between the world and me, rebecca, the salt path, & my sister the serial killer

These are a few of my reading highlights from the last few weeks…

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between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This is a raw, heartfelt, and compelling letter by the author to his son on the subject of race in America. Not only does it lay bare the sustained experiences of racism most black Americans face in their lives, it also unpicks the idea of the American dream itself. It’s a beautifully written, brutally honest, and insightful book.

‘You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable… The people who must believe they are white can never be your measuring stick. I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.’

RebeccaBook

rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I ordered a copy of Rebecca from the library just before lockdown, and finally got my hands on a copy earlier this month (yay for libraries re-opening!). I found it just as twisted and gothic and haunting and suspenseful as My Cousin Rachel – although I did find it infuriating to have such an aloof main character (she’s never even named) despite appreciating that this detachment was a deliberate (and, granted, effective) narrative tool. It’s a classic for a reason, so I won’t bore you with more of my analysis – basically, if you read it it’ll mess with your mind and keep you on your emotional toes.

‘He would never love me because of Rebecca. She was in the house still… she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall… and in the garden, and in the woods, and down in the stone cottage. Her footsteps sounded in the corridors, her scent lingered on the stairs.’

the salt path by Raynor Winn. Weirdly, I started The Salt Path last year but returned it to my TBR pile for another try when I didn’t get into it as much as I’d expected to. And I’m so glad I saved it for future reading, because when I picked it up again last month I clicked with it instantly. The book follows Raynor and her husband, Moth, on the physical and emotional ups and downs as they walk the South West Coast Path in England after they’re made homeless and as Moth struggles with the effects of a debilitating illness. It’s a raw account of hitting life’s rock bottom and rebuilding from what’s left. Be careful, though – it’ll make you want to go for a really, really, really long walk.

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my sister, the serial killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. Every now and again, I read a book that I just want to press into the hands of every passer-by I see and shout dramatically: “read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets!”. My Sister, the Serial Killer is one of those books. I’d seen it all over instagram and the book blogosphere for aaages, but was nervous a book about a serial killing sister would be too macabre for me. Turns out, I was totally wrong. I loved it. The story itself is simple but addictive, the characters are lovable if a bit morally adrift, and the tone is incredibly witty despite the dark subject matter. Read it, I beg of you, please, you shall have no regrets.

‘Ayoola summons me with these words – Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.’

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• Have you read any of these? • What did you make of them? • What have you been reading recently? •

bitesized book thoughts

So, the real world is still being weird and scary and stressful. But, have no fear! If you’re looking for some papery, fictional worlds to distract you, I have a couple of books you might want to consider for your reading list (although most of them aren’t set in worlds that are actually any nicer than this one)…

a different drummer by william melvin kelley

a different drummer by William Melvin Kelley. This is a powerful and unique, and utterly unputdownable, book that explores racism in a (fictional) Southern state in 1950s America. In it, we follow a handful of the white townsfolk of Sutton as they grapple with the meaning behind an exodus of all the town’s, and wider state’s, black citizens. It’s inevitably painful and hard to read but it’s also so, so good. The writing is beautiful, the pacing is perfect, and the characters – the good, the bad, the ugly – come alive on the page. I would highly, highly recommend this one for your TBR list! (I first heard about A Different Drummer via Books, Baking & Blogging – Anne’s review is excellent and well worth a read.)

my cousin rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. Oof, I had so many feelings about this one. It’s incredibly tense and unsettling and uncomfortable, it plays so many mind games, it leaves so many questions unanswered, and it throws up so many issues. I found it painfully infuriating and painfully intoxicating all at the same time. Philip Ashley lives a comfortable and sheltered life in Cornwall under the guardianship of his wealthy cousin, Ambrose. When Ambrose leaves for Italy one winter and marries a mysterious woman during his stay, Philip is mortified. Mortification turns to devastation and suspicion when Ambrose dies suddenly after suggesting his new wife, Rachel, is poisoning him. And when Rachel turns up in Cornwall, Philip’s suspicion descends into twisted obsession. Despite loving me a story full of twisted obsession, I was hesitant to start My Cousin Rachel, ummed and ahhed over it for ages, because I was worried it might be a bit dowdy, a bit stale, a bit old fashioned – and although it’s a book that’s certainly of its time (beware some very offensive language), it was anything but stale or dowdy. I could not stop turning the pages. It’s safe to say my first foray into Du Maurier’s gothic world was a success.

my cousin rachel by daphne du maurier

machines like me by Ian McEwan. Ah god, this was a funny one. I liked it… aaand I also hated it a little bit. It follows Charlie, a self-employed financial speculator in an alternate history version of eighties London, as he adapts to life with an AI robot called Adam. The plot itself doesn’t feel very eventful or gripping – the focus of the story stays firmly on the moral can of worms that living with an artificially intelligent, and possibly conscious, machine opens up. It’s peppered with loads of wry humour which I loved, and the questions it raises are undoubtedly interesting, but it just didn’t hit the book spot for me – perhaps ironically, it was full of clever, intriguing brains but lacked a beating heart.

machines like me by ian mcewan

tales from moominvalley by Tove Jansson. *sighs dreamily* This collection of short Moomin stories is just perfect – each one is life-affirming, heart-warming, surreal, thoughtful, and delightful in its own way. Travel with Snufkin, discover a tiny golden dragon, build a fun fair with a Hemulen, overcome worries with an anxious Fillyjonk – explore the weird wonders of Moominland in all their whimsical glory. Moomin books always make the best comfort reading!

• What have you been reading recently? • Have you read any of these? • What are your thoughts on them? •

a tale of one bookshelf

Yesterday, I built a little bookcase using scraps of wood from the garden and a lot of blind hope (mixed with only a small amount of blood loss).

I was more than happy with the end result…

HomemadeBookcase
it actually works!
HandmadeBookcase
it’s not wonky, it’s rustic…
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pretty patterns

Despite having a bit of an incident involving a saw and my right thigh; despite kneeling in chicken poop (fyi: I was much more upset about the chicken poop); despite deafening myself and my neighbours with a lot of sanding, nailing, and swearing; despite forgetting to wear sun cream and ending up with burnt shoulders; despite winging most of the measurements; despite having pretty much no idea what I was doing (my brain: “straight pieces of wood + nails = bookcase.”); despite spending an embarrassing amount of time trying to find pencils/bradawls/rulers/nails I’d only JUST THAT ACTUAL SECOND put down… despite all of those things, I feel that the whole DIY experience was a positive one.

And the shelf hasn’t fallen apart yet, so that’s another plus. #winning

All of this is good news, because I’m going to need to build another one VERY soon.

Note to self: must. stop. buying. books.

Right Book, Right Time

Some books* are like roses – they need just the right conditions to grow on you, and you need to catch them at just the right time otherwise you’ll just see a mess of bleak branches and threatening thorns rather than a wonderland of beauty and colour.

*maybe all books are really – but I think this a whole other (and probably very long) blog post.

I recently finished One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, and it felt like a rose-book to me.

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one hundred years of solitude

‘… experience had taught her that the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spinning into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle.’

There’s so much I could say about One Hundred Years of Solitude, but not much I can add to the already extensive debate surrounding it. It’s a mindbogglingly successful book that has had a massive cultural impact, that helped to spark the fires of magical realism as a genre, and that has baffled/bewitched millions of readers around the world for over fifty years.

Personally, I ended up loving it – despite a lot of intitial confusion/frustration/bewilderment and thinking that there was no way I would be able to muddle through to the end.

It turns out the conditions and times were right, though, for this rose-book to grow on me.

‘It rained for four years, eleven months, and two days.’

I have a few take aways from it for anyone thinking of giving this epic and surreal family saga a try…

  • it’s a whirlwind. Wars are begun and ended in a single sentence. Characters suddenly ascend to heaven whilst hanging out the laundry. Flowers rain from the sky and have to be shovelled off the streets. The book is a tornado of weird emotions, disturbing relationships, mini dramas, mega dramas, magical happenings, and dizzyingly complicated politics.
  • there are A LOT of characters with the same name. Get used to seeing Aureliano and Arcadio written on the page and good luck trying to distinguish between those characters based on the names alone. I could only differentiate between them by their behaviour and the characters around them, and even then I slipped up.
  • the imagery is insanely good. The book is a kaleidoscope of magic and wonder – I had to keep taking little moments just to absorb all the incredible mind pictures Márquez was painting on the page.
  • reading it feels a lot like fighting your way through a tangle of roots. But – after a while, hopefully, if you still like it and want to stick with it – those roots unfurl into a jungle of lush green leaves and colourful flowers. It’s still chaotic and wild, but it’s an interesting and hypnotic world to be in all the same.
  • it needs devotion. It’s not a book you can dip in and out of – it’s too mad for that.
  • it’s uncomfortable. There are creepy, icky relationships and creepy, outdated attitudes and neither of those things makes for a comfortable reading experience.
  • it will make you appreciate how normal your family is. If you’re beginning to find lockdown family life a bit tedious and samey, just be thankful you’re not in lockdown with the Buenidas.
  • it’s funny. There’s a lot of absurd humour to sink your teeth into.
  • it’s really, really weird. This is just worth reiterating.
  • it’s captivating. Despite everything – and there’s a lot of everything, I know – the story has a gravitational pull that’s hard to resist. It’s wacky and strange and disorientating, but magical in its bizarreness.

‘… both continued living on their own, cleaning their respective rooms while the cobwebs fell like snow on the rose bushes, carpeted the beams, cushioned the walls. It was around that time that Fernanda got the impression that the house was filling up with elves.’

To be honest, I’m really not sure that I would have grown to love One Hundred Years of Solitude if I hadn’t had a couple of days free to lounge around in the sunshine and get completely lost in it. I can easily see how in different circumstances I would have slammed it shut and vowed never to open it again.

A holiday week in lockdown had some unexpected reading benefits, at least.

Right book, right time.

read it all away

I think it’s fair to say most of us have a bit more spare time on our hands at the moment thanks to life under lockdown.

And if, like me, you want to bury your head in the book-sand to make all the world scariness and heart loneliness go away, I have a few – eclectic and pretty random – recommendations that have all swept me away from my little corner of the world at some point in the last few years.

mudlarking by Lara Maiklem. This book is utterly de. light. ful. And wonderful in the truest sense of the word. Lara Maiklem shines a light onto the mysterious world of mudlarks on the Thames. It’s full of unexpected treasures, pearls of obscure history, and interesting insights into London life through the ages. Perfect for anyone who was brought up on a diet of Channel 4’s Time Team. Get lost in the mud from the safety of your sofa.

the lesser bohemians by Eimar McBride. This certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it. It’s a messy and mesmerising (and pretty x-rated) ride through nineties London, following eighteen-year-old Eily as she navigates life as a drama school – plus, ahem, a school-of-life – student. I’ve never read anything like it before and doubt I’ll read anything quite like it ever again. If you can get into the strange rhythm of the writing (the first twenty pages will honestly feel like gibberish, but it clicks into place I promise), you’ll be rewarded with a story that’ll torture but ultimately spellbind your heart.

‘Girl I’ve been, woman I’ll be.’

TheLesserBohemians

moondust: in search of the men who fell to earth by Andrew Smith. Delve into the lives of the men behind the moonlandings as they recall their experiences before, during, and after their time in space. The book is filled with fascinating stories that don’t traditionally make the space race narrative. It’ll take you out of this lockdown world.

the invisible child by Tove Jansson. Tbh, anything by Tove Jansson will do the trick in tricky life times, but this little book of two short stories will capture your heart and soul hook, line, and absolute sinker. Moomin stories are always the answer, whatever the problem. Moomin up your life!

The Invisible Child and The Fir Tree by Tove Jansson, special Oxfam edition. Moomin short stories.

the great gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Okay people, this book. *waves hands in reverie towards the heavens* It’s glitzy, glamorous, and glorious. Obsession, pride, greed, delusion, selfishness, and jealousy twist together against a background of jazz age opulence and the effect is painfully intoxicating.

a fortune-teller told me by Tiziano Terzani. Would you live a year of your life bound by the reading of a fortune-teller? In 1993, Terzani did just that after being warned a decade before that he should avoid all air travel in that year. This intriguing book chronicles his earthbound adventures over those twelve months throughout south-east Asia and beyond, as he continued in his role as a journalist for Der Spiegel. It might make your feet itchy to get travelling again – #sorry – but it’ll also make you savour a slower pace of life too.

‘Every place is a goldmine. You have only to give yourself time, sit in a teahouse watching passers-by, stand in a corner of the market, go for a haircut. You pick up a thread – a word, a meeting, a friend of a friend of someone you have just met – and soon the most insipid, most insignificant place becomes a mirror of the world, a window on life, a theatre of humanity.’

a fortune teller told me by Tiziano Terzani

me by Elton John. This is an outrageously good memoir that’s choc-a-bloc full of amazing and jaw dropping stories, featuring names both big and small. It’s loud, bold, and colourful. The perfect antidote to low-key lockdown life.

‘Where would I be now? Who would I be now? You can send yourself crazy wondering. But it all happened, and here I am. There’s really no point in asking what if? The only question worth asking is: what’s next?’

the bear and the nightingale by Katherine Arden. Be transported to the fairytale wilds of medieval Russia in this first installment of the Winternight Trilogy. You’ll be so enchanted by the beautiful make believe world Arden has created, you’ll forget all about missing the real one.

when breath becomes air by Paul Kalanathi. Written in the last years of Kalanathi’s life after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, this is the kind of book that will make you sad – but in the best way possible, I swear. Most importantly, it will make you cherish life in all its weirdness and wonderfulness. Be prepared to cry, though.

jonathan strange & mr. norrell by Susanna Clarke. Basically, it’s regency-era England made magical for one thousand and six pages. And if that’s a sentence that floats your boat, you should definitely read it.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke book review.

the power of now by Eckhart Tolle. We might all be looking forward to the end of lockdown – and boy oh boy do I know I am *cries* – but there’s something to be said for making the most of the here and now, no matter what the here and now happens to be. I don’t agree with everything Tolle says, but the book’s basic premise makes so much sense. All we ever really have any control over is what we do with (or how we respond to) things now. Right now. Not ten minutes ago or in ten minutes time. Noooooow.

the hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Take a magical and mystical and really rather delightful tour through the world of Middle Earth with a grumpy hobbit, a mischievous wizard, and a band of merry dwarves. It’s less intense than the Lord of the Rings series, but still has plenty of fantastical things for you to get your bookish teeth into. The ultimate lockdown read, in other words.

If you have any recommendations for lockdown reading, let me know!

four years

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My blog turned four on Valentine’s day, and even though that was quite a while ago now I still wanted to (belatedly) mark the occasion. So, in honour of four happy blogging years I thought it would be nice to focus on four – pretty random – things that I’ve been loving and that have been making me happy this February…

engagement pancakes. One of my brothers recently got engaged. I got the date for pancake day wrong by two whole weeks. Those two things combined meant our celebratory family meal ended up being fajitas, with pancakes and ice cream for pudding (plus lots of prosecco). My mum has decided that engagement pancakes are now, officially, a family tradition. And I’m very much okay with that.

netflix. A heady mix of Storm Ciara, rain, more rain, Storm Dennis, feeling unwell, the trailer for The Witcher, a holiday week from work to use up, and a reading slump *shock, horror* meant I finally gave in and signed even more of my life and money away up for Netflix. So far, I have no regrets and a massive crush on Henry Cavill.

new recipes. As well as revolutionising the culinary world by inventing engagement pancakes, I’ve been busy revolutionising my taste buds by trying out new recipes. Three favourites from these baking forays are passion cake; chocolate hazelnut cake; and banana, chocolate & cardamom cake (originally from the River Cottage cookbook Fruit).

taking leaps. I’ve just put a deposit on a new (to me) car and, for someone whose blood is basically made up of neat cortisol, this has obviously involved unrelenting stomach butterflies, heart-juddering waves of panic, and hours of lying awake listing all the things that could go wrong. Things definitely could go wrong – cars will be cars will be cars – but they could also not (hopefully, please and thank you universe). Leaps of faith – in whatever form – are how we grow. They make life interesting. They go wrong and they go right. You just have to jump and see what happens. *tries to look wise and zen*

Here’s to the next four years of blogging!

reading the light and the dark

January is a weird mix of light and dark, and my reading over the last few weeks has certainly reflected that pattern – taking me from a chocolate shop in a small French town, to a body in a 1920’s study, to a therapist’s consulting room.

Variety is the spice of life though, right?

chocolat by Joanne Harris.

‘I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crash-crash-crashing amongst the hazels and nougatines.’

I wasn’t expecting this to be such an absorbing, emotional read – in all honesty, I was just expecting it to be kinda fluffy and sickly sweet (i.e. perfect for January blues). It certainly had fluffy and sweet elements, but it dug so much deeper too – and I’m very glad it did. Vianne Rocher and her daughter, Anouk, arrive ‘on the wind of the carnival’ in a quiet French town at the beginning of lent. Vianne, bohemian and otherworldly, opens a chocolaterie opposite the catholic church – and ruffles a lot of traditional feathers in the process. There’s petty infighting, a family feud, plenty of soul searching, love, hatred, temptation, violence, and death, along with mouthwatering paragraphs on chocolate and a hint of magic.

side note: the film. *exhales dramatically* I started watching it the other day and it’s not at all what I was expecting after reading the book. I haven’t finished it so I can’t pass too much judgement, but it’s certainly different.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

the murder of roger ackroyd by Agatha Christie.

‘I was beginning to understand Poirot’s methods. Every little irrelevancy had a bearing upon the whole.’

It’s been a long time since I picked up an Agatha Christie book and I’d forgotten how addictive they can be. Say what you like about their literary merit, but Christie’s books certainly draw you in – hook, line, and sinker. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the perfect old-fashioned whodunnit, mixing mystery and creepiness with a degree of silliness, and it comes with a twist that’ll either leave you reeling or screaming “I BLOODY KNEW IT” at the last few pages.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

undressing by James O’Neill.

‘Therapy takes time and trust – these are the basis of change.’

This was an incredibly moving, if also incredibly tough, book to read. It follows James O’Neill – a trainee therapist – and Abraham – a young African man living in London, who experienced horrific abuse in his childhood that left him feeling unable to fully take off his clothes (even in the shower) – over twelve years of therapy together that leaves them both profoundly changed. It’s a short but harrowing insight into the delicate relationship between therapist and patient – the push and the pull; the trust and the mistrust; the steady, platonic love and the occasional wave of hate; the vulnerability risked and the strength gained. It’s an intense book, dealing with a difficult, disturbing, and uncomfortable subject – my heart and soul were left feeling pretty raw – but, ultimately, it’s a remarkable real life tale of bravery, healing, and forgiveness, and how two people can change each other for the better.

‘Abuse is theft. Abraham’s mind and body were kidnapped. But his soul was not murdered. Throughout everything, he managed to keep a bit of himself alive and safely wrapped up.’

Have you read any of these?What did you think of them, if you have?What have you been reading/watching this month?

Reads – The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

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‘Providence has taken your ship and given you a mermaid instead.’

Jonah Hancock’s respectable, if somewhat boring, merchant’s life in 1780’s London is catapulted off course when the captain of one of his trading ships returns one night – after months without news of his whereabouts or the fate of Mr. Hancock’s cargo – without the ship, but with a mermaid.

A whirlwind of chaos, and a hint of magic, ensues.

The  book is full of strange twists and turns of fate, and full, too, of intriguing, infuriating, and monstrous characters that turn and twist those fates to their own purpose – with varying degrees of success. Mr. Hancock is endearing if a little dull. Angelica is impish and stubborn, but ultimately kind-hearted. Mrs. Chappell is wonderfully grotesque and pompous. Sukie is clever and strong, a small force to be reckoned with. The mermaid, or the ghost of it at least, weaves lightly through the pages too.

The writing style is beautiful. It’s quite classical, but never overbearing. In less capable hands, I think I would have found the level of detail irritating – but Imogen Hermes Gowar makes it all seem luxurious rather than laborious. Inevitably, the focus on smaller things impacts the pacing of the story and makes for a slow-burning book. I thought – by the end – that it was worth burning slowly for, but I can see how others might feel differently.

So if you, like me, find yourself being lured by the siren call of The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock – find yourself being dragged towards its story-shores, feel the pull of its popular current slip-sliding at your feet – I would say there’s no harm in answering its call…

my favourite reads of 2019

That was the year that was.

I don’t understand how we’ve got to the end of it so quickly (every year I never understand), but here we all are – dazed and confused and full of mince pies (or is that just me?) – about to welcome another year and a whole new decade into our lives.

2019 has been a good reading year for me. I’ve liked or loved pretty much all of the books I’ve picked up – with only a few unfortunate exceptions (let’s never speak of them) – and been kept on my bookish tippy-toes by mindbending genres, colourful characters, and intriguing/challenging subjects. The books below are my favourites from the last twelve months for all sorts of reasons.

I’ve been brutal with my picks and kept them to a skeletal eight. These are the books that I absolutely definitely wouldn’t have wanted to be without this year. The crème de la crème. The absolute crackers. The crunchiest and fluffiest of the roast potatoes. (Still thinking about Christmas dinner, sorry.)

And so, in no particular order, these are my favourite reads of 2019…

a fortune-teller told me by Tiziano Terzani. The title alone had me hooked from the start and the fascinating adventures of Terzani kept me hooked until the very end. A fortune-teller in Hong Kong told him to avoid flying for the whole of 1993 – he did just that, and this is the story of how he continued as a journalist for Der Spiegel, reporting on stories from all across South East Asia, with his feet planted firmly on the ground and less firmly on the sea.

a fortune teller told me by Tiziano Terzani

the power of now by Eckhart Tolle. This was recommended to me last autumn* by my oldest brother. Our mum had just started treatment for cancer and I’d just started CBT for an anxiety disorder. I wanted and needed all the life guidance I could get, in whatever form I could get it. Tolle’s basic premise – accepting and focussing on the here and now rather than obsessing about the past and possible future – makes a lot of sense. And, to be honest, it actually fits in quite well with a lot of the CBT techniques I was taught. Some bits of it felt a bit too new-agey for me (maybe I was just being overly cynical?), but I think it’s core message is insightful and helpful.

*I read it in blocks every few weeks and finished it in January, which is why it made this year’s list and not last year’s.

the power of now by Eckhart Tolle

pure by Rose Cartwright. This book is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject of a mental illness. It was adapted by Channel 4 earlier this year and received a lot of press coverage when it aired, which is how it got onto my radar. Rose Cartwright suffered from a type of OCD that manifested itself as intrusive thoughts about sex (which I understand sounds funny, but if you read this book/watch the TV series you’ll see very quickly that it isn’t). OCD is such a misunderstood illness, and this book really brings to light how distressing, disorientating, isolating, and tormenting suffering from intrusive thoughts can be. It’s honesty is heartbreaking but also heartwarming. I can’t recommend it enough.

jonathan strange & mr. norrell by Susanna Clarke. I ❤ this book, forever. It’s a mind-bogglingly magical and fantastical story following two magicians in Regency-era England – and if that sounds like your kinda thing then you should definitely, definitely, definitely read it.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke book review.

the magic toyshop by Angela Carter. More magic, because you can never really have enough. I fell head over heels for this book. It’s beautifully bittersweet, kind of melancholic, very strange, and completely hypnotic. Angela Carter’s weird emotional sorcery is second to none here.

the master and margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Yes, even more magic. This was a real rollercoaster of a book, filled with wacky, off the rails, and surreal events. The devil arrives in Moscow and all sorts of shenanigans ensue…

daisy jones & the six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Ah holy moly good mother of god, what a book. I wasn’t entirely convinced I would enjoy it, wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea – but, not only did I enjoy it, I abso-freakin-lutely LOVED it. California + the seventies + a rockband = a whole lot of drama, of the best kind.

DJ&TSBook

reflections on body dysmorphic disorder by Nicole Schnackenburg. A niche one, I know – but an important one for me. And a weird one to include too, because I didn’t actually like reading it. It was painful to read. It left me feeling broken. It made me cry every day. It brought up horrible memories. It picked and picked and picked at a wound that is definitely not fully healed, and it opened up wide the ugliest, most entrenched, most infected hole in my heart. But it also left me feeling less alone, more capable of fixing the thought processes that had taken over my brain, more at peace with my body, and more hopeful for the future. And for all of that, it makes the list.

And that there makes eight.

Here’s to another year filled with books and happy memories. *raises a glass*

Happy New Year!

away with the fairytales

‘The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things – all manner of beasts and birds are found there.’ said J.R.R Tolkien in his essay On Fairy Stories.

And recently, one of the beasts to be found there has been me.

I’ve been venturing forth into those wide and deep and high realms on a quest for story treasures – armed with a notebook and pen to document my findings (when I remembered to be organised), and an embarrassing amount of tea to keep me going (which I always remembered because tea is life).

Here are a few of the treasures I discovered…

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Colleen Doran)

‘I think of her hair as black as coal – her lips, redder than blood – her skin, snow-white.’

This book was dark, gruesome, macabre, explicit, and disturbing. And I loved it.

It’s an unsettling reimagining of the Snow White fairytale by Neil Gaiman, in graphic – sometimes very graphic *blushes* – novel form. First published in the nineties, it was rereleased earlier this year with illustrations by Colleen Doran.

The story itself is a wonderfully twisted take on the more traditional version of the tale, but it’s the illustrations that really make this book. They are stunning.

Definitely not one for the kids, though.

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Colleen Doran, 2019 edition

The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney

‘He is the fear in the dark, the monster under the bed. He is a thing out of stories, and he is here in my house…’

Anna is our heroine here – an eleven-year-old Greek refugee living with her emotionally distant father in 1920s Oxford. The pair are the only members of their family to have survived an attack on their home city, and not only is Anna still grieving for the friends and family she lost in the attack, she’s also struggling to fit into her new life in England. She’s incredibly lonely, cast adrift. But she’s also adventurous, wanting to follow in the footsteps of all the great characters of Greek mythology, and that spirit of adventure draws her into a world full of supernatural dangers.

This was an unusual gem/rough diamond of a book. It’s a hard one to define. There are a few things that aren’t quite right with it – it sits uneasily across genres and target audiences, the narrative voice seems to wander about at times, the pacing feels slightly off, plus there are awkward cameos from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. And, technically, all of those things put together should have made for a bad reading experience… but *throws hands up in the air* I actually really liked it.

What can I say?

It’s by no means perfect but it’s by a lot of means enchanting.

The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

‘In an ancient inn on the Thames the regulars are entertaining thenmselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps and injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.

Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle? Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to?’

This was an interesting book. I liked it a lot, especially its magical, folkloric elements.

I loved the ever-present spectre of Quietly the ferryman. ‘He appeared when you were in trouble on the water… He spoke never a word, but guided you safely to the bank so you would live another day. But if you were out of luck… it was another shore altogether he took you to…’

Ferrymen who guide souls to the otherworld are a favourite mythological figure of mine. *taps pen against nose secretively*

And all the living characters are richly drawn too. Their individual stories intertwine and twist and turn beautifully. But the plot is quite a slow-burner, a meanderer like the Thames itself, which felt a little disappointing.

Although it was certainly an enjoyable world to meander through.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield book review

♦ Have you read any of these? ♦ What did you make of them if you have? ♦ What fairy-story realms would you recommend to a bookish explorer? ♦ The Tolkien quote at the start of the post is one of my favourite quotes on fairytales… what’s yours? ♦

Let me know in the comments!