July Reflections

They say better late than never and hopefully that’s true. I’ve being meaning to sit down and share my thoughts with you on the wonderful books that I read in July and yet I keep getting side-tracked by a book that I’m currently reading and can’t put down. But enough of that for now, firstly it’s time to re-cap on July’s reading.

I began the month by reading Every Last One by Anna Quindlen, a book that on it’s on I did love, however pitted against the other brilliant books that I read in July somehow became overshadowed and paled in comparison. Every Last One, the story of a mother whose world becomes shattered and turned upside down when her family is hit by tragedy, is a compelling and intriguing story. Whilst it may not have been the best book that I read in July it is certainly worth a read.

Next up I chose a darker and more gothic novel in the form of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I first discovered Waters at the end of the year but I quickly fell in love with her writing style and talent for story telling. The Little Stranger was no disappointment, gripping from the first page, I couldn’t put this novel down. From the haunted feel of Hundred’s Hall to the complex decline of its residents. This is an intelligent and entertaining novel that you wont easily forget.

From ghosts to fantasy the next book I chose to read was Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. I chose this book for my book group in July and didn’t regret my choice. Whilst not everyone loved the book most did and I was happy to find a group of people with whom I could pick apart this rich and complex work. Northern Lights still ranks as one of my all time favourite books and for anyone put off by the fact that the book was originally a children’s story, fear not this book has just as much to offer an adult audience.

After immersing myself in so much fiction I decided to choose a more factual novel for my next book. This came in the form of Born To Run by Christopher Mcdougall and although I’m yet to share my thoughts on this book it’s enough to say that I was blown away by this story and was shocked to find myself so drawn into a story that essentially centres around running.

Lastly I began How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran. I’m currently only half way through this book but Moran gives you so much to think about and muse over that I don’t want to rush a moment of it. Needless to say this is the book that has recently stole so much of my attention and had me up late into the night pouring over Moran’s witty and perceptive take on life and women. I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you when I’ve finished this book.

So that was July for me, ghosts, running, feminism, family tragedy and children’s fiction. It was certainly an eclectic month to say the least. As usual I don’t have any solid plans for August, other than reading Warm Bodies, a zombie novel, for my book group.

So what about everyone else? What have you all being reading this month? Anything amazing? And what do you have planned for August?

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The Prisoner Of Heaven & Other New Offerings from Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If there’s one writer sure to bring to joy to all who read his books then it’s Carols Ruiz Zafon. I’m yet to meet a reader who hasn’t fallen for his captivating and daring story telling. The fact that The Shadow Of The Wind is the only book to entertain and please every member of my book group is a further testament to Zafon’s success.

Imagine my excitement then when I was asked to review Zafon’s latest book, The Prisoner Of Heaven. Of course I didn’t need to think twice and I can’t wait to get stuck into this much-anticipated novel. The Prisoner Of Heaven reunites us with the much-loved characters of The Shadow Of The Wind. Daniel and Bea Sempere have had their first child and their dear friend Fermin Romero De Torres is soon to married. But then a deeply buried secret threatens to become uncovered unveiling a world of trouble and dangers in a plot that promises to be as dramatic and spell binding as Zafon’s other works.

The Prisoner Of Heaven went on sale July 10th and I’m sure many have already tucked into this latest offering. But if this wasn’t exciting enough there’s another treat in store. Harper Books have also released a free short story from Zafon titled The Rose Of Fire. You can read it here. Fans of Zafon are sure to love this story which takes us back to the Cemetery Of Books, whilst I’m sure first time readers will also love the chance to try his work.

I do hope you all decide to read The Rose Of Fire, a brilliant read and completely free! I’d love to hear your thoughts and off course I’d love to know how everyone feels about the release of The Prisoner Of Heaven, perhaps you’ve already read it and would like to share your thoughts?

Happy Reading everyone.

March Round Up

They say variety is the spice of life and that’s certainly being the case this month for me. From crime fiction to spiritual prose to Swedish Literature and classic English novels. March definitely wasn’t dull.

I began the month by reading By The Pricking Of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie. This is the first book by her that I’ve read which is foolish really because the minute I opened the book I knew I should have tried her stories much earlier. I had this discussion with a friend recently in whom I share similar bookish tastes. We both agreed that there was something about her writing that had always put us off. I’m now a convert and advise anyone with reservations to give her a go.

Next up was a book wholly different, The Buddha In The Attic by Julie Otsuka. The book is more of a novella, condensed to a sparse two hundred or so pages it broods on the collective lives of a group of Japanese women who cross the Atlantic in search of the American dream. Otsuka has a dreamy lyrical voice and I felt transported and mesmerised by her prose. This is unlike anything I’ve read in a long while and it made a welcome break from the norm.

I then moved onto the classic Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee, a book that soothingly tells the charming story of Lee’s life growing up in the rural countryside in a more simple and peaceful time. It made the perfect accompaniment to the lovely weather we have being having. This book was this months book group and I can’t wait to meet up with the gang to discuss it later this week, my review will follow shortly. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.

I then went back to crime but with a twist in the form of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo. You can probably tell from my last review that I loved the book and I now can’t wait to read the next two. What does everyone else think of the millennium Trilogy?

And lastly I started but haven’t yet finished The Lord Of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon and Home to Roost Tessa Hainsworth. The Lord of Misrule has being long listed for the Orange Prize this year and so far I have conflicting thoughts on the book so will hold back before I make my mind up. Home to Roost is a transporting story set in idyllic Cornwall and I’m already detesting rainy Manchester and dreaming of the beautiful Cornish coast.

So what did everyone else read last month and do you have any plans for April? Any recommendations or books that’s stood out for you last month?

I don’t have any solid plans however I do plan to get a bookshelf for my new house which is very exciting as my poor books have been stacked in musty boxes for the past two years. it will be my pride and joy and I’ll definitely post pictures.

Happy Reading everyone.

Orange Prize for Fiction 2012, The Long List

It’s that time of year again, The Orange Prize for fiction have announced 2012’s long list. For this bookaholic it’s the equivalent of Christmas. I love the Orange Prize and it’s celebration of female authors, each year the list never fails to throw out some brilliant must read books. On this list this year are a few books that are already firmly on my TBR and a few that I hadn’t until now heard of. But without further ado here is the list:

 Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg (Quercus) Swedish, 1st Novel

On The Floor by Aifric Campbell (Serpent’s Tail) Irish, 3rd Novel

The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen (The Clerkenwell Press) American, 4th Novel

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue (Picador) Irish, 7th Novel

Half Blood Blue by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail) Canadian, 2nd Novel

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape) Irish. 5th Novel

The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki (Headline Review) British, 5th Novel

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (Quercus) American, 4th Novel

Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding (Bloomsbury) British, 3rd Novel

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (Faber & Faber) British, 2nd Novel

The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) British, 2nd Novel

The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy (Jonathan Cape) British, 6th Novel

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Harvill Secker) American, 1st Novel

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury) American, 1st Novel

Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick (Atlantic Books) American, 7th Novel

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury) American, 6th Novel

There But For The by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton) British, 5th Novel

The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard (Alman Books) British, 2nd Novel

The Tides of War by Stella Tillyard (Chatto & Windus) British, 1st Novel

The Submission by Ann Waldman (William Heinemann) American, 1st Novel

 I was a little surprised not to see The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen on the list. I was however very excited to see State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, she’s one of my favourite writers and I’m thrilled that she’s made the cut. I can’t wait to read this novel.

 Another book I’m excited about and not surprised to see is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, it’s already had a lot of praise and publicity and from what I’ve read and heard about this book I can see if being very popular in 2012.

 I’m annoyed at myself for not having bought a second-hand copy of There But For The Moment by Ali Smith last week when I saw a copy for a few pounds in a second-hand book shop. More fool me.

I also noted that Emma Donoghue made the list again this year, I wonder if she will get as far with The Sealed Letter? maybe she’ll get further? Last year she made the shortlist and there were some who desperately wanted her to win and some not so sure. I haven’t read the book yet but it’s on the list.

 All in all I’m pretty excited about the long list, there’s a real mix of debut writers and more established novelist. Sadly though I think the list is a little lacking in international diversity. There’s a lot of American and British writers, a few Canadians one or two Irish and one Swedish. Hardly the International feast that were usually served. But I’m sure all of the books will be rewarding all the same.

 So what does everyone else think of the list? Is there anything you really wanted to see on there but didn’t? Perhaps there’s something your really excited about and pleased to see make the cut? Have you read anything already on the list? Or do you have any plans?

 I’ll be commenting on the whole process so do check in for updates and I look forward to hearing what everyone else thinks of the list.

Cutaway – A wonderful new literary magazine

As the new year fast approaches my list of challenges and resolutions seems to grow and grow but there’s one project sure to really stretch my imagination and put my skills to the test. This all revolves round the creation of a new literary magazine with a rather wonderful concept.
 
The magazine is entitled Cutaway and it’s been created by writers Dave Scholfield and Craig Pay. Check out their site for full details of what the magazine entails but to give you a flavor the magazine promises to be a high quality, visually appealing, and jam-packed with literary treats. But perhaps the best thing about the project is that it calls for all writers from around the world to submit prose, poetry and short stories with the possibility that the may end up in the magazine when it is published in the spring/summer next year.
 
Here’s what the magazine are calling for “We’re looking for literary fiction, genre fiction and a little that blurs the two. Mix poetry with prose, text with numbers, your shopping list with a love letter, dragons with teenage angst or just push yourself to create something dynamic”.
 
I’m sure you’ll agree that there’s a wide writing scope here, the magazine is certainly encouraging creativity and imagination.
 
So I’ve made myself a mini target to try to write something of enough worth to submit to Cutaway and who knows it may make the magazine. I always say I want to practice my writing, well this could be a good prompt.
 
What about everyone else? Do you think you might have some worth submitting? Are you interested in trying to put pen to paper? Check out the magazine’s site for more information, I’m sure you’ll find it as inspiring as I did.

War Through The Generations challenge: The Great War

I didn’t really anticipate signing up to any book challenges next year, it’s something I’ve never participated in previously and I hate committing myself to things I can’t finish.

But as I started to read more and more into this challenge something sparked my interest and with the added incentive of spicing up my reading habits I decided to get involved and give the challenge ago.

Here’s a brief idea of what the challenge consists off;

“In 2012, Anna and I could not pass up the opportunity to delve into WWI, often considered The Great War, which occurred roughly between 1914 to 1918 and started roughly with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary.

The WWI Reading Challenge will be held between Jan. 1, 2012, through Dec. 31, 2012.

Books must have WWI as a primary or secondary theme and occur before, during, or after the war.

Here are the reading levels:

  • Dip: Read 1-3 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.
  • Wade: Read 4-10 books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme.
  • Swim: Read 11 or more books in any genre with WWI as a primary or secondary theme”

I’m going to place myself in the wade category because I believe four books is manageable for me but I really don’t want to say I’ll read more than 11…not just yet anyway.

The hosts of this challenge have kindly provided a suggested reading list which has already given me some great idea’s. I’ve read the first two books in the Pat Barker Regeneration Trilogy but still need to read The Ghost Road. I’ve also professed that I would read Birdsong at some point and yet I’ve never got round to it. Well I now have no more excuses. So these book will form the beginning of my list.

After that I don’t have any solid plans. I don’t want to make my list now and then kick myself later when another great idea’s pop into my head. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated though.

So who else is taking part in the challenge? If so what books are you thinking of reading? And finally thanks to the creators of this challenge for inspiring me to mix up my reading habits in 2012, I can’t wait.

Celebrate Our Great British Bookstores

 I don’t know about you but I could quite happily spend a whole blissful afternoon soaking up the atmosphere of my local bookstore, perusing row after row of bookish delights, intrigued and drawn in by their colorful and mysterious spines. Make this my local independent bookshop and I’m in ecstasy. So when I was randomly channel hoping last night and I came across a piece on the BBC about the decline of book stores in the UK my restless finger immediately stopped flicking between channels and rested on something that really did shock me.

According to statistics represented on the BBC the number of bookshops in the UK is decreasing. The number of outlets holding memberships with the Booksellers Association has gone down from 4495 in 2006 to 3683, independent bookstores have dropped from 1483 to 1099. And whilst 50 new independent bookshops opened last year 72 closed. Imagine all of those unique and wonderful bookstores opening, full of hope and book love, only to close down and at such a rapid rate.

As someone who values and loves my local bookstores I was disturbed by these facts, Imagine not having your favorite Waterstone’s just waiting for you in your local city centre? Or worst still that second-hand bookshop that you know you can always rely on for it’s uniqueness and charm, suddenly no longer being there?

Sure we could download them to our kindles or do some online shopping, but is that really the same? In fact e books are being blamed for this steady decline with many suggesting that their rapid and ever-growing popularity is detrimental to the success of our bookshops. Online shopping and quick downloading is great but can you talk to someone about your excitement at starting your new purchase? Can you get first hand knowledge from experienced staff just as enthusiastic as you?

So today’s post is really very simple, I want you all to join me in celebrating the important retailers who make up Britain’s bookstores. I want to hear your favorite haunts for book shopping and I want to know why they are so special to you.

Leave a comment or better still post your ideas on your own blog and be sure to leave a link. . With bookstores in the UK declining I think it’s more important than ever to remember, acknowledge, and support those dearest to us.

So tell me;

1. Your favorite independent bookshop and why

2. Your favorite high street book store and why

And here are my answers;

1. My favorite independent bookshop is Barter books in Alnwick, Northumberland. Sadly this store is no longer on my doorstep as it once was but that doesn’t stop me from religiously visiting it every time I go home. It looks like I’m not the only one either, Polly from Novel Insights also seems a fan. You can’t blame people from falling in love with this place, from the moment you walk in and are greeted by a real log fire to the isles and isles of delectable books. There’s a working toy train whizzing around high above your heads, a mural of all great writers, it’s a treasure chest of reading delights.

The concept is unique too, you take in your old books, they tot up the value, add it to your own personal card and then you simply pick books and swap them. I can remember more than one occasion when a helpful member of staff has taken great pains to source a book I really wanted but couldn’t find, one kind man even chased me out waving a copy of The Godfather that he had managed to salvage much to my delight.

2. My favorite high street bookstore is Waterstones on Deansgate, not only are the

Waterstone's host many great literary events

staff helpful and passionate about their books, the shop is also special in that it regularly plays host to a number of great literary events like the wonderful  literary saloon Bookmarked as hosted by Savidge reads. The shop has a roomy, open feel about it and I would easily feel comfortable in taking a seat and spending as much time as I needed to check through my selections to make sure I was making the right choices, that comfort and ease in a bookstore is important to me and it’s something you just don’t with a faceless online supplier.

So do get in touch, I’d love you all to celebrate with me the important bookstores that we all love and enjoy across the UK and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above statistic. Do they concern or sadden you? Or perhaps they don’t bother you at all? Get in touch.