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…

star wars, little women, and me

A galaxy far, far away + a rock star + four sisters in 1860’s Massachusetts.

It’s an eclectic mix, I’ll grant you – but they’re some of my entertainment highlights from the last couple of weeks and have been helping me recover from some pretty intense tinsel, tubs of chocolate, mulled wine, and miniature dachshund withdrawal symptoms.

me by Elton John.

‘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?’

Phew. There is A LOT to take in in this book. Elton John has had an extraordinary life and career, and he lays it all – everything – on the table here. It’s fascinating, jaw-dropping, funny, maddening, and utterly compelling. I picked it up on a whim at work – his sunglasses had been staring down from the shelves at me for weeks and I couldn’t take it anymore – and found, completely to my surprise, that I couldn’t stop turning those pages.

He pulls no punches (definitely throws some, though) and he goes into graphic detail regarding all, I repeat all, aspects of the rock n’ roll lifestyle. His honesty is shocking but also endearing – be prepared for an interesting, colourful, and ridiculously outrageous ride if you pick up a copy.

MeByEltonJohn

little women directed by Greta Gerwig

Oh, I loved this film. *sighs*

It was the perfect pick-me-up between Christmas and New Year – that weird, otherworldly time when days don’t seem to happen in the right order and it’s still vaguely accpetable to eat chocolate for breakfast. It’s visually STUNNING – I wanted all the clothes, all the quilts, all the beautiful houses, all the food, and all the March’s Christmas decorations. Each member of the cast felt perfect for their roles. I loved Saoirse Ronan as Jo and thought Florence Pugh gave a depth to Amy’s character that was missing in the 1994 version, plus Meryl Streep is wonderful as always. It was nostalgic, but didn’t feel trapped by the earlier film’s pedigree.

It also made me want to reread the book, so watch this space.

star wars: rogue one directed by Gareth Edwards

Yep, that’s right. The one from three years ago as opposed to the one from three weeks ago.

I hadn’t seen it, despite it being recommended a gazillion times to me by my twin brother as “one of the best Star Wars films made”. But I’ve watched it now, and guess what? I loved it. I would recommend it a gazillion times to you.

It’s a stand-alone prequel to episode IV with lots of nods and tie-ins to the original movies – and there’s some pretty mindbending CGI in it that’ll mess with your heart and head.

The ending is bittersweet, but perfect.

And as for star wars: the rise of skywalker? *shrugs* It’s okay. It’s got great, sad, scary, exciting, funny, heart-warming moments, and it’s got some moments that aren’t so great too. It felt rushed, but it was probably always going to – there’s no way you can tie up all the loose ends of a galaxy far, far away in one film. I liked it, but I wanted to love it.

Have you seen/read any of these?If you have, what did you think of them?Do you have any book or film recommendations?

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!

Reads – The Golden

A few years ago, I read a vampire book at Christmas. The year after I – totally coincidentally – read another one. The year after that I – totally deliberately – read another.

And thus my yuletide vampire book tradition was born.

So far, my Christmas vampire reads have been: The Quick by Lauren Owen, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and Fevre Dream by George RR Martin. This year’s was The Golden by Lucius Shepard (which I read about here while I was researching what book to pick).

‘The gathering at Castle Banat on the evening of Friday, October 16th, 1860, had been more than three centuries in the planning…’

The Golden by Lucius Shepard. Book review. Vampire novel.

For centuries, the old vampire families of Europe have been breeding humans in an attempt to distill the most delectable blood into one line, known as ‘the Golden’. So far, so creepy. At a gathering organised to sample the blood belonging to one of the finest Golden – hosted by the formidable Patriarch of all the vampire families – the chosen Golden is found brutally murdered and drained of all her blood. The Patriarch charges newbie vampire, and former Parisian police detective, Michel Beheim with uncovering the murderer.

The book has a lot of things going for it. The writing is lush and sprawling. The whodunnit aspect is compelling and interesting. The setting is extraordinary. The characters are devious. The twists and turns of the plot are dark, psychedelic, grotesque, avant garde, bizarre, pretty darn meta, as well as charmingly gothic. It certainly didn’t feel like a standard or formulaic vampire story.

But there was one thing that I really disliked about the book, one thing that hung over it like a dark cloud.

The female characters.

Where to start? *grimaces*

In all honesty, I felt uncomfortable with the portrayal of the women throughout the book – particularly their lack of agency and Michel’s treatment of them. Michel is a bit of an arsehole. He knows he’s an arsehole and he wrestles with the fact that he’s an arsehole – with added vampire complications – throughout the entire story. I don’t know if his internal struggle makes it better or worse. It certainly makes it something. Mostly it was simply embarrassing and cringeworthy (for the character and the author) to watch unfold and, to be honest, its obviousness/standardness/unimaginativeness was almost boring, but it also felt a little bit sinister. It’s extent is debatable (I don’t actually want to debate it though because it’s Christmas and I work in retail so I’m grumpy and tired, just an fyi), but, personally, something felt icky and disappointing. Not overwhelmingly icky and disappointing, but still.

It’s very dated.

And I’m just gonna leave that very big can of worms there.

*backs away slowly*

I still liked it, still thought it was intriguing, still enjoyed the world building, etc., I just know I would have liked it more if my eyes had had less rolling to do.

My quest for the perfect vampire novel continues…

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!

Frightfully Good Reads – Two

‘True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in heaven and earth. I heard many things in hell.’

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan-Poe is the perfect bitesized Halloween read.

Short and sharp and not-so sweet.

‘He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees – very gradually – I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.’

An unidentified, unstable, and wholly unreliable, narrator details their rationale behind the murdering of an elderly gentleman, their method of killing him, and how their plan ultimately falls apart.

‘I admit the deed! – Tear up the planks! here! here! – it is the beating of his hideous heart!’

It’s atmospheric, gruesome, claustrophobic, unnerving, and strange – gothic literature at its spooky best. It will keep you on the lookout for slithers of lantern light at your bedroom door for days (or nights, I guess).

You can read the story online here, although, if you’re like me and prefer physical copies of books, I can definitely recommend the Penguin Little Black Classic edition, which also includes The Fall of the House of Usher and The Cask of Amontillado for only £1 – helpfully modelled here by Poppy the cat…

Poppy&TTTH2 (2)

PoppyAndTTTH2 (2)

Poppy&TTTH (2)

Frightfully Good Reads – One

Ah, October.

The month of not knowing how many layers to wear. Of feeling boiling hot then freezing cold then Goldilocks warm, and back again. Of crunchy leaves under raggedy boots. Of apples, apples everywhere. The month of silver clouds, torrential rain, and sometimes-golden sun. Of wood-smoky fires. Of nights drawing in and of Halloween creeping its way closer and closer on a pair of spider-webbed tippy toes.

So in honour of all things Halloween, I’ve turned my reading focus to the dark side.

And where better to start than a graveyard?

TheGraveyardBook
The Graveyard Book written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell

Neil Gaiman and Halloween are a match made in heaven.

Well. Maybe more like a match made in hell.

The Graveyard Book is everything you would hope for and expect from a YA story set in a cemetery by Neil Gaiman (with illustrations by Chris Riddell). There are ghosts and ghouls and witches, angels of death, vampires and werewolves, a sprinkling of cut-throat baddies, plus a goodhearted but sometimes misguided hero.

Nobody “Bod” Owens is the sole member of his family to survive a hit by a supernatural assassin known simply as ‘the man Jack’. Only a helpless toddler at the time of the murders, Bod is taken in by the ghosts of a nearby graveyard and is raised as one of their own. But as he grows up and ventures more into the world beyond the graveyard’s gates, the threat from ‘the man Jack’ – still on the hunt for his missed kill – becomes ever more dangerous.

I loved this book. It’s simple but fun; a gloriously ghoulish adventure.

And although it’s most definitely aimed at the children’s/YA market, its themes are ageless, timeless, and oh so wise. I was constantly scrabbling around for a notebook and pen as I read, trying to keep track of all its life lessons.

“If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.” page 217.

“You’re alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything.” page 165.

“Things bloom in their time. They bud and bloom, blossom and fade. Everything in its time.” page 136.

*raises hands in reverie towards book heaven/hell*

The Graveyard Book is a seamless blend of light and deathly dark.

The best stories always are.

Reads – Normal People

Normal People by Sally Rooney. Book review of Normal People. Irish literature.

It feels like a long, long time since I’ve set foot in a bookshop that didn’t have copies of Normal People by Sally Rooney on prominent, in-yer-face, no chance you’ll miss it display.

I have never seen so many sardine cans, so frequently in my life.

And in all that long, long time of in-yer-face displays, I was curious, if sceptical, about Normal People. I lost count of the number of times I picked it up, put it down, picked it back up, placed it back down again, added to cart, deleted from cart – unsure if a book that hyped could live up to its impressive reputation.

And you know what? I actually think it can.

‘Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying -something life-changing begins. Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.’

Most of the commentary around the book seems polarised. You either get it or you don’t. You either love it or you hate it. It’s a seering insight into millenial relationships or over-hyped millenial angst stretched to nearly 300 pages. Marmite.

In all honesty? I didn’t love it. But I certainly didn’t hate it.

I liked it a lot. I enjoyed its emotional roller-coaster and was kinda hypnotized by Connell and Marianne’s angsty ways.

Sally Rooney delicately captures the push and pull, the fascinations and repulsions, desire, love, confusion, pride, shame, misunderstandings, and vulnerabilities that plague their relationship. They’re strangely spellbound by one another, but they’re also never quite on the same page and never quite singing from the same hymn sheet. They’re riddled with misgivings and shame, constantly conveying/perceiving the wrong message, always sure of their unsureness.

It’s painful to read, as well as weirdly comforting.

The book does feel like it misses the mark at times, though. Marianne’s character arc is ultimately unsatisfying; a let down, almost. There are things that jar and things that don’t sit quite right. The ending, also, is frustrating – even if it has a degree of inevitability.

But I liked it. Really liked it.

So, if you see that infamous sardine can and find yourself wondering: should I?

I would say: yes, yes you should.

Some Summer Reads So Far

Days, weeks, and months feel like they’re blurring into one right now. I probably (definitely) say that all the time, but it feels especially true at the moment.

Books, too, seem to be blurring into one big mushy whirlpool of letters, pages, and covers. Not that I’ve been reading a superhuman number of them – far from it! – but I have definitely been struggling to capture my thoughts and feelings on most of them.

Book thoughts and feelings can be slippery, slimy, and hard to keep hold of creatures.

C’est la vie.

Although it would kind of be helpful if it wasn’t la vie.

So, over the last few days, I’ve been on the hunt – decked out in full book safari gear – for a few thoughts and feelings creatures.

Luckily, I managed to track a few down.

*

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: this book, people. This book. *clutches copy to chest* It’s utterly, utterly, utterly incredible. It’s mindbendingly weird and spellbindingly surreal. It’s magnificent and enchanting and effervescent; bitingly funny and shockingly horrific. It’s completely mesmerising.

It is, quite simply, all. the. feels.

All. The. Feels.

And seeing as I’ve run out of interesting adjectives and melodramatic uses for full stops, all I have left to recommend it is the blurb:

‘The devil comes to Moscow wearing a fancy suit. With his disorderly band of accomplices – including a demonic, gun-toting tomcat – he immediately begins to create havoc. Disappearances, destruction and death spread through the city like wildfire and Margarita discovers that her lover has vanished in the chaos. Making a bargain with the devil, she decides to try a little black magic of her own to save the man she loves…’

If you like weird and wild and anarchic, you NEED to read The Master and Margarita.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom: it’s typical, isn’t it? As soon as I write a blog post about being a slow reader, I start and finish a book in a day. I read this on a blazing hot June afternoon*, curled up on a blanket** in the garden, surrounded by buzzing bees and bumbling butterflies. It was a really, really relaxing afternoon, made even better by this endearing book. Originally published in the nineties, it’s a real-life tale following journalist Mitch Albom as he catches up with his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is slowly dying from ALS. The book flows seamlessly; it has a punchy, hook-filled, journalistic style, but somehow pulls it off in a relaxed, easy-going way. And its core message is head-over-heels heartwarming.

*June afternoon is weirdly fun to say. Or is that just me?

**which I had to adjust every fifteen minutes to keep up with the shadows cast by towels drying on the washing line because I was too lazy to go back inside and get some suncream.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: this book left me crying like an absolute baby, and left me crying like an absolute baby” is probably one of the highest forms of recommendation I can give a book. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who, in May 2013, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died in March 2015. He wrote When Breath Becomes Air during the last twenty-two months of his life, as he grappled with the illness and the prospect of his imminent death. The book will break your heart. But it will also put it back together again.

‘What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.’ from the book’s epilogue, by Lucy Kalanithi.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen: I’m on a quest to learn more about the weird and wonderful world of minds at the moment, and learning a little more about empathy seemed like a good place to start. Zero Degrees of Empathy provides a fascinating and easy to digest insight into the evidence and ideas surrounding empathy; how it works, its origins, its usefulness, and the problems that arise when it malfunctions within individuals and societies. I particularly enjoyed chapter two – learning about psychopaths and narcissists was fun and worrying all at the same time.

Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen

And where better to end a blog post than on the subject of psychopaths and narcissists?

I certainly can’t think of anywhere.

♦ Have you read any of these? ♦ What did you think of them, if you have? ♦ How do you keep track of your book thoughts and feelings? ♦ Are you chaotic like me or organised like a sensible person? ♦