying this fabulous Russian writer, especially if you’ve always thought he wouldn’t be up your street. Definitely start with The Night Watch, as this is not one of those series you can join part way through and not lose out. If you’ve read these books already, I would love to know what you think! Thanks for reading and see you back on the blog soon.

Related posts

My week in books – wrapped up

*I’m a bookseller again!*

The bookshop where I work opened its doors to the public on Monday after many long weeks of lockdown. It’s been an incredible and surreal experience; on the one hand I’m now talking to my regulars through a Perspex screen, which takes some getting used to, but on the other, the beautiful comments we’ve had from customers who are over the moon to have their local bookshop back have been overwhelming. It’s easy to forget how much of an impact books can have on people’s lives, and this week I’ve felt honoured to play a small part in that.

All this has meant it’s been an unusually lean week for reading and writing – after over two months of being furloughed returning to a full-time job has proved to be quite draining, and my evenings have mostly been about cobbling together some dinner, pulling on my pyjamas and being dead to the world before it’s even completely dark. However, there have been a couple of bookish highlights!

*Book purchases*

I’ve limited myself to just two this week:

  • Bone China by Laura Purcell – I’ve never read any of her novels before, but she’s a name that keeps popping up across a number of book blogs I follow, and I decided it was time to give her a try. I’ve been in the mood for a bit of creepiness lately (see my recent posts on M R James and Melmoth) and this continues the theme.
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – honestly, I’ve seen sooooo many good reviews of this one! I loved the synopsis and whereas it usually takes a lot to tempt me into splurging on a hardback, this was one temptation I couldn’t resist.

*Mission accomplished (otherwise known as books finished this week)*

Just the one book finished this week, but it’s a good ‘un: The Last Protector by the always fabulous Andrew Taylor. If you’re a fan of C J Sansom, S J Parris or similar historical crime authors then this is one series you have to try. Review will be up on the blog shortly!

I promise I will try my best to up the blogging again next week, but in the meantime, thanks for reading and see you back on This Girl’s Book Room soon!

My week in books – wrapped up

It’s been quite a hectic week in the world of This Girl’s Book Room, and one packed to the rafters with books as usual.

*Back in the bookshop*

After more than two long months of lockdown I was finally back in my beloved bookshop this week, prepping for our opening on Monday. I’m not going to lie, it was very surreal getting the place kitted out with till screens, sanitiser stations and one way signage but with it all in place I now feel strangely calm, happy we’ve done all we can to make the place safe. It’s going to be a very different type of bookselling environment we’re all going back into and I have very mixed feelings about it if I’m honest; but one thing I can say with certainty is I know huge numbers of our customers are going to be delighted to have their book haven back, albeit in a somewhat different form.

*Bookpost*

You’d be hard pushed to find many things more exciting than coming home to find a parcel of books on your doorstep and I had two this week – yay! The latest books to join the Book Room collection are:

  • Little by Edward Carey – I’ve had my eye on this for months and never got round to it, but after a friend’s recommendation (during a socially-distanced iced latte) I decided to pull my finger out and order a copy.
  • Cutting it Short by Bohumil Hrabal – I stumbled across a review of this book on the brilliant Vishy’s Blog and there was just something about his description of it that caught my imagination; I’m really looking forward to giving it a try.
  • The Cat and the City by Nick Bradley – almost every time I’ve been on Twitter over the past fortnight I’ve seen someone raving about this book. If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you’ll know I’ve been reading a fair amount of Japanese fiction lately, so the idea of a cat wandering around Tokyo linking the stories of its diverse inhabitants sounded purrrrr-fect (sorry.)

*Currently Reading*

I’ve just started a book I purchased a few weeks ago: The Descent of Man by the awesome human being that is Grayson Perry. I’ve not got far yet, but already his perspective on male privilege and the social damage caused by centuries-old conventions of masculinity is a real breath of fresh air.

Hope you’ve had as many great books in your life this week as I have! Happy reading.

Six Degrees of Separation – this month’s journey in 6 books

The Six Degrees of Separation challenge has got to be one of the most fun things I’ve discovered while running my book blog. It’s hosted by Books are my favourite and best and it’s really easy to join in. Each month, the hosts choose a different book as a starting point and you simply have to create a chain of six books, with each one connected in some way to the one before. The link could be a shared theme or setting, or something more personal, such as another book recommended by the same friend. It’s fascinating to see how different each person’s chain looks; if you want to check out some other bloggers’ connections, have a look at the 6 Degrees page on the host’s blog, or follow the #6Degrees hashtag on Twitter. Even better, have a go yourself, post the link to your blog on the 6 Degrees comments section and join the conversation!

This month’s starting book is Normal People by Sally Rooney. Now, I’m fully expecting there to be universal outrage at what I’m going to say next, but I tried this and absolutely hated it, giving up on it pretty quickly and remaining to this day completely mystified as to why so many people loved it so much! Safest then to brush that one under the carpet and move rapidly on to my 6 degrees…..

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

I moved on to this book via a very simple connection: the fact that Sally Rooney and Maggie O’Farrell both hail from Ireland (ok, one from the Republic of Ireland and one from Northern Ireland but I hope you’ll allow me that as I was struggling to get off the ground!) I loooooove Maggie O’Farrell and it was a tough choice between this and This Must be the Place; having plumped for this one though, I next moved on to

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

I only finished reading The Makioka Sisters a few weeks ago, and adored it. Like The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, the relationship between sisters is fundamental to the plot and forms the heart of the novel. From here it’s a very small hop to another Japanese novel:

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicleby Haruki Murakami

Out of all the Japanese novels I could have chosen to form my next connection, I picked this one because it’s another book that’s recently been reissued by Vintage in the same series as The Makioka Sisters. This series comprises 5 Japanese classics, all with gorgeous new cover illustrations – if you haven’t seen them yet, do have a look next time you’re in your local bookshop. I have to confess (again) I didn’t particularly enjoy The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; however, when I started working as a bookseller in the early 2000s, it was on a list of recommendations given to me by my new colleagues of contemporary fiction every bookseller should read! Up to that point I was very much a classics girl, but it was some of the books from this list that got me into the hitherto alien world of modern fiction. I’ve never looked back. Another one from that list – but one that blew my socks off – was

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I don’t know many people who haven’t read this, but if you’re one of them – make it your next read! It’s a sinister story of death, betrayal and fracturing friendships among a clique of elite students at an American university. A very similar set of characters is to be found in…..

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

….only this time the action is set in England, at Cambridge University. Again, it features a privileged group of young intellectuals, over whom the precocious – and increasingly erratic – Eden Bellwether holds sway. It’s uncomfortable, unsettling and also really enjoyable. And it brings me to my final link in this month’s 6 degrees of separation:

All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison

It’s an award that links these final two books: both were nominated for the EU Prize for Literature. Benjamin Wood didn’t win, but All Among the Barley was the UK winner last year. It’s been on my TBR pile for quite a while; someone told me in passing that it was a really heartbreaking read, and quite honestly I don’t feel up for that right now!

I really hope you enjoyed my 6 degrees! You’ve got a whole month to join in if you’d like to; I for one would love to see what you come up with.

Thanks for reading.

A calm and quiet Wednesday

Somehow blogging doesn’t seem like the appropriate thing to do this week. When you’ve witnessed such distressing scenes as have been broadcast into our homes over the last few days, suddenly my opinions on the book I’m reading seem not just unimportant, but almost insulting to everyone who’s out there fighting battles with which I, through the luck of my socially privileged position, will never have to contend . My head feels crammed to breaking point, the pent up feelings that have gradually been building during the weeks of isolation finally pushed to breaking point by the despair of witnessing man’s inhumanity to man – I don’t know about you, but sometimes it simply feels like to much misery, too much grief, too much injustice to even begin to comprehend.

I will be back of course, because reading is not only escapism but an opportunity to listen, to learn and to broaden our understanding if we use it in the right way. But for tonight, I’m going to sit and watch the light fade from the sky, and I’m going to breathe, and contemplate, and refocus. It’s about trying to find that balance between wrapping ourselves in the comfort blanket of the things we love, and looking outside of our bubble to witness – and not only witness but intellectually explore – the parts of life we may wish we didn’t have to see.

Thank you for reading: the books will be back very soon. In the meantime I wish you a peaceful Wednesday.

Weekend Book Haul!

haul

Happy Saturday everyone!  Very much hope you’re managing to find some reading time this weekend.  I’m massively excited about my latest book haul (I think this is now the 6th book delivery since the start of lockdown but I’m losing track!) – expect to hear me talking about these beauties over the coming weeks….

Isabella – Alison Weir

I caught up with a really interesting BBC4 documentary on iPlayer a few days ago exploring the nature of power and hierarchy in the Middle Ages.  Queen Isabella got a very brief mention, but it was enough to make me keen to find out more about her.  I love Alison Weir’s history books so this was the obvious choice; she crams in a huge amount of detail and analysis, but in such a readable way it’s easily accessible even if you have no prior knowledge of the period or people in question.

Flights – Olga Tokarczuk

Earlier this week I was chatting to Princess and Pages about Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by the same author, and I mentioned that I’d deliberately not read Flights because of a couple of fellow booksellers saying they’d been disappointed by it in comparison.  Following our conversation I’ve been converted (this is why I love book bloggers so much!) and am really looking forward to giving it a try; I think it’s going to be very different in tone and format from Drive Your Plow, but I’m going in with an optimistic frame of mind.

The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry

This one’s been on my radar for absolutely ages, but it took the brilliant Grayson Perry’s Art School on Channel 4 (is anyone else loving this as much as I am?) to remind me to finally buy it.  I’ve read a number of books looking at gender and society from a female perspective, and I can’t think of anyone better than Perry to provide a thoughtful balance.

Thanks for reading as ever, stay well and stay smiling.

Related posts: My Top 5 Reads of 2020

Japanese journeys

A few days ago I came across a blog post by Amy from Curiouser and Curiouser talking about the books she’d been reading as part of the 2020 Japanese literature challenge, hosted by Meredith at Dolce Bellezza.  The idea was to read and review fiction originally written in Japanese between January and March this year – sadly, I’m a bit late to the party as regards taking part in the challenge, but I hope both bloggers will forgive me for using it as inspiration to share some of the Japanese novels I’ve been reading over the past few months.  When I started thinking about it I realised there were quite a few!  Here are some of the ones that have intrigued me the most….

The Forest of Wool and Steel – Natsu Miyashita

forest wool

This novel tells the story of a young piano tuner and his lifelong quest to master his craft.  Not a virtuoso player himself, he nonetheless has an astonishingly acute ear for the different tones and styles in which his clients play, and sees it as his calling to tune each piano according to the unique needs of its pianist.  He develops a particular fascination with a pair of twins, Kazune and Yuni, both young prodigies but both completely different in the way they communicate through their music, and it’s this relationship dynamic that provides the novel’s backbone.  I really loved it; it was such an unusual subject matter, and even during the more emotionally intense moments the writing maintained an air of poise and gentleness in  keeping with the finesse of the music that it described with so much colour.

A Midsummer’s Equation – Keigo Higashino

equation

I’m not a huge crime person, but I do love Keigo Higashino’s crime thrillers.  His characters are always utterly believable and very well rounded compared to some thrillers I’ve read where the supporting cast is pretty two-dimensional.  This is one of the books that features his recurring character, the physicist Yukawa – a slightly unlikely-sounding protagonist but one who nevertheless has a natural instinct for investigation and crime-solving.  The Devotion of Suspect X is still my favourite of Higashino’s novels so far I think (although it’s a close call) but this is still extremely enjoyable, and the story has an interesting – and relevant – environmental theme running through it, as naturalists and environmental campaigners go head to head with a development company hoping to gain a foothold in a fading coastal resort town, with inevitably fatal results!  Even if you don’t think you’re a crime fan, I would definitely urge you to pick up one of Higashino’s books and give it a try.

Dandelions – Yasunari Kawabata

dandelions

Honestly, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this book, but I’ve decided to include it here because, if nothing else, it’s memorable for its strange plot and surreal atmosphere.  A fun read it may not be, but it sticks in your head afterwards nevertheless.  The story centres around a young woman who has developed selective blindness; in the beginning, she found a ping-pong ball disappeared inexplicably from view, and now she is unable to see her fiancé.  The book begins as her fiancé and mother leave the asylum in which the girl has been placed, and follows them over the subsequent day and night as they discuss her mysterious affliction.  That’s pretty much it in terms of plot: the whole book is essentially a conversation between two people with sometimes coinciding and sometimes conflicting ideas of what this bizarre occurrence means.  I’m sure there’s some thought-provoking philosophical stuff buried amid the peculiarity, but I found it hard to engage with and finished the book feeling I’d probably missed the point.  If you want to try something unusual though (and short – it’s only 132 pages, although even that felt long at times!) then there’s weirdness here in spades.

Tokyo Ueno Station – Yu Miri

tokyo

It was the stylish cover art that first drew me to this book, but the inside was just as fabulous.  It’s narrated by a ghost – although if that sounds too much like a gimmick, don’t let it put you off; the effect is so subtle that it becomes simply the tale of a man looking back on his life and watching a familiar world warp, change and disappear.  It’s a delicate and skillful combination of the tragically sad and exquisitely beautiful, as the narrator takes us through his experiences of love, death, homelessness, friendship and loneliness, all against backdrop of a changing Japan that feels like a living, breathing character in its own right.  I think if I had to pick one out of all the books I’ve talked about in this post, this would be the one I’d recommend you read.

Thanks for reading – I’d love to here about any Japanese fiction you’ve read recently, or if you’ve read any of these, what did you think?

 

My May Reading List

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I know from reading the blogs and tweets of my book-loving friends that I’m not the only one struggling to concentrate on reading (or anything much) at the moment.  It’s not that the tempting titles aren’t there, but there’s simply so much chaos, stress and confusion going on in what’s become an almost unrecognisable world that it can’t help but filter its way into everyone’s minds and hearts, whether we’ve been personally touched by the current tragedy or not.  On the days when I do feel inclined to pick up a book, however, they’ve come to my rescue as they always do and taken me to a far more manageable place, if only for a while.  So although May has got off to a bit of a slow start, over the next few weeks I’m going to make a concerted effort to take time away from the news and social media, and just relax with my paperback friends.  If you’re in need of some inspiration yourself, here are my picks for this month.

A Map of the Damage – Sophia Tobin

I’ve been a fan of this author since I read her first book, The Silversmith’s Wife, so I was crazily excited when I saw that her latest was about to be released in paperback.  I started reading it a few days ago and it’s already made me cry, made me angry and got me utterly hooked – so a good start then!

The Makioka Sisters – Junichiro Tanizaki

Another bookseller recommended this to me, calling it “the Japanese Little Women” and my word it’s lived up to the comparison so far!  Told almost entirely from a female perspective, it’s a real cultural eye-opener, shedding light on the expectations, conventions and disappointments of marriage among the more privileged elements of pre-war Japanese society.  I’m loving it so much, at the moment it looks set to be a contender for one of my books of the year so far.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli

I read Reality is Not What it Seems last year and was surprised how much I enjoyed it (and also, I’m not going to lie, a little bit chuffed how much I managed to grasp) so decided to give this one a go.  To be fair, any understanding I gleaned from the aforementioned title was entirely down to the author’s skill at conveying complex concepts in an accessible way rather than any innate scientific instinct on my part, so I’m very much hoping he pulls off the same trick with this one.

Collected Ghost Stories – M R James

I’m utterly useless when it comes to ghost stories, horror films or anything remotely spooky, and I usually avoid them like the plague, knowing if I don’t I’ll be sleeping with the light on for at least a week afterwards.  My sister gave me her spare copy of the book this week (with a warning that at least two of the stories are guaranteed to freak me out completely), and I very bravely started tackling it this afternoon.  I have to say, sitting under a tree in the sunshine it didn’t seem that bad, but we’ll have to wait and see how I feel about it when darkness falls…..

What’s on your TBR pile this May?  Anything you’ve started reading that you’re particularly enjoying?  As always, please do share your comments!