Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Short Stories – A Snow Garden, by Rachel Joyce

(Note: A Snow Garden will be published on the 5th November. I got a free advanced proof copy from work.)

After enjoying Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I was incredibly excited to read her latest work. It comes out next week and is a series of interconnected short stories set around Christmas time. As you will know if you regularly read my blog or watch my Booktube channel, I love interconnected short stories. I also like Christmas and I also like Rachel Joyce, so this was a pretty good combination. And yes, I do realise it is a little too early for Christmas books. But no, I do not care.

The book features seven stories (‘A Faraway Smell of Lemon’, ‘The Marriage Manual’, ‘Christmas Day at the Airport’, ‘The Boxing Day Ball’, ‘A Snow Garden’, ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’, and ‘Trees’). They span in time from the week before Christmas until New Years’ Eve (with one brief jump back to the 1960s). We visit a wide range of memorable characters across the festive season – a middle-aged women reeling from a break up – a twelve-year-old boy who wants a dress for Christmas – a father trying to patch things up with his sons after a divorce – a new pop star not quite coping with his fame – an old man with regrets – and even a brief appearance of Harold and Maureen from Harold Fry. Each story is subtly linked to the other stories in the collection; characters crop up as passer-by’s in other stories, or a song or a Christmas card will tie them together. I loved this aspect of the book. It’s like Love Actually in book form – but a bit deeper and even better.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Throwback Books – The Professor, by Charlotte Brontë

(with many a mention to Villette, also by Charlotte Brontë)

Last month I went to see the National Theatre’s stage adaptation of Jane Eyre. It was engaging, different, wacky and wonderful – and reminded me, as all good adaptations should, of how much I adore the original book. It occurred to me, shortly after that, that although Jane Eyre and Villette are two of my favourite books of all time, I hadn’t actually read Charlotte Brontë’s other two novels. So I decided to read The Professor. Oh Charlotte Brontë, how I have missed you.

The Professor is the first novel Charlotte Brontë wrote. It was written before to Jane Eyre, Villette and Shirley, but wasn’t published until 1857, two years after her death. It tells the story of William Crimsworth, a young Englishman who, after failing in his ambitions of working in trade, moves to Belgium. There he becomes an English teacher in a boy’s school. He also ends up teaching classes in the girl’s school next door, where he encounters the sweet yet formidable headmistress, Mademoiselle Zoraïde Reuter and the intriguing and obscure sewing teacher Frances Evans Henri.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Things - A little update on this blog

I read old books.

- The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

As I said when I started this blog, I love 19th century literature. It is my first and last literary love, and between the ages of thirteen and twenty it was basically all I read. And then I discovered contemporary literary fiction, which is my second literary love, and all these other amazing stunning genres and books I’d been overlooking for the seven years previously. When I started this blog, I decided that I would review only 21st century books, in order to cure my 19th century obsession. I am now (partially) cured. For the last year and a bit over my MA, I have banned myself from reading Victorian literature (with the exception of a few Dickens short stories I couldn’t resist), and steered clear of the 19th century at large (with the exception of the completed works of Jane Austen, but hush; I only read them because of my job, which was not at all a convenient excuse to read some 19th century literature). For the last year and a bit over my MA, I have only reviewed 21st century literature. I have discovered some truly amazing authors and some amazingly beautiful books, and I have slowly untangled myself from my self-built web of 19th century literature.

It’s been a good year, but I have made a new decision. My masters is over, and I am finally allowing myself to read 19th century literature again. I’m still going to be reviewing lots of contemporary books here, but I’ll also be reviewed/discussing a 19th or early 20th century book once a month as well. I have missed 19th century literature and I’m excited to have it back in my life.

So on Wednesday, you can look forward to the first of my Throwback Books series; I’ll be reviewing Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor

Also, if you missed the review where I mentioned this. I now have a Booktube channel on Youtube, where you can watch me ramble about books in person. 



Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Books – The Chimes, by Anna Smaill

Firstly, I am a little bit in love with this novel. First Grief is the Thing with Feathers, then The Chimes – it’s been a good few weeks.

Anna Smaill’s debut novel, The Chimes was published earlier this year, and has since been longlisted (although sadly not shortlisted) for the Man Booker Prize 2015. I first heard about it when Smaill’s literary agent gave a talk to my MA course group and, in trying to explain the kind of books he liked, mentioned in passing an upcoming book by an author of his, a dystopian novel in which the world is run by music. I thought then that it sounded rather cool, but I don’t think I fully comprehended how wonderful this book would be.

A young man named Simon travels from the countryside to London after the death of his parents, with nothing in his bag but a recorder and his objectmemories – the possessions he uses to keep hold of the memory that is slowly slipping from him. In fact, memories are slipping from everybody outside a select elite called the Order. Books and writing are banned. People communicate only with speech and music, and their lives are punctuated by the daily Chimes, the music that feels their ears and makes them forget…

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Books – Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Since its publication a few weeks ago, Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers has hit the bookshop where I work like a storm – or perhaps like an intrusive crow flying straight in through your front door. Everybody seems to be buying it (including me). The book follows a Ted Hughes scholar and his two young sons as they try to recover from the death of their wife and mother. By some strange poetic necessity, Crow flies straight from the pages of Ted Hughes’s poetry into the lives of this family. Reading the book, too, is a bit like having Ted Hughes’s Crow fly straight through your front door: at first confusing, perhaps unnerving, but ultimately rewarding, astounding and utterly beautiful.