Welcome back to the blog!

I think it’s fair to say that many of us have taken to doing some pretty weird and wonderful things during lockdown.  My own isolation achievements certainly cover off many different points on the (all too often mutually exclusive) scales of usefulness and enjoyment.  I have, I’m proud to say, finally discovered what all my hoover attachments do.  I’ve started shredding the two foot high pile of mail going back to 2015 that was becoming a health and safety hazard in the spare room.  I dug out my “brand new for 2010” Camilla Dallerup Cardiodance Workout DVD (although to be fair that’s only happened once so far).  Most pleasurable by a long way was the rearranging of the spare room bookcases.  But of course, more than anything else, I’ve done a hell of a lot of reading.

(I genuinely had to break off from writing at this point to buzz in the postman with a book parcel delivery….)

Talking to my much-missed bookshop colleagues (all currently at home now of course) we agree to a man how much harder this peculiar time would be if we didn’t love reading so much.  Right now, I think everyone out there is finding whatever psychological escape route they can, whether that’s baking, art or Netflix marathons, and reading of course, is mine.  After a couple of bad days earlier on during lockdown, getting myself back into the headspace where I could completely lose myself in a book again has been enormously beneficial; because of course books in their turn put you in a more relaxed state of mind where you can take pleasure from other things.  Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing the books that I’m enjoying, and as ever I’d love to hear what you’re reading too.  I actually stopped writing for my original blog – Girl, Reading – a couple of years ago for various reasons, but now seemed like the right time to pick it up again and to spread a bit of literary love in these difficult times.  Happy reading to you all.

July blogging update!

I can’t believe it’s July already.  I also can’t believe how much time has gone by since my last blog post so I thought I’d better check in and let everyone know I’m still here!  Honestly, I have so many great books either on the go or imminently pending, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day right now to get all my reading done, let alone writing.  For a start, it’s Wimbledon – and as a bit of a tennis lover, even my beloved books are going to have to take a bit of a back seat for the next fortnight.  Work is mental (no change there then!) but there’s never a dull moment and the days pass in a whirlwind of activity until someone gently reminds me I should be going home.  And since I’ve turned into a bit of a slug recently I’ve resolved to get back to doing at least a little bit of yoga every day.  Which doesn’t always happen.  BUT I’m determined to share some of my July reads with you soon.  I’m just about to start “Wives and Daughters” as part of my challenge to get back into the classics, and I’ve just started what promises to be an amazing book, “These Dividing Walls” by Fran Cooper.  Should I admit that I’m STILL going with “4 3 2 1”?  It’s a bit embarrassing since I distinctly remember posting about that very book in my April reading round-up and am still barely a quarter of the way through, but I have no bookish secrets from you all, my lovely followers!  I’m sure we’ve all been there though, with those books that for some unfathomable reason you enjoy at the point of reading yet don’t feel any burning desire to come back to once you’ve put them down.  Paul Auster’s latest is one of those, but I’m sufficiently invested to keep going with it, albeit at a slower pace than normal.  I’m also excited to be taking part in the Quercus Summer Reads competition and as part of that I’ll be reading and blogging about “The Little Theatre by the Sea” by Rosanna Ley, so look out for that review coming your way soon.

I’ll do my best to get something online before too long – in the meantime enjoy the sunshine!

ruth's pic

A few changes to Girl, Reading…

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking over the past week and have decided to make a few little tweaks to my blog, which I hope will make it easier to navigate and also add some new interest for all you lovely people who keep coming back week after week to read my scribblings (thank you btw!)

Firstly, I’ve had some really positive feedback about my “bookshop find” posts so I’ve decided to make those a regular feature, one a week is the plan – this shouldn’t be too hard as I do spend quite a bit of time in bookshops, both my own and other people’s!  These will now be collected in the “Bibliophily Corner” section of my website so if you ever miss one and want to look back they’ll all be in one place.  The eagle-eyed among you will see I’ve also added a new section called “My Bookish Travels”.  I’ve been wanting to write about some of the reading-related places I’ve visited or events I’ve been to but haven’t been entirely sure where they’d sit with the rest of my blog – now they will have a home!  Any events, signings, exhibitions or places of literary heritage I go to, this is where you can read about my experiences, and I’m really excited about the new slant this will add to the blog.  Fear not though, if you just want the reviews, top 5 lists and so on, they’ll still all be there as before.

If you pop over to my new and improved “About” page, you’ll now find a quick navigation guide to the blog letting you know what kind of posts you’ll find where.  Once again, a huge thank you to all my followers – I love you all – and I hope you’ll continue to join me on my future reading adventures.



Diary of a Bad Blogger


A much needed day off after a tough week of work, during which I’ve had no time, energy or quite honestly inclination for blogging.  A trip to the supermarket to replenish my empty kitchen is essential but resolve to do some writing in the afternoon.  The effort of all this proves too much, however, and succumb to a nap – well, not insignificant sleep – that leaves me in a mental fug for the rest of the day.  TV accompanied by my earlier supermarket spoils it is then.


Back at work and quite frankly want to weep at the speed with which all the enthusiasm and positivity restored by my day off has been beaten out of me.  Can’t bring myself anywhere near putting pen to paper tonight.


Slightly more productive evening in that I at least find time to do some reading if not actual blogging.  Until 9.00pm when Tattoo Fixers comes on….getting a bit tired of it now actually as it’s reached the point where almost every tattoo horror story starts with the words, “So I was on a lads’ holiday in Magaluf…” but I still find myself wasting an hour on it before I decide to go to bed.


To my delight I have a genuinely acceptable reason for not producing any writing this evening, and that’s because I am treated to dinner at the house of a friend whose culinary talents outstrip mine a hundred fold.  In all honesty though, that’s not hard.  Return home extremely contented, and half a stone heavier – but once more blogless.


Try SO HARD to write something for the blog this evening as am determined to get a post up by the end of the week.  Music off, TV off, total concentration – but nothing comes.  Manage to grind out a few uninspiring lines that I promptly cross through viciously, enraged at my own incompetence.  Back where I started at the beginning of the day, and there’s not even any wine in the house with which to console myself.  How did this happen?


Go for a run today.  No other achievements – physical, creative or intellectual – are required.


Decide that the only way forward is to wholeheartedly embrace my lack of blogging success.  So many people out there are writing about how they manage to maintain a consistent, well-written and engaging blog, so why shouldn’t I write about how I’m managing to fail in spectacular fashion?  Ironically this turns out to be the easiest blog post I’ve written in a very long time…  


Coming up soon…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on Girl, Reading; life has just completely taken over in the last couple of weeks!  I do have a few things planned though that I hope you’ll enjoy.  I couldn’t let 2016 draw to a close without a round-up of my favourite books of the year, and I’m currently reading some great books that I’m itching to share.  Andrew Taylor’s “Fireside Gothic” is a unique collection of unsettling stories perfect for a dark winter’s evening; “Sister Noon” is another quirky novel by the author who stunned me with one of the best twists ever in “We are all Completely Beside Ourselves”; and I’m finally reading the word of mouth poetry hit, “Milk and Honey”, and am very much enjoying the sensation of having my emotions pulled this way and that by some deceptively simple verse that really packs a punch.  I was hoping to get a review of something Christmassy up there before the big day arrives, but yet again it looks as though time is against me!

So happy Christmas to all my lovely readers!  Enjoy the festive season, however you’re spending it, and see you back on the blog soon.


Blogging blues


I’m going to be completely honest: I’m feeling a bit deflated at the moment.  When I started Girl, Reading last year I promised myself I wouldn’t spend too much of my time writing self-indulgent posts about the blogging process, but right now I feel I need to.  I absolutely love having a blog, partly because I enjoy writing and partly because I get an enormous amount of pleasure from sharing my passion for books with others; but it’s incredibly hard to stay motivated when the words into which you’ve put so much effort reach so few people.

I’ve read some really lovely articles by other bloggers encouraging their fellow writers not to worry too much about how many people are reading or following their blog – but in all honesty it’s difficult not to!  I’ve also read many pieces about increasing your blog traffic, and I dutifully spend the requisite amount of time choosing tags, including relevant images and so on.  I certainly love interacting with other bloggers too, not out of a “follow me and I’ll follow you” mentality but because I genuinely love talking to other people about books and getting to know people I never would have known if it hadn’t been for our shared passion.  It’s strange, then, that despite the great online chats, blogging can at times feel like a bit of an isolating experience when you put your heart and soul into a review only to see over the subsequent hours and days that so few readers have even found it.

I’d love to get my book obsession out there to more people to make it feel worthwhile, and some advice on how to do this would be most welcome!  Everyone I’ve met so far through the blog has been utterly lovely, so I’m not afraid to ask you wonderful people for some help.  I also want to say a huge thank you to everyone who reads my blog and who takes the time to talk with me about what I’ve written; it means the world, so thank you!


Christmas Shopping

I’m actually doing pretty well with my Christmas shopping this year: I’m over half way through and, with one irritating exception, I know exactly what I’m going to get for the remaining half.  In fact I’m so pleased with myself that even as I write this I’ve just had to break off to pour myself a congratulatory glass of wine.  Go me.  To be fair though, my life is made a little bit easier owing to the fact that there’s one item on the shopping list that appears every year – and since this is a book blog there are no prizes for guessing what that item is.  I love buying books for people; although it can be challenging it’s also immensely rewarding when you get it right, and often as I’m reading books throughout the year I’m also considering whether there’s anyone I know who’ll appreciate it too.  There have been a few flops among the successes, but luckily my friends and family are honest enough to tell me if they didn’t enjoy one of my choices.  As it happens, my biggest book-giving faux pas wasn’t so much a misjudged choice, but rather the time I actually presented a friend with the same novel two Christmases running; incredibly sweet soul that she is, she graciously said that I obviously knew he reading taste very well as she’d enjoyed it so much the first time round.  In a way I don’t mind if someone doesn’t get on with something I’ve picked out for them (unless it’s a personal favourite of mine, in which case I feel as aggrieved as if someone had insulted a member of my family), because I genuinely think that almost everyone gets that I put a lot of thought into my literary matchmaking, even if the romance doesn’t blossom.

And let’s not forget, I love receiving books as presents too!  The reality is that most people daren’t risk it simply because they know how many I buy for myself anyway – but I’m always willing to be surprised by a curveball I never would have chosen.  Top of my Christmas wish-list this year (just saying…) is “Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts” (because I really, honestly, truly cannot justify spending my money on this), so if anyone I know is reading this, you have been officially notified…

The wine is gone, which suggests it’s time to stop writing, so see you all back on the blog soon!



Being Nancy Drew and other literary obsessions

When I was about ten, I spent most of my waking hours fantasizing about being Nancy Drew, girl detective.  She not only had a proper, grown-up boyfriend and a CAR (unimaginable!) but also managed to escape from an almost infinite succession of hair-raising situations (sabotaged skis, runaway cars, being locked in a room with a poisonous spider) whilst remaining impossibly cool and, to my youthful eyes, incredibly glamorous.  I borrowed book after book from the library before a slightly more sophisticated friend lent me The Nancy Drew Files: an extension of the original series where the perils were even grittier and the boys even sexier.  Quite simply, I was Nancy Drew, as I walked around town in an imaginary leather jacket just like the one she wore in the books, with imaginary glossy hair as opposed to my pre-pubescent rat-tails, keeping an eye out for suspicious characters.

So far, so standard as far as childhood obsessions go.  The next one was slightly weirder however, coming as it did in the form of a warrior squirrel (please stay with me here!)  I became infatuated with Brian Jacques’ Redwall saga, a long series of books set in a world of animals who were almost constantly at war with each other and that involved a little more death and bloodshed than you might expect.  Lady Amber, the squirrel in question, was ballsy, outspoken and an utterly formidable fighter, and I wanted to be her more than anything, as she moved effortlessly through the forest, an untouchable and unseen assassin, taking out villainous rats with her slingshot and outfighting every male warrior around her.  With hindsight though perhaps it wasn’t so strange; in spite of – or maybe because of – my reasonable sedate and mundane lifestyle, in my head I’ve always been the action girl.  I’ve never, ever wanted to be the princess: I am Lara Croft, I am Ripley, I am Nancy Drew, girl detective.

Adulthood came, however, and the idea of living vicariously through various spirited literary characters disappeared.  Thank goodness, you might say – but in fact I know a number of people who still have these obsessions even now.  And actually, there’s a part of me that’s a bit sorry I no longer have daydreams in which I’m running across a mist-smothered moor shrieking “Heathcliff”.  Perhaps I’m too busy obsessing about real life to imagine existing as a fantastical figure any more, which would be pretty sad; or maybe I just haven’t yet found that perfect character who fulfils a missing part of my adult life.  Either way, there are definitely times when being someone else, if only in your own mind, can be immensely liberating and an awful lot of fun, and it’s something I should probably learn to do again.  So it seems there’s nothing for it but to return to the girl who never let my pre-adolescent self down.  Tomorrow morning as I set off for work, I’ll lower the (imaginary) soft-top on my convertible Skoda Fabia and cruise down the A2, ready to take on the world as Nancy Drew, girl detective.


Books I want but don’t need #1

Books are like shoes…and handbags…and lipsticks…there are ALWAYS ones you see that you want but very definitely DO NOT need.

And now Christmas is coming, which is the worst/best time for a book addict as the bookshops become filled to bursting with glorious temptations of the literary kind.  I’m hoping that by sharing some pics of the books I want (but definitely do not need) I’ll get them out of my system and save myself from book-induced bankruptcy.


See, now this looks gorgeous doesn’t it?  I have a bit of obsession with medieval manuscripts (slightly odd, I know) so was instantly drawn to this.  But I’m restraining myself because, let’s be honest, it would take me about a year to read such is its tome-like status, and I already have a number of beautiful books that cover the same subject.  So reluctantly I’m putting this into the “want not need” category.

There will be more to follow over the coming weeks on the blog without a doubt.  Do let me know which books are giving you the come hither look right now…

“Painter of Silence” by Georgina Harding – review

I’ve had this on my shelf for a few years; a slim, unassuming book that didn’t scream “read me now”, but I finally picked it up simply because I wasn’t sure what else I was in the mood for.  The contents are as understated as the exterior, but this is a novel that’s all the more powerful for its restraint.  On reflection, the subject matter is extremely harrowing, yet at the time of reading there was almost a dreamlike quality to events, as if everything was covered in delicate gauze that prevented the worst of the horrors from seeming completely real.  This isn’t a criticism; far from it.  In fact, as you get under the skin of the characters, the writing style starts to make perfect sense.

We first meet Augustin as a young man in 1950s Romania when, destitute and on the verge of a physical breakdown, he makes his way to the city hospital in Iaşi.  Once there, the medical staff are mystified as to how he got into his current state, since the patient doesn’t utter a single word and barely attempts to interact with anyone.  Then, as if ordained by fate, a new nurse appears on the ward and recognises the man she hasn’t seen for close to a decade.  Safta, the nurse, seems to know how to get through to Augustin, bringing him blank paper and a pencil.  Slowly but surely, the weak and isolated man begins to draw, just as he did many years ago.

From then on the novel progresses in a series of episodes alternating between Augustin’s youth and the 1950s.  We learn that Safta and Augustin were companions through much of their childhood, the boy being the son of a servant working in the grand country house belonging to Safta’s family.  Yet these most unlikely of friends are not only polar opposites in terms of class: while Safta lives a normal life of social interactions with sibling, cousins and friends, Augustin inhabits a world that only he can fully understand.  His silence in the hospital wasn’t, as many suspected, a physical reaction to a traumatic event; Augustin was in fact born a deaf-mute.  Kind-hearted Safta is the only one of his peers who makes any effort to befriend him and they develop an unspoken connection that continues for several years.  As time passes, however, Safta is lured away by the heady infatuation of her first romance and the prospect of adventures in a world that extends far beyond the family estate, and Augustin is left almost entirely without companionship.  And loneliness is not the only threat he faces, for the second world war is looming large on the horizon.

Although Augustin is the only one of the main characters whom we follow during the war years, back in the 1950s we begin to get a sense of how the conflict still echoes in the hearts and minds of those who lost members of their family or, and this is almost worse, those who still don’t know for sure whether their loved ones are alive or dead.  The Stalinist regime that took hold as the conflict drew to a close has also left the country in a state of paranoia and unease.  Adriana, one of Safta’s colleagues at the hospital, takes Augustin in and pretends at first that he’s her long-lost son, but she knows it’s only a matter of time before his presence will arouse suspicion and questions will start being asked by the neighbours and the authorities.  All of this leads me back to the feeling I described at the start of this review, that the novel’s events seemed ever so slightly distant to the reader, with the worst of the physical and emotional horrors kept an arm’s length away.  This sensation of being very much an observer, putting the emotional experiences of the characters together from fragments of their lives and trying to fill in the blank spaces – some of which last years – as best we can with our imagination is, I’m sure, a very deliberate choice on the author’s part.  Augustin himself lives in a state of being permanently divided from the rest of the world by his deafness and inability to communicate to others the nuances of his feelings, and for much of the book it’s as if we’re seeing events in the same way that he does – seeing and examining but never able to fully participate.  Safta too has to be content with imagining the terrible things to which her friends and family were subjected during the war after she left to escape Romania.  At one point she returns with Augustin to their old home, but he will never manage to describe to her the hellish things he saw or the effect they had upon him.  This clever novel is never about having tragedy pushed in your face through graphic or histrionic depiction.  It’s about watching, listening and then putting the pieces together to come to an empathetic understanding – just as it is for the characters themselves.

“Painter of Silence” is a novel that really sneaks up on you.  It’s quiet, thoughtful and the charatcer of Augustin, particularly during his childhood years, will tug at your heartstrings like never before.