falling in half-love with three books

I’ve been struggling to write about the books I’ve read recently and it’s made me feel like a complete book blogger failure (despite the fact that there is no one right way to blog about what you love). I think the reason I’ve struggled so much is because I have had wildly mixed feelings about my last few reads. They’ve all had moments in them that have made me go “wow!” and others that have left me knotting my eyebrows together in confusion. Basically, I’ve fallen in half-love with each of them – and half-love feels a whole lot more difficult to explain than head over heels love. But here goes…

rest and be thankful by Emma Glass. Rest and Be Thankful follows the quietly falling apart Laura, a paediatric nurse in London, as her interior and outer worlds slowly collapse shift after shift after shift. It’s a poignant book, packing a huge punch of sadness and strangess and desperation into only 135 pages. The writing is almost psychedelic as it unfurls the kaleidoscope of Laura’s exhausted and breaking mind, which made it both beautiful and infuriating to read.

“We are cotton buds sucking up the sadness of others, we are saturated, we are saviours. We absorb pain, too thick with mess to notice that everything around us is drying up and growing over. We will wake up one day in a wasteland, surrounded by the crumbling bones of those who loved us and waited for us to love them back. We did not forget but we were too busy being useful. We will crumble next to them but it will take forever, we will sit amongst the piles of dust alone.”

Poppy wanted to make sure I got the best possible angle…

jamaica inn by Daphne Du Maurier. Jamaica Inn was my third foray into the literary world of Daphne Du Maurier in the last nine months and was, unfortunately, my least favourite of the three (first place goes to My Cousin Rachel, second goes to Rebecca). It follows the tale of twenty-three year old Mary Yellan as she is sent to live with her reclusive – and, as she will discover later, notorious – Uncle and Aunt at the lonely, foreboding, moor-bound Jamaica Inn after the death of her mother. I half loved, half hated the book. I really resented some of the rambling passages and Mary’s in depth dwellings of doom, but also had to admire Du Maurier’s evocative writing, its rooted sense of place, and Mary’s feistiness. It just didn’t quite chime with me.

“Strange winds blew from nowhere; they crept along the surface of the grass, and the grass shivered; they breathed upon the little pools of rain in the hollowed stones, and the pools rippled. Sometimes the wind shouted and cried, and the cry echoed in the crevices, and moaned, and was lost again. There was a silence on the tors that belonged to another age; an age that is past and vanished as though it had never been, an age when man did not exist, but pagan footsteps trod upon the hills. And their was a stillness in the air, and a stranger, older peace, that was not the peace of God.”

ponti by Sharlene Teo. I have a habit of ordering secondhand books online on an whim and then forgetting that I’ve ordered them, which is a little bit worrying but mostly great – it’s like getting a surprise present from the postman (except for the fact that I technically knew about it and that I payed for it myself. But, oh well). Ponti was one of these “unexpected gifts” courtesy (ahem) of Royal Mail. The book threads across three timelines, following the messy relationships between a bitter mother, a lost daughter, and a bewildered best friend as they blossom and wither and unravel – together, then apart. Sharlene Teo beautifully captures the tortured nature of close female friendship as teenagers and the pain of motherly/daughterly rejection, reverence, and contempt. I connected most to the timeline set in 2003, probably because of the pop culture references that made me feel kinda old (the fact that 2003 is eighteen years ago is still blowing my mind) and brought back a lot of memories. And I really enjoyed getting more of a feel for Singapore, it’s made me want to visit someday. But the writing bothered me – it had a tendency to veer from brilliant to burdened, back to brilliant, back again to burdened, all in the space of a page which meant that it never felt like it fully flowed. The book is littered with similes – some are beautiful, some I really wish had been edited out. Having said that, I will be keeping an eye out to see what Sharlene Teo writes next.

“I’m a bad person because I haven’t let go of how she crumpled me up like a ball of paper my whole life, and now that she’s gone I don’t know how to get the creases out.”

Have you read any books that have left you in half-love? What have you been reading recently? Have you read any of these? If so, what did you think of them?

piranesi to the rescue

Can you tell from the recent radio silence here that I may have suffered from a bit of a reading slump?

May have meaning 100%, absolutely, definitely.

*looks sheepish*

I was in one of those moods that made it impossible to settle on a genre/author/subject/book length; one of those moods where my mind fluttered from thing to thing, worry to worry, upsetting news story to upsetting news story, chore to chore, sparkly idea to sparkly idea – all without really getting anywhere.

But respite from this brain fog came – not a moment too soon – in the form of a wonderful, mysterious, and labyrinthine hardback from Susanna Clarke (author of the equally wonderful, mysterious, and labyrinthine Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell).

‘I almost forgot to breathe. For a moment I had an inkling of what it might be like if instead of two people in the world there were thousands.’

Piranesi – our peculiar, fastidious, and naïve, but utterly charming, protagonist – inhabits a world of strange and deadly tides, avant-garde statues, warped time, confusing omens, complex corridor mazes, and mindboggling rooms. He lives alone in this bizarre world, with only weekly(ish) meetings from an elusive man known simply as “The Other” to keep him company. He is uneasily content with his fragmented universe – but everything Piranesi thinks he knows about life, everything he religiously catalogues in his journals, everything he thinks keeps him safe, is thrown into disarray by the arrival of “16”.

I thought it was a beautiful book. Every page was infused with a quiet melancholy and delicately twisted mystery that haunted me not only as I was reading it, but inbetween readings too. And emotions that follow you around and play on your mind between reads are always a good sign with a book.

If you loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, you’ll love Piranesi. I think too, even though they’re very different, Piranesi would make a great gateway book for anyone who is intrigued by Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell but is daunted by the prospect of committing to 1000 pages (god knows, I was).

And if you’re just a little ol’ book blogger in the middle of a two month long reading slump? Well, it’s the sort of book that’ll fix that too.

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? •

Reads – The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

IMG_20200109_164826_477

‘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…

Yoga Fever

So. Yoga.

It’s unexpectedly become an important part of my life.

I’d been thinking about trying it for years, I’d just never plucked up the courage to attend a class – but in June, along with a friend, I finally braved the gym and had a go. I’m so glad I did.

And – although I’m only still very much a beginner and am in no way qualified to tell people how to look after their bodies – there’s still a part of me that wants to shout from the rooftops about how good I’ve found yoga to be and why I would recommend it to anyone right from the bottom of my heart.

This here blog is my rooftop.

And this here post is my shout out from the bottom of my heart.

Heart drawn on steamed up car window, with raindrops in the background. Blog post about yoga.

So, in no particular order, these are some of the reasons why I’ve come to love yoga:

  • aaand relax. Yoga is ridiculously relaxing considering it’s a form of exercise. Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to me – and I’m sure that’s something that is true for a lot of other people too (why would you relax when you can obsessively worry about illogical things instead?). So for me to be on the verge of sleep in a room full of strangers at the end of every yoga session (in savasana) is a. big. deal. I don’t know what magic is at work, but it is magic.
  • feel the burn. Okay, so yoga is relaxing. But it’s also not relaxing. It’s hard work. It takes a lot of effort to hold poses that look effortless (ahem, poses that other people make look effortless). I wibble and wobble and wince and grimace and overbalance embarrassingly often, but I can feel my muscles getting stronger with every session. No healthy pain, no gain.
  • in sync with your body. I’m very self-conscious about my body but not very conscious of my body, if that makes any sense. Yoga helps me feel more aware and accepting of my movements/my posture/my muscles/my fat/my bones/myself and that awareness feels peaceful rather than critical and judgemental (like it used to be).
  • looking after yourself. This ties in a lot with the point above. In the past, I’ve had what can only be called a hate/hate relationship with my body. I wrote about it back in the summer (not very well *grimaces* but I tried my best) so I won’t bore you with the backstory of this subject again. Basically – and I know this probably sounds like the most obvious thing in the history of the universe to most people – looking after your body feels nicer than doing things that damage it and saying things to degrade it. I mean, who even knew? Who. Even. Knew. *laughs, but mostly cries* Punishing your body, hurting your body, and deriding your body is weirdly and dangerously addictive, but it’s a habit that – slowly and steadily – can be kicked. Every body deserves to be looked after. ❤
  • focus pocus. Yoga forces you to focus on every breath you take and every move you make *don’t sing, don’t sing, don’t sing* and I’ve found that sense of focus helps me to sideline the worries (and songs) that normally flood my brain, not only during classes but outside in the actual real day-to-day world too. That focus is incredibly freeing. And weird. But good weird.
  • for everyone. Don’t be fooled by instagram. You don’t have to be young, skinny, perfectly tanned, and positioned in front a setting/rising sun to practise yoga. You can be any age, any shape, and (pretty much) anywhere.
  • excuse for a lie down. Any form of exercise that includes a lie down at the end – savasana, a.k.a. corpse pose (lovely name) – gets the thumbs up from me.
  • agency. I think this is true of any exercise, but is particularly noticeable in yoga because of the slower pace and focus on precise movements. There’s something powerful about feeling in control and feeling able to affect positive change. I know the times when I’ve felt most stressed, anxious, and/or depressed are the times when I’ve felt incapable of changing anything happening around me, or felt like my voice didn’t matter/had been taken away from me, or felt like my body was worthless and useless. That’s not to say you should blunder about being a control freak and acting like you’re the most amazing human being that’s ever lived, but giving yourself a sense of agency and dignity is (in my opinion, anyway) important for mental wellbeing. Yoga has helped me with that.

And, if nothing else, yoga helps me feel like I’m counteracting the bad posture I’ve developed from spending so much time with my shoulders hunched up while I’m reading and writing.

♦ Have you tried yoga? ♦ If you have, what did you think of it? ♦ What’s your favourite exercise? ♦

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!

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.