How to Stop Time
by Matt Haig
I love Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive and his essays on mental health, plus he gives good Twitter, but I had put off reading his fiction. Why did I do that? Of course I was going to like it.
The narrator of How to Stop Time, Tom Hazard, was born in 16th century France. Now, in the 21st century, he’s working as a history teacher at a London comprehensive school. He’s not a time traveller, he has a medical condition that makes him age really really slowly. So slowly that he still looks to be in his 40s, not his 400s.
It’s science fiction that wears the science lightly but doesn’t avoid it. An explanation is given, and some details added, but the bulk of the story is about the emotional effect of the condition.
“Forever, Emily Dickinson said, is composed of nows. But how do you inhabit the now you are in? How do you stop the ghosts of all the other nows from getting in? How, in short, do you live?”
Continue reading “A single sentence could render either of us insane”
We spent the last week of June in Scotland, in the small town of Oban on the west coast. It was beautiful, and relaxing, and did I mention beautiful? Our hotel room looked out over the water and we watched some stunning sunsets from there. We went for walks, read our books, took thousands of photos (literally thousands) and enjoyed the fantastic scenery.
Continue reading “Holiday in Scotland”
All Good Things
by Emma Newman
Book 5 of Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series came out in June and I bought it pretty promptly, keen to learn the fates of Catherine, Max, Sam and all the other great characters that populate these stories. I’ve been following the series since the start (I went to the Bristol launch of book 1, Between Two Thorns) and thoroughly enjoyed every instalment.
As the title suggests, this is the final part of the series (but is it an end rather than the end?). There are the same great characters and sense of humour, plus some seriously ramped-up action.
At the end of book 4 (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD) Cathy has escaped the Nether and is under the protection of Sam, who as Lord Iron is the one person who can keep her safe from the Fae and their magic. But Cathy doesn’t want to rely on anyone else, even the loveable, well-meaning Sam, so she finds a way to make herself stronger. It involves facing a huge decision, one that puts a lot of lives in her hands. Has Cathy bitten off more than she can chew?
Continue reading “Having no idea what to do next left her traitorous mind free to ruminate”
It’s another month when I read a lot and blogged little. It’s not that I lacked things to blog about – a fantastic open-air Manic Street Preachers gig, the Wonder Woman film, a wonderful holiday in Scotland – but I was too busy doing those things to stop and write about them!
My reading this month was…eclectic. The standout was The Girls by Emma Cline, a very creepy book about a girl who joins a dangerous cult in 1960s California. Cline manages to convey how these on-the-surface unappealing cult members reeled in the vulnerable with just the right words and promises. It still gives me shivers thinking about it!
I will share some more pics from my Scotland holiday once I’ve sorted through at least some of them, but for now, above is a very well named bookshop in Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull. It was a pretty good shop, too.
Continue reading “June 2017 reading round-up”
by Helen Dunmore
Helen Dunmore, who sadly died on 5 June, spent the last years of her life in Bristol. I’ve read and enjoyed a few of her books and I wanted to honour her by reading one I had heard praised many times. It doesn’t hurt that this book was part of the launch of Hammer Books – a horror imprint from Arrow Books and the great film studio Hammer.
The story is set at the end of 1952. Winter is closing in on the small Yorkshire town where Isabel has moved with her new husband, Philip. He’s a doctor, working at the local surgery. She’s educated and would like to work, but Philip is keen for her to learn how keep house and prepare herself for motherhood. This leaves her sat at home struggling to learn to cook with still-rationed food, or out meeting other housewives who make it clear her education marks her as different. She’s lonely.
“She put her hands on the cold sill, ready to draw her head back inside, but a sound arrested her: a vibration, very far off, chafing the air. She listened for a long time but the sound wouldn’t come any closer and wouldn’t define itself. As it faded it pulled at her teasingly, like a memory that she couldn’t touch, until the town was silent.”
Continue reading “A vibration, very far off, chafing the air”
by Emma Cline
I had heard mixed reviews of this huge bestseller, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. However, from page one it was clear that this was an impressive book by an author with a masterful grasp of language.
The story is narrated by Evie, a middle-aged woman who is reminded by the intrusion of a teenage couple into her life of the summer of 1969, when she was 14. She was a typically insecure girl, lusting after her best friend Connie’s brother, feeling generally invisible. Then she saw the girls, or more specifically, she saw Suzanne. Suzanne is unwashed, wearing ill-fitting ragged clothes, but she exudes confidence and young Evie is transfixed.
Evie follows her new obsession to a remote ranch where she finds a cult led by a man called Russell. Over her summer holiday she spends more and more time at the ranch, exposed to drugs, sex and other behaviours Russell’s followers think of as adult. Evie clocks right away that Russell has magnetic appeal and that all the girls are sleeping with him, but for her the attraction is still Suzanne.
Continue reading “Pinging around the universe, hoping for a host”
I love lists. I especially love lists of books where I can tick off the ones I’ve read – which usually, though not always, makes me feel good about myself. I have a few lists that I have created myself, such as the Luke Cage Reading List, plus I have my own version of the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge, heavily edited by me on my many rewatches of the show (which have actually become much rarer for me since the frankly disappointing Netflix reboot).
The only list that I have set myself as a goal to complete is the Classics Club, and even that one is open to being changed over the five years of the challenge. I’m currently a little behind on that but at halfway through the challenge period I’m not too worried.
Every few years I do a quick count of how many books I have read from certain prize lists (I generally do best at the Women’s Prize for Fiction) and one day I will actually store that information in a spreadsheet so that I don’t need to start from scratch each time.
Continue reading “Sunday Salon: Book lists”
A Little Knowledge
by Emma Newman
This is the fourth book in the Split Worlds, a fantasy series that Newman started in 2013 with Between Two Thorns. This review may contain spoilers for the previous three books.
The story still centres on Cathy – one of the “fae-touched” humans, whose life is controlled by the Fae – and Max, whose job is to protect innocent humans from magical misdeeds, such as being disappeared. Cathy must now live in the Nether, a magical reflection of the human world, known as Mundanus. Though she theoretically inhabits a powerful position in fae-touched society, she is frustrated by the confines of an extremely patriarchal system. Her experience in Mundanus exposed her to feminism and women’s rights – thoroughly foreign concepts in the Nether. But the resistance to her proposed changes is so extreme that she wonders if something else is going on.
“It didn’t help that at social events she just wanted to sneak off and read a book, like she had as a child. Although Cathy understood that wasn’t possible anymore, it was too much of a leap to suddenly acquire all the social delicacy and insight now required of her. Cathy had the delicacy and insight of a cat with its head stuck in a box moving backwards to try and escape it, and she knew it.”
Continue reading “The delicacy and insight of a cat with its head stuck in a box”
Me and You
by Niccolò Ammaniti
translated from Italian by Kylee Doust
Back in 2003 I reviewed Ammaniti’s bestselling novel I’m Not Scared for my student newspaper. I loved it, but I read a lot of great books that year and quickly forgot that particular one. When this novel came out and got positive reviews I recognised Ammaniti’s name but couldn’t place it. So it sat on my TBR for years before I finally picked it up – primarily because I wanted a short book to read.
This does what all good novellas do: keeps the story simple but emotionally powerful. It made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me catch my breath in shock. A misfit teenage boy narrator might be an old trope but Ammaniti does something original with it. And Lorenzo is not just any teenage misfit.
One February morning, 14-year-old Lorenzo packs for a skiing holiday with friends. He says goodbye to his family and then proceeds to hide in a rarely used cellar in the basement of his family’s apartment building. For a week.
Continue reading “Like a cactus you grow without bothering anyone”
Summer arrived! And it was glorious. It probably did my physical health no good, but mentally I was definitely smiling from ear to ear every sunny evening. I do love a sunny evening. I’d take rainy mornings anytime if I could have those long, warm evenings.
Anyway, this month I finally ran my 10k race. It was really hard (turns out I should have tried to train with my brother at some point rather than discovering on the day that he runs just a little bit faster than me – I kept up for 6k and felt like I might die, but then I slowed down and actually made it to the end without walking and with a PB time) but I’m really pleased with my personal achievement and with having been able to raise a decent amount of money for charity.
We took advantage of the bank holidays and nice weather to have some weekend fun. We went to Tyntesfield, a National Trust property just outside Bristol with nice gardens and remarkably tame cows. We spent a long weekend in Liverpool noodling around museums and art galleries, and concluded that there is too much there to see and do in just one weekend. We went to Cardiff for the Diffusion photography festival, which included some really impressive stuff. And we spent lots of time hanging out around Bristol harbour, particularly the redeveloped Gaol Ferry Steps, which is such a nice place to be.
Continue reading “May 2017 round-up”