Category Archives: Bookends

Love is in the air

love-3061483_640

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Since today is Valentine’s Day what better opportunity can there be to talk about how fiction represents romance and love? St Valentine is traditionally associated with courtly and romantic love but authors through the ages have shown different facets of the emotion. So today I’ve picked ten fictional couples whose relationships represent different dimensions of love.

Since the course of true love doesn’t always run smoothly, let’s start with a few examples of troubled relationships.

Pip and Estella

We begin with an example of unrequited love via Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Pip, the humble blacksmith who gains wealth from a mysterious benefactor, falls in love with the glamorous Estella though she is aloof and hostile towards him. Dickens’s ending makes it ambiguous whether the two ever marry.

The Butler and the Housekeeper

Remains of the day

Still from the film of The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker prize winning novel The Remains of the Day, gives us an example of love that is never declared.  Stevens the butler at Darlington Hall has practiced restraint for so long that he cannot ever allow himself to relax enough to show his true feelings. His relationship with the young housekeeper Miss Kenton at times comes close to blossoming into romance but even when Miss Kenton tries to draw closer to him, his stunted emotional life holds him back.

Sebastian Flyte and Charles Ryder 

Love of a different nature is shown in Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, where two young men meet as students at Oxford. Charles Ryder, who comes from a sterile, loveless home, is mesmerised by the glamorous and wealthy Flyte family and their stately home at Brideshead. He spends idyllic summers with Sebastian but is powerless when his friend descends into depression and alcoholism. Bruised by the experience, Charles falls into a loveless marriage and then finds temporary solace with Sebastian’s sister Julia. The question readers have to decide for themselves is whether Sebastian was simply the appetiser for the real deal of Charles’ love for Julia or is she second best to Sebastian?

Elizabeth Bennett and Lord Darcy

Sometimes love happens between the most unlikely of individuals. The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth Bennett and the proud Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is one that has delighted readers since Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813.  Jane Austen gets them off to a rocky start however.  In their first encounter Darcy thinks Jane”…tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

“From the very beginning— from the first moment, I may almost say— of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form the groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

Frank Doel and Helene Hanff

You could argue that isn’t strictly a romantic  relationship since the author Helene Hanff and the antiquarian bookseller Frank Doel never meet. But I’d challenge anyone to read the letters that fly from New York to London in Hanff’s memoir, 84 Charing Cross Road, and not come to the conclusion that there is something more going on than just a mutual affection for books.

Gabriel Oak and Bathseba Everdene

In Far From the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy shows love can endure despite many challenges. Gabriel Oak (his name is a big clue as to his nature) doesn’t give up when the uppity Miss Everdene rejects his marriage proposal. He becomes a servant on her farm while she embarks on a disastrous relationship with a solider. But when she needs him most, he is ready to forgive…. Hardy is careful to show that the love that Gabriel and Bathsheba share is not the passion of a first love but a sadder and wiser connection born out of trials and tribulations. 

Sapper Kip and Hana the nurse

I can’t talk about love without mentioning my favourite Booker prize winner, The English Patient by Michael Ondatjee. It shows that sometimes love flourishes in the most unlikely of situations. In this case, in a bomb-damaged Italian villa during the Italian Campaign of World War II, where four people are thrown together unexpectedly.  Hana, a troubled young Canadian Army nurse, is caring for a man severely burned in a flying accident. The death of her lover causes her to believe that she is cursed and that all those around her are doomed to die. The arrival at the villa of a Sikh British Army sapper, reawakens her emotions. But their affair is shortlived. Kip is horrified when he learns about the Hiroshima bombing, leaving the villa to return to his native India. He never sees Hana again though he never stops recalling the effect she had on his life.

Dexter and Emma

How long can you be in love with someone and yet never realise it? For the couple in David Nicholls novel One Day, it takes almost 20 years for them to get together after they spend the night together on their graduation from Edinburgh university.  The novel visits their lives and their relationship on that date – 15 July – in successive years in each chapter, for 20 years. Does it all end happily?  Not quite. But you’ll have to read the book to discover why not.

Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson

The Graduate

Still from the ending of the film The Graduate

I can’t end without an example of what many people would consider to be the ultimate romantic gesture. In The Graduate, Benjamin, a new college graduate with no idea what to do with the rest of his life,  is seduced by an older woman, Mrs. Robinson. But then realises it’s her daughter Elaine that he loves. Slight problem: she is about to marry another boy. Queue a desperate race to get to the church before Elaine says I do. If you’ve watched the film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, you’ll know there is a dramatic ending involving a bride and a bus. I’m not cheating here by the way – the film is in fact based on a novel of the same name written by Charles Webb and published in 1963.


So there you have 10 couples who each, in one way or another, reflect love in many forms. Are there any couples you think of instantly when the subject of love crops up?

WWWednesday 30 January, 2019

Many weeks have past since the last time I did a post for WWWednesday which is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words . I thought this year I would try to do at least one a month – and now here we are at the end of January and I’m scrabbling to do this. Ah well, good intentions do have a habit of disappearing….

What are you currently reading? 

 

I picked up an advance copy of To Catch A Killer at the Orion On Tour event in Cardiff last November. This is part of my project to read more authors from Wales.

Emma Kavanagh comes from South Wales – the one in the UK, not the upstart “New” South Wales which is on the other side of the world.  She is a former police and military psychologist who provides training to police and branches of the armed forces across the UK and Europe. Given her background it’s not surprising that To Catch A Killer is a psychological crime thriller. It features a woman police sergeant newly back in post after a fire at her home from which she was lucky to emerge alive, although with facial disfiguration. Now she is on the trail of the killer of an attractive, well-dressed woman found with her throat slashed in a London park.

This is a very fast-paced novel, with plenty of twists and turns and a central figure who is struggling to deal with the trauma of the fire. I hadn’t come across Emma Kavanagh’s work previously but on the evidence of just this novel, she is a name to watch for the future.

 

I’m also dipping into  The Clever Guts Diet by Dr Michael Mosely (fascinating once you get over the yucky bits) and Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by J Mark G Williams. I’ve tried about half a dozen books on mindfulness in recent months and this one is the best so far. Very clear, very practical, with a commendable absence of hippy drippy stuff.

What did you recently finish reading? Trick by Domenico Starnone

Trick was one of the books I received through my subscription last year to the Asympote Book Club, most of which I never got around to reading.

This is a short but very compelling story of an elderly illustrator asked to look after his rather precocious four-year-old grandson for a few days.

Don’t imagine however this is a warm, family bonding kind of story. The relationship between these two people is one based on a battle for control. Grand-dad needs physical and mental space in which to work and complete his latest commission with a publisher is breathing down his neck. The boy just wants to play. In their tussle, the old man begins to question his abilities as an artist.

 

 

 

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

Always a tough question. This month it’s even more challenging because I’m preparing for an extended holiday which involves multiple long flights. I’m not keen to use up my luggage allowance with hefty books so am planning to take a maximum of 4 paperbacks that I’ll be happy to discard mid trip. I should add that I’ve also been making sure I have plenty of e-books available….

I need variety. Maybe one crime novel, maybe one ‘classic’ although some of those on my owned-but-unread shelves are rather bulky. I have six days to make up my mind. Based on previous experience the selections are going to change multiple times before the case is zipped for the last time.

How do you decide what books to take with you on a trip? Any recommendations for a strategy to help me make decisions.

2019: What lies ahead

binoculars

Photo by Chase Clark on Unsplash

Now I’ve managed to close the lid on 2018 (see my wrap up post here), its time to turn my attention to 2019.

I’ve been wrestling with the question of whether to join some of the many challenges that are available. But on balance I decided that last year’s experiment with “Reading Naked” (by which I mean picking my next book randomly) was liberating so I plan to continue using that approach this year.

That doesn’t mean my year will be entirely without structure. But I’ll focus on projects rather than challenges. Challenges usually involve meeting a specific goal – reading a targeted number of books for example, or specified categories of books by a set date. I prefer the more open-ended nature of a project that I create for myself, where I get to decide on the scope and parameters.  I want the flexibility to go wherever my mood takes me.

Here’s how the year ahead could pan out.

I’m going for simplicity;  largely avoiding specific goals in favour of general directions. Most of these are continuations of existing projects and activities but – just to ring the changes – I’m going to start two new activities.

General directions 

  • Finish the Booker Prize project. This is the only specific goal I’m adopting this year. It should be a piece of cake since I have just two books and then I’m done. Although I have copies of the 2016 and 2018 books I’m not going to count them. If I manage to read them this year, they’ll be considered as bonus.
  • Re-connect with the Classics Club project.  I’m now 12 books away from the target of 50.  But I keep finding new titles to add so this could be a movable feast.
  • Travel the world: I stalled last year in my plan to read authors from a broader range of countries.  In a year when the UK is supposed to say goodbye to the EU, it feels appropriate to make sure my reading tastes have an international dimension.
  • Move through years of my life: I have a feeling that by reading more from my Classics Club list, I will be able to make progress on the Years of My Life project without having to make a special effort.

New Initiatives 

Booker Talk Team Expands

Booker Talk is approaching its 7th anniversary. I’m marking this milestone by expanding the team.  Two new faces will be making an appearance on this site shortly, contributing reviews and articles on reading, authors and books.

cerian fishlockCerian Fishlock is currently studying for an MA in Publishing. She’s an Agatha Christie fan who’s desperate to find a modern author that can match the Queen of Crime . She loves novels with a psychological edge and “if that can be combined with defeating the patriarchy, even better.”

 

 

 

edward colleyEdward Colley is a retired newspaper editor and graphic designer with an eclectic taste in books. He counts Thomas Hardy among his favourite authors.  In between reading fiction he enjoys biographies and travel writing .

 

 

 

 

Connecting with Welsh authors/publishers

For the past year I’ve been trying to support and promote literature from my home country of Wales, through reviews and the odd feature article on this site. Now I’m going a step further by creating a new series where we get to know some of the authors based in Wales.

cwtch definition I’m calling this new series Cwtch Corner. The idea is to get into a conversation with an author about their favourite authors and books, how and where they get their inspiration and what readers can expect from their own novel/s. This is a spot where authors could pitch their work to potential readers.

Never seen that word Cwtch before?  It’s a word used in the Welsh language to describe a physical place –  a small cubbyhole for example or a small room in a pub. But it also denotes a form of affection, love and caring. Think of it like a cuddle or a hug. So authors taking part in Cwtch Corner are hopefully going to find the experience a bit like being wrapped in a warm embrace.

I’m reaching out to authors to participate at the moment but if you know someone you think might be interested just ask them to contact me via Twitter using @bookertalk. Please note however that I am not intending to feature self-published authors.

 

 

2018 in First Lines

Fountain penAccording to Lisa at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog it’s time once more to play A Year in First Lines.

The idea is to:

Take the first line of each month’s post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.

Let’s recap on the year…

 

Jan 2018: Reykjavík Nights by Arnaldur Indridason

Sometimes the brain just craves crime.

Feb 2018: Snapshot February 2018

Throughout 2017 I was making a note on the first day of the month of what I was reading and the level of what I call my personal library (otherwise known as the TBR mountain)

March 2018: Books to mark Wales’ special day

March 1 is St David’s Day in Wales —St David being our patron saint — so usually a day for celebration of all things Welsh.

April 2018: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

One of the most memorable episodes in Alan Bennett’s series of dramatic monologues Talking Heads features an elderly lady who has taken a tumble in her home while doing a little illicit dusting.

May 2018: WWWednesday 2 May 2018

Currently reading: The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda. This is a book I picked up on my holiday late last year in South Africa when I asked a bookshop owner for recommendations of South African authors.

June 2018: An alternative Golden Booker Prize

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize.

July 2018: New additions to the shelves

After months of admirable self restraint, the flood gates opened in the last few months and all my attempts to whittle down my stack of owned-but-unread books have been thwarted.

August 2018: Classics club spin falls on Mitford

The anticipation is over and the result of the latest Classic Club Spin is in.

September 2018: Six Degrees from film memoir to crime

It’s time for #6degrees which this month begins with a memoir: Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson. 

October 2018: Lullaby by Leïla Slimani 

It takes a brave author to begin a novel by revealing the ending.

November 2018: Non-Fiction November: favourite reads

I’ve taken the plunge and joined Nonfiction November which is an annual challenge to read, critique and discuss non-fiction books for a month.

December 2018: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny 

How long can a series endure before it runs out of steam?

What does this tell me about my blogging year? 

  • I tend to write in short sentences
  • Like practically every other blogger I’ve come across, I buy far more books than I can possibly read
  • Even though I stopped doing the Top Ten Tuesday meme, I still seem to spend a fair amount of time on other memes like Six Degrees of Separation and WWW Wednesday
  • I managed to read a few books in translation (though not as many as in previous years)
  • I have an interest in literature from my home country of Wales.
  • I read crime fiction. I’m actually surprised by how much of this I did read this year  genre given it’s not a favourite genre
  • I am trying to read more ‘classics’. When I saw the August 2018 first line I remembered that, though I read the spin book, I never managed to write the review.
  • I keep an eye on the Booker Prize
  • I don’t write reviews very frequently (only 3 of these 12 months are a review post)

What does this mean for 2019?

I’m still mulling over my 2019 plans but this exercise has made me realise that I need to adjust the balance of reviews to other content like memes. I think I’ve been doing more of the latter because I’m slow at writing reviews, spending far too long trying to come up with the ‘perfect’ intro whereas memes etc don’t usually require as deep a thinking process. Consequently I am well behind with my reviews….. I feel a New Year’s Resolution in the wind….

The Last Ten

You may have seen this meme doing the rounds recently. It originated as a tag on a book vlog apparently ( I don’t watch these so rely on other people highlighting interesting content).

  1. The last book I gave up on

The LibrarianEarlier this week I decided to part company with The Librarian by Salley Vickers. It’s the choice for the book club meet up in January. I wasn’t that excited by the selection because I wasn’t very enamoured by her earlier book The Cleaner of Chatres. But I hoped the fact that this plot involves books might prove more interesting. For anyone who doesn’t know this book, it concerns a woman who begins a new job as a children’s librarian and embarks on a mission to get more children enthused about reading. Right from the first few pages I knew I was going to have a problem with this novel. The writing style just jarred on me. In part it read like a synopsis of a story, with lots of telling, and very little showing. It also was very laboured and overly detailed. I lasted to about 60 pages and then decided it was a waste of time to go further when I had many other, greatly superior books awaiting me.

2. The last book I re-read

I’ve done very little re-reading in the past year.  The last book I re-read was Peter Pan by J M Barrie – and that was only because it was a set book on a children’s literature course I was pursuing.

3. The last book I bought

WinterThe end of 2018 was signalled by a flurry of book purchases. Some were gifts for various family members but I also took the opportunity to acquire a few new items for myself. They included Winter by Ali Smith which is second novel in her Seasonal Quartet collection. I had planned to hold off reading this collection until all four had been published, but this was on offer at the bookshop and seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

 

 

 

 

4. The last book I said I read but actually didn’t

I’ve never said I’ve read a book when I haven’t. I usually have the reverse problem – always involving a crime novel –  where I discover just after starting a new book that I had already read it even if I can’t recall the details of the plot.

5. The last book I wrote in the margins of

I do this only for books I’m studying for a course or where I am trying to get more knowledgeable about a particular topic in order to share the knowledge with other people. interest, as well as ordinary bookmarks.

6. The last book I had signed

Katherine of AragonThis would be Katherine of Arragon by Alison Weir, the first in her Tudor Queens series.  I took my copy along when she was in Penarth to talk about the second in the series —about Anne Boleyn. She kindly signed both books for me.

 

 

 

 

7. The last book I lost

My copy of Voss by Patrick White has disappeared without trace. If anyone finds it please let me know. It’s a rather sad looking paperback edition which I purchased via e-bay.

8. The last book I had to replace

I’ve been trying to think of circumstances in which this would happen and I’ve drawn a blank. I don’t tend to borrow books from other people , I always return books borrowed from the library and I’m not in the habit of losing my own books over a cliff edge or in the bath. If the case arose that the book club chose a book I no longer owned, I’d either get a library copy or go to the meeting relying on my memory.

9. The last book I argued over

The Great Coat

I’ve had a few ‘spats’ over the years and a few ‘differences of opinion’ but arguments – never as far as I can recall. The last ‘difference of opinion’ was two days ago when my mum, who was spending Christmas with us, was engrossed in Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat. We often chat about the books we’re reading even if we have very different tastes. My mum thought The Greatcoat was superb, whereas I was underwhelmed by it and found the plot implausible beyond belief.  We are still on speaking terms though….

 

 

 

10. The last book you couldn’t find

I know without any doubt that I have How Late it Was How Late by James Kelman on my shelves. I started reading it at the beginning of the year so I know it’s in the house somewhere. I can even remember that it’s a bright red cover with just the book title in block letters but no other artwork. Can I remember where I put it though? I can blame no-one other than myself. I have a semi alphabetical system but when I run out of space, books get shoved in anywhere……..

Saint or sinner??? It’s confession time..

Nice_Naughty

I saw this “Nice or Naughty?” tag at FictionFan’s blog and thought it made a refreshing break from shopping, parcel wrapping, cooking etc etc etc.  I will leave, the jury, to decide whether I’m a saint or a sinner……

So here are the questions..

1. Received an ARC and not reviewed it?

I plead guilty. I try hard not to accept books for review if I don’t think I have the time but occasionally my halo has slipped. Everytime I see those unread books on the shelves I suffer waves of guilt.

2. Got less than 60% feedback rating on NetGalley? 

Not guilty. I’m close to it though since my current rating is 63%. I got over enthusiastic a few years ago and requested far too many books so the rating slipped from 90%. I’ve done much better this year by the simple strategy of not requesting any books for about nine months of the year.  I just closed my eyes whenever an email came through from NetGalley ….

3. Rated a book on Goodreads and promised a full review was to come on your blog (and never did)?

Not guilty, I don’t like rating systems. I add one to my Goodreads account but don’t set much store by them.

4. Folded down the page of a book?

dog earedGuilty.   I did this once on a flight when I didn’t have anything to hand I could use as a bookmark. I was reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky and found so many passages I wanted to note that I ran out of objects I could use as bookmarks. I’d already used my boarding card, the paper towel and the drinks coaster.

 

5. Accidentally spilled on a book?

Not guilty as far as I can remember. And I’m sure I would remember….. But then white wine or champagne wouldn’t be that noticeable. Those bubbly bits on the page — they’re just water marks aren’t they?

6. DNF a book this year?

I’ve long passed the stage where I keep pushing on to the end of novels I’m not enjoying but I’m surprised to find I have only one novel I couldn’t finish this year.   I abandoned
G by John Berger. It was one of the books on my Booker Prize project list but a more dull book it would be hard to envisage.

I might come close to another DNF before the end of the year. I started reading The Librarian by Salley Vickers last night (this is the next book club selection) and am not at all taken with the narrative tone.

So yes I plead guilty m’lord.

7. Bought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it?

Not guilty. Despite a plethora of magazine articles and Instagram pictures suggesting otherwise, books are not meant to be decorative items. They are meant to be read. Repeat after me……

8. Read whilst you were meant to be doing something else (like homework)?

Guilty. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been engrossed in a book when I should have been sleeping. Or reading when I should have been getting ready to go to the gym.

9. Skim read a book?

Not this year though in the past I’ve been known to just glance at books given as work assignments, about the latest business theory… usually the skimming takes place on the trip to the meeting with all fingers and toes crossed that no-one asks any deep and searching questions. Now this is just between you and me right???

10. Completely missed your Goodreads goal?

Guilty this year even though I set the goal lower than its been for about 5 years. When I was in full time employment I used to dream of days when I could just sit at home and read. And now I’m retired and can, I somehow never get around to reading in the daytime. 2018 will see me reader fewer books than I have for many years.

11. Borrowed a book and not returned it to the library?

Completely innocent on this one. I do however forget the date when the books are due back at the library so end up with a fine….

12. Broken a book buying ban?

Wish I could plead innocent on this but it’s not to be. I tried a ban last year and lasted a few months. But before I could wipe the self-satisfied smug look on my face, I happened to go into a bookshop. You can get guess the rest can’t you? This year the total of my owned-but not read- books is higher at the end of the year than it was at the beginning. How did that happen?

13. Started a review, left it for ages then forgot what the book was about?

Oh dear. I have to come clean on this one. Some books are difficult to review so yes I might put one aside intending to return to it when the inspiration returns. And then forget it….

14. Written in a book you were reading?

I know this makes me persona non grata in certain circles but yes I have done this with books I’m studying for a course. It’s called active reading.

15. Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads?

I use  Goodreads to help keep track of what I’ve read but I also have a spreadsheet and a page on this blog. Keeping them all in synch is a challenge. So yes, guilty on this count.

16. Borrowed a book and not returned it to a friend?

Nope, my friends don’t enjoy the same kind of books I enjoy so I don’t borrow from them.

17. Dodged someone asking if they can borrow a book?

No, though I know the chances of actually getting it returned are almost non existent.

18. Broken the spine of someone else’s book?

Since I hardly ever borrow other people’s books, this is unlikely to ever occur.

19. Taken the jacket off a book to protect it and ended up making it more damaged?

Never. I don’t understand why someone wants to remove the jacket at all. The artwork of the cover is an integral part of the book surely?

20. Sat on a book accidentally?

Yes, Yes, Yes. Books will insist on turning up in the most inconvenient places…..

Having answered all questions truthfully and fully, I leave my future in your hands. Am I a saint or a sinner??

Books to give and receive Christmas 2018

A few weeks ago the editors at Shiny New Books asked their team of reviewers (plus some friends) to reveal which book or books they’d like to give for Christmas.

I thought that was such a great idea I decided to do my own version but with a little twist. While we all enjoy giving we also enjoy the excitement of receiving. And so I asked  bloggers, publishers, authors and avid readers based in Wales what book/s they’d most like to give as a Christmas gift but what book or books they secretly hoped Santa would bring them this year.

They’ve come up with an eclectic list incorporating a literary classic to a short story collection, a ‘clean eating’ cook book and, in one case, a novel that hasn’t yet been completed…..

Helena Earnshaw: Honno Press 

Would love to give: Stranger Within the Gates by Bertha Thomas

stranger-within-the_gates“Obviously I love to give books published by Honno, and particularly from the Welsh Women’s Classics, hoping to introduce friends and family to these great women writers of the past! Stranger Within the Gates, by Bertha Thomas, is a favourite. Although written over 100 years ago, it has a contemporary appeal — it contains a witty pro-suffrage parody, as well as other sharply observed stories.

We’ve also recently brought out a new edition of The Rebecca Rioter by Amy Dillwyn, with a great new cover that makes a beautiful and interesting gift. ”

 

Hoping Santa will bring….

“I am torn between three books. I’m hoping for The Original Suffrage Cook Book, originally published in 1915 to help raise funds for the campaign for the vote for women. The Women’s Atlas, by Joni Seager also looks like a fascinating resource as does Y Lolfa’s Codi Llais by 14 Welsh women about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century.

“In fiction, I am hoping for Disobedience by Naomi Alderman. A bit of a well known choice, with the upcoming film, but a recent interview with the author was so moving and fascinating that I feel I need to read the book. ”

Cerian Fishlock: Publishing student

Would love to give: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Of course you’d want to tailor a gift to your chosen recipient, but this is both my favourite book of all time, and the book I think everyone should read. It’s a phenomenal piece of literature, beautifully crafted, and causes you to question the basis of human nature. The Penguin Classics edition is a beautiful text, making it the perfect present for Stevenson fans and virgins alike.”

Hoping Santa will bring….

modern cook“I regularly buy myself a novel or work of fiction (thank you Waterstones for your buy-one-get-one-half-price offer), but very rarely pick up a non-fiction book for myself. Of course the New Year heralds the season of diet manuals and ‘get fit quick’ guides. Ignore those, head straight to Anna Jones’ vegetarian bibles instead. The Modern Cook’s Year and A Modern Way to Cook ignore all the jargon of current trends and offer realistic recipes which fit in with modern life — all wrapped up with mouth-watering photography.

 

An Edited Life by blogger Anna Newton, is an upcoming guide to getting your life in order (now available for pre-order in the UK). Whilst I’m not usually interested in social media stars turned authors, a quick peruse of Anna’s blog (The Anna Edit) will prove all the inspiration you need to overhaul your wardrobe/loft/kitchen/makeup… I could go on.”

Susan Corcoran: Blogger at booksaremycwtches

Would love to give: The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech

“This is a dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart. It’s a joy to read, heart breaking and exquisite. For me, it’s her finest book to date.”

Hoping Santa will bring….

Silence of the girls“The books I secretly hope Santa brings me are Pat Barker’s The Silence Of The Girls. Having fallen deeply in love with Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, it would be fascinating to read the story from a female character’s point of view.

The other would be A Keeper by Graham Norton. I loved his first book and really want to read this one.”

 

 

 

Thorne Moore: author

Albi“I’d give Albi by Hilary Shepherd, the best and most thought-provoking book I’ve read this year. It’s about real history and human nature in crisis.

I’d love to receive — from Santa, who is magical and can therefore achieve anything —volume 3 of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, because I am itching for it, so it would make the perfect Christmas present.”

 

 

 

Kath Eastman: Blogger at The Nut Press

Would love to give: The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale

“I try and fit the book to its recipient and their interests but these are some of my go-to book gifts this year:

The Toy Makers“The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale is set in a toy emporium which opens in London when the first frost appears and shows how magical the imagination can be but there’s also a darkness to it as well which I loved. I think it’s a perfect read for this time of year.

“I’m giving crime fans Amy Lloyd’s The Innocent Wife which is a really impressive debut looking at a woman who campaigns for, falls for and marries a death row prisoner, only for him to be released and for her to discover that’s when life gets interesting.

“My other choice would be The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway by Rhys Thomas which is about an unlikely superhero: it’s geeky, humorous, heartbreaking and refreshingly different. I’d recommend it to fans of Eleanor Oliphant and comic book heroes alike.”

Hoping Santa will bring….

“I already have more than enough unread books to keep me going over the festive period, so I’d be happy with some book tokens for Christmas to put towards some of the terrific new releases coming in the New Year.

That said, I wouldn’t say no to finding the Costa shortlisted novel The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman under the tree, or John Boyne’s A Ladder to the Sky, both of which really appeal to me.

Megan Farr: Firefly Press and Graffeg

Would love to give: The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher

Clockwork Crow“A book I would gift to all children aged 8-12, as well as their parents, is this beautifully written and magical book by Catherine Fisher. It is the perfect read over the Christmas holidays, as the story is set in a snowy Victorian mid-Wales in the lead up to Christmas Day. When orphan Seren arrives as her new home she finds that the family is in mourning as their son has been missing for a year and a day. Seren sets off with the help of an enchanted Clockwork Crow to find him in this magical story of snow and stars from a master storyteller.”

 

Hoping Santa will bring….

“I am very much hoping to find Middle England by Jonathan Coe and Cassandra Drake by Posy Simmonds under the Christmas tree. I recently read The Rotter’s Club and very much look forward to revisiting the characters after the financial crash of 2008, following them to the present day, and seeing what Coe makes of the Brexit fall-out. I am equally excited to read Posy Simmonds’ first graphic novel in 11 years, being a huge fan. Her graphic novels are always a delicious mix of gorgeous drawing, brilliant characters and great societal observation.”

Bookends #12 December 2018

This week’s Bookends features an article about reading African women writers, a blog post about the importance of context in our reading and a book written by a woman who for eight years was hardly out of the media spotlight.

Book: Blue Sky  by Kate Atkinson

Big SkyKate Atkinson used to be one of my favourite authors. But we parted company when she brought out A Life after Life in 2013. I abandoned it half way through. I know I was in a minority in saying that I didn’t enjoy this novel (it won the Costa Book of the Year) but sometimes that happens.  Her next book, A God In Ruins picked up some of the same characters and themes so it didn’t appeal to me.

I’ve yet to catch up with her most recent novel Transcription which features a young woman who is recruited by an obscure wartime department of the Secret Service.

But now, thanks to Susan at A Life in Books I discover that she already has another book in the pipeline. Big Sky will be published in 2019 and will mark a return after a nine year absence to her detective series, featuring the ex-Cambridge Constabulary private investigator, Jackson Bodie.

The publishers Transworld will not release details of the plot until next year so until then we’ll have to make do with the cover image….. I’m hoping however that these two books will see the return of my love affair with Atkinson.

Blog Post: Books of the Year

This is the time of year when many publications and bloggers reflect on the last 12 months and decide what titles make their ‘Books of the Year’ list. The Millions newsletter has been running a series of articles on this theme for the past few weeks – you can read them here 

If you don’t have the time to read through all these lists, help is at hand via Kate at Books are My Favourite blog who has amalgamated multiple published lists into her Top 50 Books of 2018. This is a great resource because it shows which books which most regularly appeared in “Best of ….” lists. Judging by this, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is the outstanding hit of this year since it appears in 17 separate lists.

What I found interesting about Kate’s list was how few of the 2018 Booker Prize contenders are included. Only 11 lists included The Booker winner Milkman by Anna Burns. It actually rated lower overall than three other candidates: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, The Overstory by Richard Powers and Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.

Here is Kate’s post 

Article: African women writers

reading-africaGuardian journalist Gary Younge was embarrassed by how few women writers from Africa he had read. Though he was familiar with many of the big names like Chimamanda Adichi and Nadine Gordimer, there were many more countries about whose literature he knew nothing. So he decided to do something about it by making 2018 his year of reading African women writers.

He’s now read 19 books by authors from Morocco, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Egypt, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Guadeloupe.

As a result his perceptions have been turned on their head. When he began his project he expected that reading African women would be “self-improving but not necessarily enjoyable.” But to his surprise it’s been “mostly the latter and often both.” He’s read books that portrayed ordinary domestic scenes and love between Africans, books that dealt with migration and books set against a background of political upheaval.

I recognised a few of the author names he mentions but there are many more who are new to me. These will be great additions to the list of books to read for my World of Literature project. 

If you’re thinking of making a 2019 resolution to read more broadly, this article could gie you some good pointers about authors to explore. Read Gary Younge’s article here 

 

 

And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?

WWWednesday 12 December, 2018

It’s ages since I did a post for WWWednesday which is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words . This might turn out to be the last one for this year….

 

What are you currently reading? 

I have multiple books on the go at the moment.

I’m meant to be reading A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James because it is one of only two unread titles in my Booker prize project. However, I’m finding it hard going because it has so many different characters (75 in total), several of whom pop up at different points to tell their part of the story. I keep forgetting who all these people are and have to refer to the character list to discover whether the current narrator is the local CIA head, a Colombian drug gang member, a hooker or a journalist. Adding to the difficulty is that parts of the narration are in Jamaican patois. So it’s not the ideal novel to read late at night…..

Which is why I’m also reading The Next Big Thing by Anita Brookner. It’s another of her intense character portraits about loneliness and characters who long for something else in their lives. Hertz Fritz has led a very unremarkable life. Now 73 years old he ponders what he is going to do with the time he has remaining. He could leave London and move to Paris. He could become a regular guest on a chat show about art. He could remarry. He knows he needs to do something. But what???  He’s such a ditherer that I want to shake him out of his apathy and his constant worries about his health.

I’m also continuing to read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. It’s packed so full of information that I’m not able to absorb more than a few pages at a time. It’s fascinating however. I’ve learned why caffeine is absolutely the last thing you want to ingest in the evening (it blocks the hormone that tells us we need to sleep), and what happens during the different phases of sleep.

What did you recently finish reading? Miss Peabody’s Inheritance by Elizabeth Jolley

I’d never heard of Elizabeth Jolley until I saw her mentioned by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog who held an Elizabeth Jolley reading week earlier this year. She sounded so good I immediately bought two of her books.

The first – Sugar Daddy was extremely funny at times but the humour was nicely balanced with some disquieting themes. I had high expectations that my other purchase Miss Peabody’s Inheritance would be just as enjoyable. And I have certainly not been disappointed.

This is a novel within a novel about Miss Peabody, a lonely middle-aged spinster who has a boring office job and lives with her overbearing, bedridden mother. The only excitement in her life is a correspondence she begins with a writer of romance novels in Australia. Through the letters Miss Peabody is drawn into the world of the author’s newest novel. My review of this book will follow soonish….

What do you think you’ll read next?

It’s going to take me a few weeks to finish the Marlon James I suspect but in the meantime I have the next book club choice to read by early in January. We’ve chosen The Librarian by Salley Vickers. The description tells me this is about a new children’s librarian in the small town of East Mole who is on a mission to improve the lives of local children by giving them just the right books. Then she begins a scandalous affair with a married doctor. Not sure about the romance aspect of this but if this book features books then it has to be worth reading doesn’t it? 

 

Bookends #10 November 2018

This week’s Bookends post features an author whose books about a fictitious community in Quebec, Canada have become a favourite. I’m also giving you a challenge to name which author you would choose if you could read only one author for the rest of your life.

Book: Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

Louise PennyI’ve posted multiple times in the last few years about Louise Penny and how much I enjoy her series featuring Armand Gamache, Head of Homicide at the Sûreté du Québec.  There is another Gamache novel due out from Little Brown on November 27.

Kingdom of the Blind takes us back to the community of Three Pines, a village so small it barely features on a map. Gamache is called to an abandoned farmhouse outside the village where he discovers that an elderly woman, a stranger, has named him as an executor of her will. The bequests are so wildly unlikely that he suspects the woman must have been delusional – until a body is found, and the terms of the bizarre document suddenly seem far more menacing

But it isn’t the only menace Gamache is facing. In the last novel Glass Houses he was suspended from his role as Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec, pending an investigation. That investigation has dragged on, and Armand is taking increasingly desperate measures to rectify previous actions.

One thing you can be sure of with  Louise Penny is that this novel will have a strong plot. What interests me far more than that however is the way she has developed the character of her protagonist. He’s a very thoughtful man with a good understanding of human nature (how many other detectives do you find quoting Marcus Aurelius?). He makes mistakes but also has the humility to accept when he is wrong.

Blog Post: Which author could you read for the rest of your life

I wish I could get to the book club meetings that Anne at Cafe Society talks about on her blog because they have such interesting and thought-provoking discussions. In one recent meeting she says “someone asked whom we would choose if we could only read the works of one author for the rest of our lives.” Some choices were inevitable: Dickens and Trollope.

In her recent post, Anne reflected on the criteria for her own selection.

I’ve been thinking about this on and off since I saw her post. It’s not an easy question at all. I have many authors I consider favourites but if they were the only author I could read, would they be enough to sustain me? I’m coming around to putting Emile Zola as my choice – his novels are strong on plot but they are even stronger on ideas. There are 20 of them in his Rougon-Macquart series covering multiple aspects of life in 19th century France – from alcoholism, prostitution, industrial disputes and poverty to the birth of the department store. Plenty of variety to keep me engaged.

Now my challenge to you all – what would your choice be? And of course, why?

Article: Facing down a book Goliath

A couple of days ago I heard of a rumpus involving Abe Books which is an online book re-seller owned by Amazon. Apparently Abe decided it would no longer list booksellers from the Czech Republic, South Korea, Hungary and Russia. The company didn’t really explain its decision beyond the fact it was changing to a new payment service provider.

What they never anticipated was the reaction. Hundreds of secondhand booksellers around the world united in a flash strike against Amazon. More than 400 booksellers in 26 countries not affected by the decision retaliated by marking any of their stock listed on Abe as being “temporarily unavailable”.

Such was the strength of opposition that Abe has now backed down. I suspect that the senior management at Amazon stepped in when they saw what was happening.

Read about the issue here and  here . 

What struck me about this scenario was that it was all completely unnecessary. The objectors didn’t question the right of Abe to make a commercial decision about how to operate its business. But they did object to the way this was implemented. Little warning given to the booksellers who would, as a consequence, see their business severely impacted. Little consideration given to the fact this would mean a loss of jobs.

If Abe had been less high-handed and insensitive they would not have faced a protest that has damaged their reputation.

It’s a lesson that all big companies need to understand. Treat your customers and business partners with respect and they will remain loyal. Disregard them at your peril.

 

And so that’s a wrap for this episode of Bookends. Have you found anything new exciting and to read this week that might entice me?

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