Monday, 9 April 2018

The End of Loneliness

The End of Loneliness
By Benedict Wells
Translated by Charlotte Collins
Published by Sceptre
Available in trade paperback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

"The antidote to loneliness isn't just being around random people indiscriminately, the antidote to loneliness is emotional security."

This quote from Benedict Wells' novel, The End of Loneliness, a German bestseller, perfectly sums up this book. This is an incredible story about loss, loneliness, family and love.

Marty, Liz and Jules' childhood is full of warmth, adventure and happiness but this is shattered by the death of their parents in a car crash. 

The tightly-knit family is pulled apart with the children being sent to a grim state boarding school. Here their paths split off, and each one tries to find a way of fighting against the hole of loneliness and fight against crippling grief. Liz becomes a party girl only interested in boys, Marty locks himself away with his computer while Jules floats through school, with only one true friend. Jules fears living, and seems to retreat into a world where his parents are still alive, and he has a happier life. He is nostalgic, much like the main character from Midnight in Paris, longing to be living in the past as this is the only place he is happy.

Like Olivia Laing's The Lonely City, the exploration of loneliness digs deep into the soul and it is fascinating the way Wells pulls apart the many ways loneliness can creep into our lives. Jules is detached from his life, sometimes unable to take the leap from observing to being emotionally involved with life. This fear of living holds him back from being happy with failed jobs, and relationships - running away from commitment, hiding away from society. Yet, there are tender moments when Jules finds happiness, finally marrying the women he has loved since childhood, being a parent.

Wells shows how grief shapes people's lives and the decisions we make when gripped by grief. The End of Loneliness shows how grief never leaves us but morphs into a different shape.

This is a beautifully written and translated novel, full of emotion. I can see this book being on my book of the year list for 2018. End of Loneliness is available from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via the publisher.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

March's reading

Only three books read in March?!

But last month felt like it stretched for years. Lets blame the horrendous cold I had and the fact it made my concentration levels shrink to less than thirty seconds. Actually, that excuse is the truth.

Lets not forget the adventures to Stonehenge, being the last person on the planet to watch Black Panther (fantastic, go see it), becoming hooked on Booktube, and having a clear out of books and old clothes.

The End of Loneliness - Benedict Wells (translated by Charlotte Collins)
I'm going to be writing a longer review later this week but I should probably give you a heads up and tell you that this book is fantastic. Exploring the themes of loss, loneliness, family and love. This book follows the lives of three siblings after their perfect childhood is shattered by the sudden death of their parents. Grief pulls them apart, sending them in different directions with their lives. This is a fantastic book.

Life Lessons from Remarkable Women - various writers
Finding this book turned into a mission with me walking around four bookshops in London (oh I know, the hardship) before getting my mitts on this. This essential book, in a handy size to carry around in any bag, covers essays on starting over, self love, embracing ambition, grief, motherhood, dealing with mental health. These essays are necessary for the modern world, and are all in bitesize chunks so you can easily read one while on the train. Life Lessons is thought provoking, empowering, a call to arms for women - to raise up and not hide in the shadows. I'm definitely going to be going back to this book, and re-reading these essays.

The Course of Love - Alain de Botton
"That strive to normalize our troubles and show us a melancholy yet hopeful path through the course of love." Part romance, part story on surviving and enjoying a modern relationship, part philosophy. My cat was sick on it twice. I enjoyed the book more than she did.

What books did you read in March?

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Book Review: Here We Are Now

Here We Are Now
By Jasmine Warga
Published by Hodder
Available in paperback and ebook

I really enjoyed Jasmine Warga's previous novel, My Heart and Other Black Holes, and her lovely responses to the Imaginary Bookshop Q&A so I was happy to receive her newest book, Here We Are Now.

Taliah's quiet teenage life is full of being in a band, having a best friend, going to school, being moody. But this is about to be shaken up and for her life to change. 

This is a novel full of angst, heartbreak, families, friends and music. This is Taliah's coming of age story which Warga captures brilliantly with an authentic teenage voice, full of frustration of stepping away from being a child and annoyed that she still isn't an adult.

Taliah has been writing letters to a rock star for years, telling him she knows he is her father. Her mother is protective of the past, trying to build a better life for her daughter and wrap her in cotton wool from the real world. While her mother is out of the country, Julian Oliver, rock star, knocks on the door, saying that he his there to see his daughter, and asking Taliah to come and visit her dying grandfather. This is the adventure she has been waiting for.

Warga looks at the things that can bring together families during times of crisis. This is a journey of self-discovery for Taliah as she deals with the uncertainties in her life, builds confidence and deals with the unease that she feels towards her family. This is also for her to learn that her mother is more than just the person so how looks after her. Her mother also makes mistakes and this self-realisation brings about a maturity in Taliah.

Set across a week in Taliah's life, Warga packs a punch with all of the events that happen, and keeps the momentum building and the pace fast. I found that I could put this book down as I learned more about Taliah and her parent's past.

You can buy a copy from your favourite bookshop.

I was sent a copy via Bookbridgr.com

Monday, 19 March 2018

Marius Gabriel's Imaginary Bookshop


Today Marius Gabriel, author of The Ocean Liner, has popped by to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series. The Ocean Liner is published this week, and tells the story of Masha and Rachel aboard the SS Manhattan in September 1939, bound for New York. The boar must make it across the Atlantic Ocean and through the danger of German U-boats. Will they achieve their dream of a new life in America?

*

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Wonderful Novels!

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
Oh, I think in London. On the Strand, or perhaps on Piccadilly (though not too close to Hatchards)

Would your bookshop have any special features?
Absolutely no distractions. Silence would be enforced by lady wrestlers, who would put a choke-hold on anyone talking too loud or disturbing the peace. But there would be comfy sofas where customers could sit and browse. Customers who sat too long without buying anything would be swallowed up by special jaws in the sofas, funnelled underground and spat out onto the street. On the way, their credit-cards would be charged £20.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
I would try to keep a stock of good second-hand books, especially fine old novels now out of print. And they would be at affordable prices. Anyone who looked shabby, but picked up interesting novels, would be given an automatic discount.

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
It would be all-inclusive fiction. No non-fiction, coffee-table books or celeb bios. Just novels from Don Quixote onward.

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
I would display whatever I was reading at the time, as well as all the books on my to-read list. That way, I would have lots to talk about with customers.

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
I would get Kazuo Ishiguro, our wonderful Nobel prize winner, to come and talk about his novels, which are among my very favourites. And we would serve sushi and green tea.

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I would give it to them for free. And then face my indignant wife.

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
I envisage a huge wedding-cake sort of thing, with ten tiers, and hundreds of little marzipan figurines of famous authors on each level. The inside would be a rich fruit cake, and there would be rainbow icing. The authors would be exquisitely-modelled, but so delicious that lucky recipients wouldn't be able to stop from devouring them.

*

Marius Gabriel’s The Ocean Liner is published by Lake Union Publishing on 20th March. To find out more, click here.

Friday, 16 March 2018

January & February's Reading

I have been hibernating for the past 18 months of winter. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration but winter has been long and when the nights are longer then its harder to pull my bum to the desk and type - it's time for sleeping, reading, having candles burning on the bookshelves while curled up on the sofa.

Right, let's talk about the books I've read for the past two months before March finishes...

January

The Fault in our Stars - John Green
Hazel, in remission from cancer, she keeps herself on the fringes of her life, trying to not make a fuss, tucked away from being a teenager. She knows that the tumour-shrinking medication has been a miracle but she still thinks death is waiting for her. But then Augustus turns up at her cancer support group and her life is about to break out of the confines of her bedroom. This is a sweet, funny and also sad story about being alive and being in love.

Guest - S.J. Bradley
Guest follows Samhain, just as he is breaking into a hotel with his friend, to squat there to escape the horrendous squat they were previously living. This is what Samhain is good at - running away, escaping the truth, turning his back. This is the story of Samhain realising that only he can improve his life and also find out about his past. You can read my review here.

All Grown Up - Jani Attenburg
If you've liked Fleabag or Girls then you're going to like this book. Andrea, a New Yorker, navigates through sex, friendships, work and family. People around her think she's dissatisfied but she enjoys living off-script. This is a modern portrayal of being a woman.

February

Simon - Alex Masters
This was my work's first book for our book club. Alex Masters tells the story of his landlord, the mathematician, Simon Norton. Simon is an eccentric genius obsessed with maths and public transport. This is a marmite book - I enjoyed the learning about Simon's life but I didn't like the way the narrative was broken up with the author interrupting the story.

Before this is over - Amanda Hickie

Amanda Hickie’s novel captures the fears and hysteria of epidemics and the way people slowly unravel in times of crisis. You can read my review here.

Everything I know about love - Dolly Alderton
This collection of essays explore growing up, falling in love, getting dumped, drinking, and ultimately the love of female friendships. This is a great comfort read.

Here we are now - Jasmine Warga
This is a coming of age novel where Taliah discovers her father and a whole new family. This is a story of family, friendship and music. I'll be writing a review soon for this book!

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Book Review: Before this is Over


Before This Is Over

By Amanda Hickie
Published by Headline
Available in paperback and ebook

Amanda Hickie’s novel, Before this is Over, captures the fears and hysteria of epidemics and the way people slowly unravel in times of crisis.

Hannah lives a normal life with her husband and two sons, living in the suburbs in Australia. They go to work, they go to school, they own a cat and enjoy watching TV together except that there’s a pantry in their hallway that Hannah is obsessed with.

The news is full of a epidemic in far off places with a death toll increasing with every bulletin. Stockpiling. Stockpiling. Obsessed with germs. But Hannah is a fighter, having survived cancer. There is no way she’s going to lose her family to a simple bug.

The epidemic is getting closer - the city is on lockdown. Hannah lockdowns her family, pulling her children from the school, making her husband work from home, ordering their groceries online, shutting off from the world around them. Counting through their rations, obsessing with news bulletins, keeping the real world at arm's length.

The virus, Manba, begins as a cough, progressing until its terminal. There is no cure, no understanding. Cases rapidly spread through countries. Hickie captures the hysteria and panic in sharp detail as it plays out in the background of this novel. Hickie explores the way people react and behave when put under extreme conditions - losing power, low food supplies. Hannah and her family face a moral dilemma - do they stretch their supplies to feed their elderly neighbour and the little girl from next door.

Hickie builds up the tense with the family, stranded in their own home, estranged from the people who live next door, from the wider community. Their lives and relationships slowly unravel, paranoia spreading quicker than the virus.

The feeling of claustrophobia makes this a tense read - most of the book is located in a small house crammed with Hannah’s family and also the children that come to stay. There is a sense of unease. It doesn’t descend into Lord of the Flies territory but the characters do slowly unravel and lose a sense of self.

Before this is Over isn’t a book with huge plot movement but more about characters and their reactions. This would make a great buy for any of your friends that don’t like travelling on the underground during the winter because of the fear of catching a virus.

Before this is Over is available from your favourite bookshop.


I was kindly sent a copy via the publisher.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

So when I'm not normally here it means I'm over there...

I've just realised that I haven't blogged for nearly a month... not sure what happened there. I bet you've enjoyed the peace!

Don't worry - I've superglued my bum to the chair and I'm going to try and catch up with as much as possible over the next few days.

BUT if you really do miss me then I'm normally hanging at one of these places...

Just click on the links to follow me.

Goodreads - I like to keep a list of what I'm reading

Twitter - I feel like I should talk about writing and books more than I do at the moment so I will try and cut back on the retweets of cute animals gifs (but they are funny after a tough day).

Instagram - this is full of pictures of books and cats. You've been warned.


Confession time I'm obsessed with Words with Friends - I know that I'm late to the party and that I'm also crap at it.

Okay, that's not a good enough excuse.

The real reason is that I'm having a reading slump and a writing slump. But I've got some fantastic books on my to-read pile so I'm hopefully that I'm going to find a gem soon.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Victoria Walters's Imaginary Bookshop

Today Victoria Walters's has popped by to take part in the Imaginary Bookshop series to celebrate the second part of her serial novel, Random Acts of Kindness being published.

Three women are in crisis, Abbie is unable to make rent after being made redundant, Louise has thrown herself into her career to escape her unlucky love life and Eszter needs to fulfill her husband's dying wish. They are about to find out when they make a promise to be kinder to others and to themselves.

Parts one & two are now available with parts three & four available for pre-order!

*

What would be the name of your imaginary bookshop?
Books, Cakes and Tea

Where would your imaginary bookshop be located?
It would be nice to have it near where I live in Surrey but I also love the New Forest and that would be a lovely location for a bookshop!

Would your bookshop have any special features? E.g. a performing stage, a cocktail bar, etc.
As you can tell by the name, I'd have a cute cafe area serving cakes and tea, and a comfy sofa so people could sit and read there.

What would make your bookshop different from all of the other ones?
I would have a board where customers could recommend books to each other. I'd also sell book merchandise like mugs saying 'Bookworm', prints of book covers, and tote bags, that kind of thing. 

What sections would you have in your bookshop? And what sections would you ditch?
I think I'd stick to fiction, especially having a cafe taking up space. So general fiction, crime, classics, sci-fi, romance and a kids section with YA books too. 

Every bookshop needs a display table. Which books would you have on your display table? Why?
As a bookseller, I love making tables. I would display some of my favourite books with some of the other merchandise too. I'd change it up depending on time of year e.g. for February, romance books, Christmas gift books etc. 

If you could run only one author event who would you have? You can pick a living or dead writer. What sort of event would they run?
Can you imagine if JK Rowling came to do a talk ad book signing?! That would be wonderful. If Jane Austen would come back to serve behind the till, that would be amazing too :)

A customer comes up to your till with a copy of your novel and asks you to give them a reason on why they should buy it. What would you say?
I'd give them a free slice of cake and sign it for them if they buy it haha! 

What sort of cake would you offer when launching your book in your bookshop?
Cupcakes with book covers on them of course! 

*

You can find Victoria on her website, over her on Twitter or even on Instagram.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Book Review: Guest by SJ Bradley

Guest
By SJ Bradley
Published by Dead Ink Books
Available in paperback & ebook

SJ Bradley's novel, Guest, follows Samhain, just as he is breaking into a hotel with his friend, to squat there to escape the horrendous squat they were previously living. This is what Samhain is good at - running away, escaping the truth, turning his back. This is the story of Samhain realising that only he can improve his life and also find out about his past.

Living in an abandoned hotel in the north of England with his bandmate, Samhain is young, angry and bewildered with life. Bradley has created a character and world where the details are authentic as she delves into the conditions that the characters live with dead mice in towels, nosey neighbours, the paranoia of being found by the authorities.

Samhain is free from responsibilities, living off grid and on the outskirts of society. Most days his only contact with the real world is his trip to the library to check his emails, and update his band's Myspace page and arrange the European tour. He is detached from his emotions, from his mother, moving on regularly, discarding or forgetting possessions. This is a character who is selfish, and stuck in his own bubble but Bradley has a way of keeping the reader intriguing in this character and the way he stumbles through life. The reader hopes that sooner rather than later he will see that he is the one who can change his life.

Finding out his father - left before Samhain could remember, abandoning him and his mother in a camp - was an undercover policeman who had infiltrated the Green Movement of the 80s. This secret if revealed would make him an outcast - noone wants to be associated with the cops.

Bradley explores the push and pull on our beliefs - Samhain wants to be free from social norms and have his voice heard against society but when he finds out he is also a father then his life is turned upside down. Trying to escape responsibilities, he runs off with his band to Europe but the guilt follows him and consumes his trip. This character seeks redemption, and does not want to become an absent father and let history repeat itself. The echoes of the past finally push a character into becoming active in his own life.

Guest is a intriguing story of disillusionment with society and with ourselves. You can buy Guest from your favourite bookshop.


I was kindly sent a copy from the author.

Monday, 8 January 2018

See You Later Alligator...

2017… you were another difficult year… politically, socially, for the people around me, at work. Honestly, 2018 you need to be better because we’re all counting on you.

So writing a best of blog post for 2017 has been proven to be more difficult than I first thought. Having gone through the list of books read, and I’m struggling to pick my favourite books because I read some fantastic books… not because I read some dreadful books, oh no, the opposite – so many great books…

 Describing a book as life changing always seems over the top but Little Black Book by Otegha Uwagba is one of those books. With tips on how to overcome creative blocks, career advice, and mostly importantly finance advice. Reading this book made me finally take notice of what happens to my money every money – I’ve changed my bank account, consolidated a couple of debts (which were small and annoying) into one smart payment, negotiated a better deal for my broadband, insurances and mortgage and also tackle the money thing draining my bank account – my car. I was able to get a brilliant deal on a newer car. This book is pocket sized, and not very long and I really think it should be handed to everybody as the advice in this book is amazing.


Shrill by Lindy West is another one of those books which should be handed out at school. I really wish there was a book like this when I was younger. Lindy tackles feminism, body image, body shaming and dealing with real trolls. This book is full of humour and charm. Go and buy it right now.

Normally long books are a no-go zone for me. I don’t like to admit this but I know that other people feel the same (I hope) but I find it hard to maintain interest in a very long story and concentrate on all of the character progresses – I normally end up flip back to remember what happened. BUT, I think I’ve been cured of this aversion. The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker (translated by Sam Taylor) follows Marcus as he tries to prove his old professor is innocent of murder as well struggle with writer's block and the demands of fame. There are so many twists and turns in this story, and the writing is sharp and addictive. I really liked the way writing is compared to boxing and it wasn't something I considered before (I thought boxing was punch, punch, punch and then the opponent falls over - don't roll your eyes - I know differently now - we all have wrong impressions about professions - how many of us think writers just write, write, write and then get published).

Winner of the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, The Power by Naomi Alderman has captured the way feminism is fighting back. Women across the global realise they have an electric power within that comes alive when attacked or angry. They can inflict pain or even death. The power struggle between men and women starts to tip the other way, and men are finding they no longer have control. This is a fantastic novel - go and buy this one and read it!

A book about loneliness, living on a remote island and writing sounds like a dream situation to me, and so I feel like Bleaker House was written for me to warn me of ever becoming a recluse. Nell Stevens has been given a writing grant to spend three months to write a novel in a location of her choice. She picks Bleaker Island, Falklands. But this book is not that novel. Instead this is a book about a woman realizing a novel doesn’t lie in total solitude and a clear plan. Nell wants to teach herself the art of loneliness and then she’ll know if she is a proper author. This is a great book, full of great details and funny insights.


One of my favourite quotes from The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair was "Writing a book is like loving someone. It can be very painful,” and I found it very true of my writing in 2017. One of my stories, LostConnection, was published over at Dear Damsels but other than that I finally managed to finish redrafting and editing my novel, and now begins the wait from hearing back from agents.



You can read all of my monthly catch ups from 2017 here.