Autumn reads in brief

These are some very brief reviews indeed because I have had so much else on this month, I’m frankly amazed I’ve found time to read at all. Before I zone out in front of another half-dozen episodes of The Big Bang Theory, here is what I’ve been reading.


pride of baghdad

Pride of Baghdad
by Brian K Vaughan (writer) and Niko Henrichon (artist)

This is a beautiful, moving and unusual perspective on war. It takes as inspiration the 2003 news story that four lions escaped Baghdad Zoo during a bombing raid in the Iraq War. Vaughan and Henrichon give the lions names and personalities, and this does result in some anthropomorphising, but that can be forgiven because the result is so good.

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The world has fallen into the shadow of something sinister

little black liesLittle Black Lies
by Sharon Bolton

I had a long train journey coming up so I thought I’d buy something for the Kindle and I’d heard rave reviews of this book from bloggers I trust. The book turned out to be so good that I snatched every moment to read it until it was over. It’s really good. And it’s crime, which I hardly ever read. Maybe I should read more crime?

The story is set on the Falklands, which is a setting I hadn’t read about before. We appear to be told in the first few chapters what the crime is going to be, but it then gets complicated by another crime having been committed – a young boy has gone missing – and the question becomes whether these things are linked and whether the planned crime will go ahead.

The book opens with Catrin diving for samples for the environmental organisation that she works with. Like the rest of the book, it is a lyrical piece of writing that combines nature, science, memory, contemplation and emotion to wonderful effect. I have zero desire to go diving in any sea or ocean but while reading those pages I was transported to a self that was right there with Catrin enjoying the experience.

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Sunday Salon: Autumn turns to winter

The Sunday SalonI was planning to write a post about how much I love November. Which I do. Growing up, Halloween was never much of a thing for me and my family but Bonfire Night was. It marked the start of winter in celebratory style. I remember the crisp cold and woolly hats that accompanied firework displays with great affection. And even though this year it hasn’t got that cold just yet, it’s definitely coming. The trees are bare, the rain is freezing, the big winter coats are out and I love it all.


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There were no slow degrees of consciousness

books baguettes bedbugsBooks, Baguettes and Bedbugs
by Jeremy Mercer

I’ve seen this book recommended by lots of people over the years, but I must admit, all I knew about it was that it’s about the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, a tourist attraction I’ve never visited, and knew of only as a famous bookshop associated with some famous authors and artists. So I learned a lot, and completely fell in love with the shop and its story.

I’ve been to Paris twice, and travelled through it another two or three times, and it’s a little crazy that a famous English-language bookshop near the city centre wasn’t on my list of attractions to visit. It certainly will be next time, though it won’t be quite the same shop that Mercer describes.

First, I learned that the current incarnation of the bookshop, on Rue de la Bûcherie, is not the same as the first bookshop by that name, which was opened and run by Sylvia Beach from 1919 until 1940. That shop had its own wonderful history with colourful characters who have popped up in various things I’ve read, but Mercer for the most part skips past all that to the second Shakespeare and Company bookshop, which was opened in 1951 by George Whitman. He originally called his shop Le Mistral, but changed it in 1964 to Shakespeare and Company in tribute to Sylvia Beach, following her death.

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Am writing

nanowrimo_logowithwordsI meant to post this on Sunday but I was too busy actually taking part in NaNoWriMo to post about the fact that I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo. So yeah, after two fails in 2012 and 2013 and not taking part at all last year, I’m giving it another go. This means I’m reading less and might not blog much this month. If I manage to stick with it for once. But on the plus side I might have written a novel by the end of November – that’s exciting!

Anyone else doing NaNoWriMo this year? If so, good luck! Keep at at!

October reading round-up


Happy November, folks! Suddenly life is full of Christmas plans and all the people we promised to catch up with before the end of the year. And yet through summer I always think October and November will be quiet. One day I’ll learn!

We started the month on holiday in Yorkshire, which was lovely and relaxing and already feels like a thousand years ago. I went to see The Crucible at Bristol Old Vic, a “theatrical experience” called The Stick House in the Bristol Temple Meads tunnels (a creepy gothic fairy-tale-type story that wouldn’t be out of place in an Angela Carter novel), Salman Rushdie talking about his new book and Bill Bailey on his latest comedy tour. The large collection of tickets for stuff on the fridge is finally all gone now and I’m itching to book something in!

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This elemental silence which could crush you to nothing

magic-toyshopThe Magic Toyshop
by Angela Carter

This book was not what I had imagined, having read two previous works by Carter, but it was equally wonderful and has cemented her as one of the great authors for me.

The title had suggested to me something a bit fantastical, which aligned with my experience of Carter (I’d previously read Nights at the Circus and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman) but – on the surface, at least – this book stays within the realm of reality. And yet from the very first page, there is an air of dark fantasy pervading the background.

The story centres on 15-year-old Melanie. She and her two younger siblings have to move from the middle-class comforts of their country home to live in relative poverty with their Uncle Philip in London. He is a toymaker but in every way defies the expectations of that label – he is tall, broad, strong, dark and frequently violent. He shows no kindness or empathy for the uprooted children.

“His silence had bulk, a height and a weight. It reached from here to the sky. It filled the room. He was heavy as Saturn. She ate at the same table as this elemental silence which could crush you to nothing.”

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Leaving a vacuum in the air where his voice had been

My-Turn-to-Make-the-TeaMy Turn to Make the Tea
by Monica Dickens

I have been looking forward to reading my beautiful if slightly fragile copy of the 1962 Penguin reprint of Dickens’ memoir of her year working for a local newspaper. Though it’s the first printing from this classic orange-and-white edition, it’s too tattered and stained to be worth anything. But I do love the knowledge that this has been read by a series of people over 53 years. That’s pretty cool.

Dickens is funny and open, delighting in revealing the details of her life as a “cub reporter”. This includes life in her rented room, and the relationships between the building’s various tenants, as well as the intricacies of a hokey local newspaper.

“I put away my things and tried not to feel bleak. My first night in that room stretched before me with too many hours, and I found that I was looking forward to going to work tomorrow. At the Munts’, I had often craved solitude, and dreaded hearing the creak of the stair and the whimsical tattoo on my door that meant Mrs Munt had come up for a pow-wow, but up here on the top floor, a stranger to the rest of the house, I felt unwanted and alone.”

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Gilmore Girls returns!

gilmore-girlsThe news that Netflix is going to revive Gilmore Girls with a series of four feature-length episodes written by original creator and producer Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino has got me pretty excited to say the least. While, like everyone else I am curious to see who will be back and what developments will have happened in their lives in the last 8/9 years (and whether they map what I imagined for the characters), I am also looking forward to a general revival of interest in the original TV show, so that my fandom doesn’t seem quite so out of date!

I am unapologetically a Gilmore Girls fan. I don’t own any merchandise but I recorded every episode off the telly and have watched them all…well, a lot. Now this may seem a decidedly unbookish topic for a book blog (though it’s my blog and I’ll write about whatever I want to) but Gilmore Girls might be the most bookish fictional TV there ever was. In fact, it’s so bookish that there are countless reading lists out there based on it, including my own version of the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge in which I have attempted to list every book read in the show by Lorelei or Rory. And let’s not forget that the show’s star Lauren Graham is a bona fide author (of a book that has been languishing on my wishlist since it was announced).

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