Treat Your Shelves!

As has sadly become the norm for this blog, I’ve haven’t written for a couple of months – but I have a good excuse this time! At the start of July I finally had the surgery I needed that had been cancelled in April, so I’ve been taking my time recovering from that – that, and reading a heck of a lot. They say that time is a healer, but whoever’s saying that hasn’t been reading the right books.

Terrible attempts at jokes aside, I’ve been able to get out and about more over the past few weeks owing to lockdown restrictions easing and my own drastically improved mobility. Today was one such day and I ended up in Waterstones – though let’s be honest, I didn’t end up there by chance – and emerged triumphant maybe half an hour later with a stack of books, which I’m now going to share with you all. It’s been far too long since I’ve shared one of my book hauls with you all!

Part of the reason I’m so excited about these books is because I had enough points on my loyalty card to get £10 off – so I may have gone overboard! In no particular order of excitement – if I could read four books at once I would – they are:

William Shakespeare found dozens of different ways to kill off his characters, and audiences today still enjoy the same reactions – shock, sadness, fear – that they did more than 400 years ago when these plays were first performed. But how realistic are these deaths, and did Shakespeare have the knowledge to back them up?

In the Bard’s day death was a part of everyday life. Plague, pestilence and public executions were a common occurrence, and the chances of seeing a dead or dying body on the way home from the theatre were high. It was also a time of important scientific progress. Shakespeare kept pace with anatomical and medical advances, and he included the latest scientific discoveries in his work, from blood circulation to treatments for syphilis. He certainly didn’t shy away from portraying the reality of death on stage, from the brutal to the mundane, and the spectacular to the silly. 

Elizabethan London provides the backdrop for Death by Shakespeare, as Kathryn Harkup turns her discerning scientific eye to the Bard and the varied and creative ways his characters die. Was death by snakebite as serene as Shakespeare makes out? Could lack of sleep have killed Lady Macbeth? Can you really murder someone by pouring poison in their ear? Kathryn investigates what actual events may have inspired Shakespeare, what the accepted scientific knowledge of the time was, and how Elizabethan audiences would have responded to these death scenes. Death by Shakespeare will tell you all this and more in a rollercoaster of Elizabethan carnage, poison, swordplay and bloodshed, with an occasional death by bear-mauling for good measure.

Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung, Ceausescu, Mengistu of Ethiopia and Duvalier of Haiti.

No dictator can rule through fear and violence alone. Naked power can be grabbed and held temporarily, but it never suffices in the long term. A tyrant who can compel his own people to acclaim him will last longer. The paradox of the modern dictator is that he must create the illusion of popular support. Throughout the twentieth century, hundreds of millions of people were condemned to enthusiasm, obliged to hail their leaders even as they were herded down the road to serfdom.

In How to Be a Dictator, Frank Dikötter returns to eight of the most chillingly effective personality cults of the twentieth century. From carefully choreographed parades to the deliberate cultivation of a shroud of mystery through iron censorship, these dictators ceaselessly worked on their own image and encouraged the population at large to glorify them. At a time when democracy is in retreat, are we seeing a revival of the same techniques among some of today’s world leaders?

This timely study, told with great narrative verve, examines how a cult takes hold, grows, and sustains itself. It places the cult of personality where it belongs, at the very heart of tyranny.

Wallace has spent his summer in the lab breeding a strain of microscopic worms. He is four years into a biochemistry degree at a lakeside Midwestern university, a life that’s a world away from his childhood in Alabama. 

His father died a few weeks ago, but Wallace didn’t go back for the funeral, and he hasn’t told his friends Miller, Yngve, Cole and Emma. For reasons of self-preservation, he has become used to keeping a wary distance even from those closest to him. But, over the course of one blustery end-of-summer weekend, the destruction of his work and a series of intense confrontations force Wallace to grapple with both the trauma of the past, and the question of the future.

Elegant, brutal and startlingly intimate, Real Life is a campus novel about learning to live from an electric new voice in fiction.

Berlin, 1940, and the city is filled with fear. At the house on 55 Jablonski Strasse, its various occupants try to live under Nazi rule in their different ways: the bullying Hitler loyalists the Persickes, the retired judge Fromm and the unassuming couple Otto and Anna Quangel. Then the Quangels receive the news that their beloved son has been killed fighting in France. Shocked out of their quiet existence, they begin a silent campaign of defiance, and a deadly game of cat and mouse develops between the Quangels and the ambitious Gestapo inspector Escherich. When petty criminals Kluge and Borkhausen also become involved, deception, betrayal and murder ensue, tightening the noose around the Quangels’ necks …

Hopefully I’ll be writing reviews for these at some point soon – in the meantime, I’m planning to write up a post of some of my best and worst reads from lockdown thus far. To date, I’ve read over forty books so it may be hard to narrow it down!

Here’s hoping it won’t be another two months until I write on this blog again. To everyone out there who’s reading this, thank you for sticking around. I really appreciate your patience. Until my next post – happy reading, everyone!

Black Lives Matter – A Couple of Brief Reviews & Recommendations

As has sadly become the norm for this blog, it’s been ages since I’ve written. I have nothing but time on my hands, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and yet it’s been months since I posted an update or – God forbid – an actual review. Recent developments have changed this, however, as today I will be posting two mini-reviews/book recommendations.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have already seen my post about the BLM movement and the reading I plan to do in order to educate myself, but I’ll post what I said here for those of you who didn’t see it. I put up a picture of the following books:

. Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala
. Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch
. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

with this caption: ‘These books represent a small fraction of the literature I plan to read this year, in order to try and become a better ally. I’ve signed petitions and donated to protest organisations, but these actions alone are not enough. I have to educate myself further and understand that allyship is never arrived at, but a continuing practice.’

To date, I have read Akala and Hirsch’s books, having just finished the latter today. I wanted to write this post to recommend both, as they are not only incredibly insightful in showing what it’s like growing up as a black person in Britain, but also because both books are written in such an engaging style. Akala’s book is a blend of autobiography and history, while Hirsch uses her background as a jumping off point to explore a wide variety of topics, from race and class to the perception of black bodies.

From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mum was white, to his first encounters with racist teachers – race and class have shaped Akala’s life and outlook. In this unique book he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left us where we are today.

Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives will speak directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain’s racialised empire.

I’m going to start this recommendation/mini-review with a confession. I have seen this book in bookshops on a number of occasions and, while I was intrigued by the cover art, I never felt any desire to pick it up. I made the assumption that this would probably be a dry historical tome concerning the 19th century, particularly with relation to the subjugation of POC. This was something I didn’t feel comfortable reading about, and so I never picked this book up. I was wrong in my assumptions about this book, as Akala’s style is both hard-hitting and even humorous at times, and his writing was so engaging I finished the book in a couple of days.

Perhaps more importantly, I was right about being uncomfortable with the material. But that is necessary. As someone who has a very privileged background reading about Akala’s experiences made me appreciate, even more than I usually do, just how privileged I am. I have been able to have so many of these experiences and advantages in life partly because of the colour of my skin – the very fact that when I lived abroad, for example, I would be referred to as an expat, rather than an immigrant, my presence generally welcomed rather than being regarded with suspicion. But this is not about me, and my privilege. I have to use my platform to amplify voices that need to be heard, and Akala’s is one such voice. From being stopped and searched as a child, to his racist teachers deliberately putting him into a different class as they couldn’t cope with his intelligence, he explores an array of difficult issues both in his own life and throughout history, from the legacy of colonialism to the way history is taught in schools, and so much more.

Akala’s Natives directly confronts British denial and awkwardness surrounding issues of race and class which, whether we feign ignorance or not, are at the heart of Britain’s imperial legacy. This is a book for our times, which demands to be read.

You’re British.

Your parents are British.

Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British.

So why do people keep asking where you’re from?

We are a nation in denial about our imperial past and the racism that plagues our present. Brit(ish) is Afua Hirsch’s personal and provocative exploration of how this came to be – and an urgent call for change.

Afua Hirsch similarly uses her life experiences as a lens through which to examine Britain’s denial of what it has been and continues to be. Her experiences growing up were radically different to Akala’s as she grew up middle-class, and yet her life has been anything but easy. She finds it difficult to fit into either British or black culture, and her early life experiences include being chased out of a posh shop as ‘girls who look like her must be thieves’, and struggling to pronounce her own name. Feeling an outsider in her own country she attempts to work out who she is and where she belongs by living in Senegal and Ghana, but her experiences there only serve to complicate her search for her identity.

As well as exploring the different stages of her life, Hirsch links these to wider issues, from slavery to stereotypes of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrants, from the impact of class to the treatment of BAME people by the legal system. Her writing not only gives you a greater sense of the history that led to Britain’s present day identity crisis, but it’s also a hard-hitting social and cultural analysis. Perhaps most urgently, Hirsch also examines the forms of racism that are particular to British society. Polite denial of race – ‘I don’t see colour’ – and insistence that she doesn’t come across as black given her background and education at Oxford – these kinds of statements and so many others only serve to perpetuate inequality and hinder meaningful discussions.

Hirsch’s Brit(ish) was called ‘a book everyone should read: especially comfy, white, middle-class liberals’ by Caroline Sanderson in The Bookseller, and I couldn’t agree more.

Literature in Lockdown

Remember that New Year’s ‘Reading Resolution’ I made for myself where I said I would post on this blog once at month, at least?


In all seriousness, we’re all going through a very strange and scary time right now. I’ve been furloughed from work, and while that means I’m in a very privileged position and I’m able to get loads of reading done, I’m finding that nothing is really grabbing me. I haven’t read anything yet where I’ve said ‘yep, this book is excellent, five stars’. I’m not sure if that’s because there’s a constant worry about the current situation ticking away in the back of my mind, or if its genuinely just the books I’ve chosen to read so far.

I’ve read quite an eclectic mix of books during my time in lockdown so far, and here are just a few:

. The Stand by Stephen King
. Dear Mr M by Herman Koch
. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
. The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
. Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

A couple of these – My Dark Vanessa and The Recovery of Rose Gold were debut novels I was really looking forward to, but I only ended up giving them each three stars. Five Star Billionaire was a book I picked up in a charity shop – back when spending an afternoon browsing charity shops for inexpensive books was a thing – and I only gave it four stars, something about it just didn’t quite work well enough for me to give it five. Dear Mr M started well but became confusing and muddled, only slightly redeemed by an unexpected ending – if I was to re-read the other book I’ve read by Koch (The Dinner) I wonder if I would be similarly underwhelmed.

Then there’s The Stand. I was questioned as to whether or not reading this during a global pandemic was a good idea, and honestly I don’t know that I would have ever read it if I weren’t for the pandemic. Not simply due to its length – 1421 pages in the uncut edition I have – but also due to the subject matter – sci-fi and post-apocalyptic aren’t usually my genre. I’m glad I read it now, in a way, because it helped me to truly appreciate the horror in the first part of the book as the infection spread and took hold – and as cities were put under quarantine. But even reading about a global pandemic during a global pandemic couldn’t elevate what was actually on the page, and I must confess I finished the book disappointed. My next King book will either be ‘Salem’s Lot or It, though, and I have high hopes for both.

This isn’t really a bunch of mini reviews, or a long review, and there isn’t a picture of one of my signature book piles. This is really just a little update. Perhaps I’ll post another long review sometime soon – I have plenty of time on my hands, after all…

Stay safe out there, everyone!

‘Is it just a matter of time, Corona?’

Excuse my terrible attempt at humour in parodying the song ‘My Sharona’ – I wanted to come up with a funny title and that was the best I could do.

These are very unusual times. I’ve been working from home as of eleven days ago, and since last Saturday I’ve been staying with my parents – a relief as it means I’ll no longer be living on canned soup. In all seriousness, I really appreciate them having me to stay, as I love spending time with them and we often have what we call ‘reading afternoons’ where we all sit in the same room and read together (pretty self-explanatory, right?). It’s very peaceful, and considering the frightening news on the TV, scrolling through Facebook or Twitter, I really appreciate that sense of calm.

Of course, I often spoil it for myself by reading non-calming books. Not long after this all started – but with no relation to what was going on, it was just strange timing – I decided I wanted to read more books by Stephen King. This led to me making a joke about stockpiling on my Facebook page.

The Shining and The Stand arrived just before I moved through to my parents’ house – how’s that for good timing? I’ve read the former before, and had wanted to read it again even before the current situation make it frighteningly apt, and the latter… I’m still not sure if I’ll actually pick that up when I’m here or not.

I haven’t posted on here for awhile because I’ve wanted to get away from my screen after working at home during the week, but I wanted to give anyone reading this an update – and also post some book recommendations. Something my parents and I have worked on during lockdown here in the UK is clearing out an old bookshelf:

While doing so I discovered some gems – such as Good Omens, which I would highly reccomend if you haven’t read it already, and a Dilbert book – always good for a laugh. There’s also the very intruigingly named Sex & Punishment – not only a hefty book, ideal for these times of staying indoors, but one which looks to cover a fascinating topic.

Here’s a brief list of some of the books I’ve read since staying at home on a more permanent basis than usual, with ratings and mini-reviews of each.

The Dead Zone by Stephen King
As soon as I read the synopsis I knew I had to read this one – and not just because I have my own fictional villain called Greg. King was on top form with this book and I would highly reccomend it – from the horrifying premise to the unexpected ending.

The Running Man by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)
The shortest book by King I’ve read so far, this one wasn’t quite what I expected. As well as this, due to its length, I initially found it difficult to fully immerse myself in the world hence the slightly lower rating. Still a very solid book though!

Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries by Robert Harris
This was a very unexpected book for me – I found it when Dad and I explored some charity shops a few weeks ago, and WWII isn’t a topic I usually read about. I didn’t know about the scandal of the Hitler diaries, nor did I know one of my favourite authors wrote non-ficton – and having read a couple of pages while in the charity shop, I knew I had to read more. It was a fascinating and very readable account, but a little overlong.

The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
I expected to like this book much more than I did. I knew a little about the case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard that inspired the author, but nevertheless the book proved an unusual take on a thriller, focussed as it was on a toxic mother-daughter relationship. While I enjoyed the dual perspectives and thought both mother and daughter were well drawn characters, the ending veered sharply into the realm of the unbeliavable and left me disappointed, lowering my rating from four stars to three.

Thinner by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman)
My least favourite King book so far. I don’t know if it was the dislikable protagonist or how the story panned out but I found this one a struggle to get through – very unusual when it comes to me and Mr King. While the premise of the curse and its effects was fascinating, the execution of the story wasn’t up to King’s usual standards, at least in my humble opinion.

Night Shift by Stephen King
My first collection of King’s short stories – as with any anthology, I enjoyed some stories more than others. ‘Quitters, Inc.’, ‘Children of the Corn’, ‘Battleground’ and ‘The Man Who Loved Flowers’ were my favourites – I would also include ‘The Mangler’ but I actually felt a bit queasy reading it! Others such as ‘Night Surf’, ‘The Lanmower Man’ and ‘Trucks’ I found less enjoyable, but the collection overall was excellent, and one I’ll definitely pick up again in furture to re-read my favourites.

I’ll hopefully post some more book recommendations – and reviews, isn’t that what this blog is meant to be? oops! – soon. In the meantime, I hope you’re all staying safe out there. I’m sending you all my very best wishes – and my hope that you have some great books to get you through these dark times.

The Guest List – Review

On an island off the windswept Irish coast, guests gather for the wedding of the year – the marriage of Jules Keegan and Will Slater.
Old friends.
Past grudges.
Happy families.
Hidden jealousies.
Thirteen guests.
One body.
The wedding cake has barely been cut when one of the guests is found dead. And as a storm unleashes its fury on the island, everyone is trapped.

All have a secret. All have a motive.
One guest won’t leave this wedding alive . . .

I’m only managing to keep up with my attempt to post twice a month because this year’s a leap year – oops. But on the plus side, I’m finally posting another full review! I haven’t actually written one of these since August (!) and it feels fantastic to wield my metaphorical pen once more. Lucy Foley has written another murder mystery, and I clearly recall reading her previous book, The Hunting Party, in a day, and gushing about how brilliant it was. I read The Guest List in a day as well, but unfortunately, despite its clever twists and turns, I found that everything tied together a little too neatly by the book’s conclusion. What a conclusion it was – the murderer isn’t revealed until the final few pages – and neither is the victim! Now there’s a twist if ever I saw one.

Before I say anything else about the conclusion, though, I must return to the beginning. The set up was once again familiar, old friends and family members gathering, with one of their number ending up dead, and the timing shifting from Now to the day of the wedding, the day before the wedding and back. There are more POVs here than in Foley’s previous work – including the best man Johnno, the bride’s half-sister and bridesmaid Olivia, the wedding planner Aoife and the MC’s plus one, Hannah, among others. Although each POV character was clearly introduced and well drawn with their various foibles and dark secrets, some of the other characters – particularly the raucous ex-private school ushers – were difficult to tell apart, or simply filled the role expected of them, such as the groom’s overbearing and perpetually disappointed father. As is the case with most books told through multiple points of view there were some perspectives I preferred reading to others – some if only for how horrible the character was!

The blurb is very accurate when it says everyone has a secret, and a motive. Although I was surprised when the victim was revealed I also wasn’t, at the same time – it could be argued they deserved this fate for what they had done, both to characters whose eyes we see through in the novel and to those who are only mentioned. That being said, I found that not all of the motives for murder were entirely believable, and some of the connections between characters felt forced, as though Foley just had to get one more twist in there. Initially I thought these connections were smartly done but as I write this review and think over the book as a whole, I feel that some were more contrived than clever.

I’m not sure whether I preferred this to The Hunting Party – I’m certainly not raving about it as I did with that book and yet, I think if I were to re-read it I wouldn’t give it such high praise. Both books were enjoyable, and very easy to read, gripping with their continual twists and turns – I definitely enjoyed them both, and would recommend them as a fun read for a rainy afternoon. I must look at The Guest List through a critical lens as a reviewer though – and although it was a thrill ride, I will not queueing up for another go. The re-readability of murder mysteries once you know who the killer is is a discussion for another day, but while the mounting sense of dread and the stormy atmosphere were executed well, some aspects of the plot and connections between various characters defied belief. I don’t doubt that this will be another hit for Foley, and I look forward to reading her next whodunnit – although perhaps this time with more trepidation than excitement.

Notes from the Trenches – One Month Later

A small selection of the books I have yet to read…

I haven’t bought any new books since 4th January – but today, one month later, I broke my resolution. I bought two new books. Part of me is very disappointed in myself, but I’m mostly just happy to lift my self-imposed book buying ban – and I think my reasoning for doing so is sound.

It got to a point where I had ten books left to read (not counting one given to me by a dear friend which will feature on this blog soon in my next ‘Come At Me, Books!’ challenge). Most of these books were about Soviet Russia – the Gulag, the Great Terror, the Iron Curtain – and while I find the topic fascinating, the prospect of reading these books back to back was alarming. Ranging from almost 1000 pages to around 300, most of these books were very long, and considering their subject matter I knew it would be more of a hard slog than a fun reading experience. Reading should not be a slog or a chore – it should be fun and exciting, and I should look forward to reading rather than simply trying to tick books off of my TBR list. With all of this in mind, today I bought two much shorter, and arguably lighter books – Not Working by Lisa Owens and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I needed shorter books, specifically fiction, as a matter of literary urgency.

I may have failed to keep my third resolution, but I’m sticking to the others – witness my two blog posts last month, as well as the fact I only bought two books, one of which I plan to begin reading today. Both of them look very entertaining, and are very different to another few weeks in the Soviet state. What I found particularly interesting about purchasing these books was that it took me a long time to find them – I looked at a lot of books before finally choosing them, and not just because I wanted to have a good browse. Nothing seemed to grab me, and even some that did I ended up putting back, to be added to my TBR for later. Has my self-imposed ban made me more sceptical about which books I choose to spend money on? Who knows. All I can say at the moment is I look forward to reading some books set in the present rather than the past.

Notes from the Trenches – Day 18

Books read: 5
Books to read: 21
Currently reading: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow, Shadow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI by Lauren Johnson

It has been just over two weeks since I started my resolution to read all the books I currently own before buying anything new, and so far it’s been more challenging than I imagined.

The very idea of not being able to buy books, especially if there are deals on, or if I were to find a book I’d like to read in a charity shop… it’s sort of scary, and I realise that sounds dramatic. I am so determined to stick to this resolution that I have been deliberately avoiding bookshops in order to resist temptation, but instead of buying books I find that something strange is occurring. I’m not sure if this is just a problem I have, or if this is how capitalism works, but in place of buying books I find myself tempted to buy other things, things I wouldn’t normally buy (at least, not at that price). For example, I buy the majority of my clothes from charity shops, but yesterday I found myself trying on a cardigan that cost just over £20 – and that was it on sale. I’m glad it didn’t look right on and I didn’t buy it – as well as my reading resolutions, I’ve done several clearouts of my wardrobe recently and I want to wear the clothes I already own, not just buy more for the sake of buying something. Its the same with my jewellery – I tend to wear the same few necklaces and sets of earrings time and again, yet the other day I found myself drawn to a necklace for no other reason than that it was an unusual design, and it was on sale. I did not need it. I did not buy it.

All of this is not to say I am frivolous with my money, and having to rein myself in is difficult, but I’m no skinflint either. I have three main things I spend money on – food, things in charity shops (mostly books), and books from bookshops – and I honestly spend the most on books. 99.9% of the time when I walk into a bookshop I leave with a purchase, if not two or three. Perhaps that’s why I’m sort of trying to compensate with other items – and then I stop myself because I know I don’t need them. But I do need books. Hence why this resolution is so difficult. But I already have books, hence the resolution. I am reading them. I am enjoying them, for the most part. Is there just something to the act of buying books, that feeling of ‘I have lots of books at home, butI’m going to buy these anyway, who’s going to stop me?’ – or is that just the whole retail therapy thing, that rush of endorphines and dopamine when you buy something new and exciting? Is that why I have so many unread books on my shelves in the first place? Am I addicted to books?!

I was not expecting this book themed ‘New Year’s Resolution’ to turn into a therapy session. Oh dear. I quoted him when I started this blog and I’ll quote him again:

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” 
― Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus

Reading Resolutions

A new year, and a new decade. It feels like it’s been that long since I posted here!

Unfortunately, during my time at Moniack Mhor I received a phone call from the hospital with my scan results (the scan had happened after the hospital stay I mentioned in my last post) and since then various medical appointments – and work – have kept me busy and exhausted, hence the lack of posts on this blog. One of the ongoing issues I have is severe iron deficiency anemia, which means I am incredibly tired pretty much all the time, no matter how much sleep I get. I’m hoping to combat that and my other medical issues this year – but more importantly as far as this blog goes, I fully intend to get back into writing proper reviews. Last year I read just over one hundred and sixty books – I’m not going to try and beat that, but I do hope to write more reviews than I did last year.

That is a very apt segue into some reading resolutions I’ve made for myself, which are as follows:

. Do my best to keep this blog up to date, posting once a month or more.

. Don’t buy books I’m interested in, find other books to read in the meantime, then find when getting to the original books find my interest has waned. In other words – only buy books I plan to read soon.

. Perhaps the most important one – as of just now, my TBR is nineteen books long, and I know I have a bunch of other books I haven’t added to this which friends have recommended to me/I have been given as gifts/I’ve been challenged to read (‘Come At Me, Books!’ will make a triumphant return very soon, watch this space)!


Someone will need to hold me accountable for that last one.




My unread books looking at me when I return from the book shop like…

It’s been a long time…

It has been over a month since I posted here, hence the lack of a clever (attempt at a) title. I planned to post some more mini reviews a couple of weeks ago, but on the Friday of that week (when I planned to spend the Saturday working on those reviews) I ended up being admitted to hospital. In the weeks that followed I was incredibly busy with work and have only found the time now to sit and post here. The reason for this is that I am actually on holiday – at Moniack Mhor in the Highlands! Mon and I have wanted to go on one of these week long writing retreats for ages, and a couple of months ago we said ‘why not?’ – and here we are! Mon is working on her amazing graphic novel adaptation of ‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ – check out her work on Instagram at @monicaburns_art – and I’m working on a cheerful little play about two families forced to share a cramped apartment in Moscow in the 1930s. Fun times.

I brought books with me but whoops, our train terminated in Inverness. Where Leakeys a.k.a one of the most amazing bookshops ever is. So I may have bought more books to bring with me…

This is what I imagine Heaven looks like…

My book haul, on top of the one book I brought with me for research. Like an idiot.

I am having an amazing time so far, doing some research from said book pile when I’m not too busy looking out of the windows at the amazing scenery!

Sadly it’s been so long since I read those books I was going to do mini-reviews for, I feel as though it wouldn’t be wise to do them now, several weeks later. I’ll be honest, I’ve almost forgotten what happened in one of them! I hope to get back to writing book reviews soon, but in the meantime I really must take advantage of my time here to crack on with writing, and not just for this blog. I may have more updates later in the week but, if not, I’ll hopefully be back sooner rather than later with a review or two. 🙂

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It’s been exactly a month since I last uploaded a post on this blog, and I can’t entirely blame my new job as it’s not full-time! With that being said, I’ve found time over the past few weeks to read quite a few books and, in order to try and catch up, I’ll be writing brief reviews of some of them in this post – who knows, with the amount I read, this may become a regular feature when I can’t make time for writing my usual lengthy posts. I’ll review these books in no particular order (despite the picture) – all blurbs are from Goodreads.

The Good

A Man Called Ove

At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots – neighbours who can’t reverse a trailer properly, joggers, shop assistants who talk in code, and the perpetrators of the vicious coup d’etat that ousted him as Chairman of the Residents’ Association. He will persist in making his daily inspection rounds of the local streets.

But isn’t it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be, and a lifelong dedication to making it just so?

In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible…

The word-of-mouth bestseller causing a sensation across Europe, Fredrik Backman’s heartwarming debut is a funny, moving, uplifting tale of love and community that will leave you with a spring in your step – and less ready to judge on first impressions a man you might one day wish to have as your dearest friend.

This was an unexpected book for me in many ways, the first of which was that I found this copy in a charity shop, decided not to buy it as I was trying to be good, returned a couple of weeks later and it was still there. Clearly it was meant to be – I bought it and I am so glad I did. I had heard of this book before and I loved the premise, but I didn’t expect to love the book as much as I did. I thought it would be a quick, lighthearted read to fit between longer and (so I thought) more complicated books but, although this book was lighthearted and had a heartwarming story overall, it was a lot darker than I expected. I loved it for that, and I look forward to reading more of Backman’s work.

The Rapture

Dilys is a devoted member of a terribly English cult: The Panacea Society, populated almost entirely by virtuous single ladies.

When she strikes up a friendship with Grace, a new recruit, God finally seems to be smiling upon her. The friends become closer as they wait for the Lord to return to their very own Garden of Eden, and Dilys feels she has found the right path at last.

But Dilys is wary of their leader’s zealotry and suspicious of those who would seem to influence her for their own ends. As her feelings for Grace bud and bloom, the Society around her begins to crumble. Faith is supplanted by doubt as both women come to question what is true and fear what is real.

Another unexpected book, in that I didn’t realise until I started reading that not only was this book set in the 1920s but it was also inspired by real events, and a real society! Although initially surprised (and admittedly a little disappointed as I’d been hoping for a creepy modern cult book – serves me right for buying the book based on the blurb alone!) I was quickly drawn into the world of the society. The writing was stylish without being overly stylised and helped to give a real flavour of the period, while the relationship between Dilys and Grace was believable and beautifully realised. A very unusual and entertaining book, and an assured debut.

The Bad

Middle England

The country is changing and, up and down the land, cracks are appearing – within families and between generations. In the Midlands Benjamin Trotter is trying to help his aged father navigate a Britain that seems to have forgotten he exists, whilst in London his friend Doug doesn’t understand why his teenage daughter is eternally enraged. Meanwhile, newlyweds Sophie and Ian can find nothing to agree on except the fact that their marriage is on the rocks . . .

I wouldn’t say this book was bad necessarily, but it wasn’t as good as I expected. It was billed as a comedy but I found very little to laugh about, not simply for the political turmoil unfolding but also since I ended up caring little for any of the characters. They all irritated me in one way or another, although perhaps that’s the point? Too often this book felt like it was simply retelling events such as the London 2012 Olympics or the Brexit referendum, rather than exploring the characters’ involvement in and reactions to them. Long story short, I expected more than I got with this book, and although it was engaging and well written enough that I read all the way to the end, I wouldn’t pick up another book by Coe in a hurry.

The Ugly (despite the pretty cover)

The Incendiaries

Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet in their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is drawn into a secretive cult founded by a charismatic former student with an enigmatic past. When the group commits a violent act in the name of faith, Will finds himself struggling to confront a new version of the fanaticism he’s worked so hard to escape. Haunting and intense, The Incendiaries is a fractured love story that explores what can befall those who lose what they love most.

This book. Oh boy, where to start with this book? This book irritated me beyond belief. It promised a story about fanaticism and a secretive cult at a prestigious university. That ticks lots of my boxes, and I worry about what that says about me. But this isn’t about me, this is about how this book set up expectations and promptly dashed them. Firstly, it was bogged down by its writing – being pretentious and not using speech marks while you instead use overly flowery descriptions and archaic words just to seem smart? Not cool. The pretentiousness of the writing style overshadowed the story – not that there was much of that in the end. Forget a secretive cult and instead prepare yourself for long, pointless walks and a boring, angst-ridden ‘romance’ between our two protagonists. An incredibly disappointing book – thank goodness it was the shortest of the lot!