Bookworm in a heatwave – my week in books wrapped up

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

*Books purchased*

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

*Biggest sucker punch of the week*

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

*Proofs acquired*

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

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

Sunday Stack – my July reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My week in books – wrapped up

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

*Proofs acquired*

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

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

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

*Book purchased*

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

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

*Reviews posted*

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

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

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds – review

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

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

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

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

See you back on the blog very soon x

The Sunday Stack – One Stack, One Colour!

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

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

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

The Breaking Point by Daphne Du Maurier

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

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

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

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan

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

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

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

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

Related posts:

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

The Sunday Stack – Sequels and Finales

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

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh

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

Meridon by Philippa Gregory

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

The Glass of Time by Michael Cox

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

The Sixth Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

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

Tombland by C J Sansom

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

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

Related posts:

Why I love Sergei Lukyanenko Why I love C J Sansom

My week in books – wrapped up

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

*Books purchased*

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

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

*Books finished*

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

*Reviews posted*

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

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

*Best bookish hashtag*

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

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

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.

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.