Top Ten Book Characters That Would Be Sitting At My Lunch Table


Gilian-Anderson5_2063010iSo I’m cheating a bit with this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, taking the ‘Back to School’ topic from last week that I missed instead that I thought would be far more interesting. Who would be my top lunch companions from the world of literature? Not sure these folk would gel that well together but we’ll have a go …. (thanks to The Broke and The Bookish as always!)

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1. Miss Havisham (Great Expectations, 1860) – Sure, she’s massively weird and possibly even a little whiffy but I do think she’d be mad fun at a dinner party. Cobwebs aside.

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2. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960) – Top lawyer and all around nice guy, there’s a lot to be learnt from Mr Finch. Ooo, to clerk him would be an honour.

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3. Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall, 2009) – Bit of a cheat since he isn’t strictly a literary character but Hilary Mantel leads the way for us to know the magnificent historical character just that little bit better, and I’m hugely grateful for it.

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4. Pop Larkin (The Darling Buds of May, 1958) – Perfect chap for a tipple and a good spread. Pop Larkin knows how to throw a good party.

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5. ‘Moira’ (The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985) – feminist literary heroine :)

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6. Aunt Augusta (Travels with My Aunt, 1969) – wacky, glorious Aunt Augusta is an absolute diamond and sets the perfect example to her dull nephew Henry with her zest for life.

smudgeroon-27. Behemoth (The Master and Margarita, 1966) – this bewildering book is memorable for a variety of reasons, not least this gun-toting black cat.

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8. Boris (The Goldfinch, 2013) – another character with an irrepressible lust for life. Theo’s best friend Boris brings a much needed sense of wonder and danger to this story.

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9. Jenny (Frog Music, 2014) – based on a real person, Jeanne Bonnet is a typical San Franciscan quirk, with a mean sense of humour and a penchant for frogs.

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10. Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961) – Do I need to explain this one? Glamour, guts, glitz, she’s got the lot.

To eBook or not to eBook


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Javier Candeira

However you might feel about the rise and rise of the eReader, a phenomenon we’ve only experienced over the past couple of years, there is surely something thrilling about witnessing such a potentially seismic shift in our lifestyle, technology and the way we read and live our lives.

Not everyone feels so positive about it of course, I for one have, until recently, sat firmly in the camp of the non believers, staunchly refusing to accept any of the potential benefits and basically internally turning my nose up at anybody who tried to convince me otherwise. For me, eBooks were a soulless way of exploring the literary world, one that could prove devastatingly destructive to an already fragile world, with the death of the independent book shop an unsurprising fact of modern commercial life and even the downfall of our best-loved chain stores threatening, and even in some cases, becoming a reality (see: Borders Group).

But was this assumption true? From the start there were always benefits to having such a device. If you travel, you could take your much-loved library along with you with ease (apart from one bonkers book lover I know all to well…), if you’re physically incapacitated in any way they are lightweight and easy to use and, if you’re simply just stuck for something to read, the literary world is at your fingertips should you be lucky enough to have an internet connection. We all knew the drill. But was this convenience worth forgoing our paperbacks and potentially selling our soul to the A-monster?

The truth is, despite all this paranoia, the electronic ‘takeover’ simply hasn’t **touch wood** been the total obliteration we all imagined with horror. Although selling more overall than physical books, following a dramatic rise to lofty heights, US eBook sales have actually leveled out since 2012. Here in the UK, although eBook sales rose significantly last year, print books still came out on top, holding three-quarters of the market. Although Tim Waterstone’s recent comments may seem decidedly overconfident, perhaps this traditionally ‘stiff-upper lip’ attitude is what the industry needs to maintain the balance.

This is all, of course, a tired debate and one I’m sure you’re all too sick of hearing, but one reason why I’ve held off for so long on putting my twopenneth in is that, in my sheer militancy, it simply wasn’t relevant to me six months ago. Now, having been bequeathed an eReader (come on, I could still never bring myself to actually BUY one), I find an increasing number of publishers who, logically, prefer to email ARCs over rather than footing the bill of a print copy and also, let’s face it, my relationship will not stand another backpacking trip across the Himalaya with ten books in tow… It seems I’ve also managed to get over my general aversion enough to simply sink into whatever eBook I might be reading, rather than be blindsided by the soulless format and lack of delectable cover and smell.

It all feels rather positive really. In the world of iPads and 3D printers, the digitalisation of books was always going to be a logical step sideways. Rather than fighting against this alteration in the increasingly fast-paced, fast-fingered way in which we live our lives, traditional bookshops seem to be wisely embracing change, with chain stores like Waterstones very wisely placing an eReader stand amongst its piles of paperbacks. I’ve also noticed how notably prettier newly published paperbacks seem to be these days, capitalising on the major advantage they have over their modern cousins; i.e. the look and feel of the thing, a factor that makes book shopping such a joy (rather than scrolling down a list of titles). Can the two live side by side? I’d certainly like to think so. In fact, there is train of thought that suggests that these devices could actually encourage none-readers to pick up the original model. Wishful thinking? I certainly hope not.

All the same, I couldn’t quite resist adding this sarky advert, courtesy of Ikea ;):

The Fair Fight


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I really am trying to widen my reading horizons at the moment. After listening to Simon and Thomas‘ latest The Readers podcast on nonfiction, which I related to much more than I thought I would, it really hammered home the huge gap in my reading this year. Apart from the odd classic I desperately try to cram in, the majority of what I pick up could broadly be classed as ‘historical fiction’ of some kind. Although there is truly nothing better in my mind than a beautifully written, evocative tale that sweeps you away to an entirely different era, this is my naughty comfort zone, and one that I certainly haven’t solved, but thoroughly basked in this month by indulging in Anna Freeman’s quirky new novel; The Fair Fight.

Set in the mansions, brothels and mucky bars of 18th century Bristol, The Fair Fight tells the tale of Ruth; a young, impoverished girl who, due to her less-than-perfect looks and hard-headed nature, forges a name for herself as a female pugilist, backed and bought by the mysterious Mr Dryer. After a twisted fight leaves her battered and bruised beyond recognition, her patron drops her cold, moving on with his prospects towards her burly yet kindhearted husband, Tom; a venture for boxing titles that carries great risk for them all.

Split into three narrative voices; that of Ruth, Mr Dyer’s wife; Charlotte, and young fop George Bowden, we are afforded the opportunity to peek into the lives of people at every level of society at the time, witnessing predicaments as wide as George’s taboo passion for his boarding school roommate Perry and the alcoholism and deep-rooted apathy of a small-pox-scarred upper class woman, a woman whose boredom is finally eased by the arrival of the two young boxers at her country home.

22430677Despite my misgivings about the depth and breadth of my reading habits at the moment, there is nothing more enjoyable than a well-written, researched, quirky bit of historical fiction and this is no exception. Inevitable comparisons will be drawn with the likes of Sarah Waters but such sweeping comments do annoy me a tad. This is a hugely entertaining, unique story in its own right and gives us a modern girls yet more literary heroines to gaze at admiringly. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t put my fists up myself in the bathroom mirror once or twice whilst reading this in imitation of the feisty, potty-mouthed pugilist.

Although I sometimes failed to see the point of George’s self-serving narrative, both Ruth and Charlotte are admirable, memorable characters, allowing us a true glimpse of female 18th century life at both ends of the spectrum. The contrast between Ruth’s poverty yet relative freedom of thought and spirit in contrast with the prison Charlotte finds within the lush walls of her sitting rooms certainly gives us food for thought and their spunk and vivacity both buoyed me up. There are no Disney princesses here; wonky teeth and scarred skin bring these very real characters to life in earnest.

With the varying narratives keeping the novel fresh and moving swiftly along, like all the best historical fiction, this story is littered with seemingly accurate period detail, colour, verve and grit that will find you talking like a Bristolian in no time. Despite all the ‘culls’, ‘pugs’ and ‘bifs’ a girl could ever want, the plot can seem a little sluggish at times, but this is nothing a good cat fight can’t cure…

Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet


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Michael Underwood

Thankyou good folk at The Broke and the Bookish for yet more cause for pause and reflection… I better get my purse out!

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1. Water for Elephants; Sara Gruen – this historical novel has made its way on and off my wish list more times than I can count due to wildly varying reviews. After settling down to the Hollywood blockbuster last weekend and buoyed by an excellent Goodreads rating, it has made the way firmly back on the list. 

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2. William – an Englishman; Cicely Hamilton - The perspective of Mr and Mrs Everyman on the devastation of World War I, written by suffragette Hamilton in just 1919, sounds just superb. Plus I haven’t yet had the delight of a Persephone book.

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3. The Secret History; Donna Tartt - my first Donna Tartt experience was just awesome. Yet my book group, as per usual, were mortified at my Donna Tartt virginity and the fact that I’d not yet read The Secret History. Time to remedy that.

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4. Hiroshima; John Hersey - There are certain events in history that pull you towards them instinctively, horrifically. Hiroshima and its aftermath is one of them. Hersey’s book, charts the lives of six survivors and sounds completely gripping.

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5. Bad Feminist; Roxane Gay - This collection of essays has been knocking around the feminist blogs for a good couple of weeks and seems an interesting (and witty) one to pick up and educate myself from.

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6. Revenge; Yoko Ogawa - I love Ogawa’s spare, poetic prose, having and read and adored both Hotel Iris and The Housekeeper and The Professor.  Luckily for me, Clare at A Little Blog of Books is a veritable gold mine of bookish news and alerted me to these sinister sounding short stories.

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7. Mrs Fox; Sarah Hall - a magical fable that sounds right up my street. I’m confident that Simon Savidge’s fab review has quite rightly pointed even more readers in Sarah Hall’s direction.

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8. The Secret Lives of Alexandra David-Neel; Barbara Foster - after our second trip to India I became a little obsessed with solo female travellers, becoming particularly fixated on the eccentric, admirable figure of Victorian pioneer Alexandra David-Neel. Aside from her own writings, this is supposed to be the definitive biography.

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9. The Shooting Party; Isabel Colegate - This book strikes me as, quite simply, a very stylish, intriguing portrait of pre-war high society. With shooting, fashion and plenty of gossip, this all seems very Downton Abbey darling.

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10. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly; Sun-mi Hwang - ah. More satisfying Far Eastern literature, this time from Korea, which intrigues me hugely. Fables, magic….the perfect theme for Autumn/Winter 2014 (which I’m so excited by. Hurray!)

Little Library Lenders


Little Free Library

Memphis CVB

Like many of you bookish folk out there, I sadly don’t have the luxury of whiling away the weekday hours with my nose in a good book. When I start to think about how much I could read if I didn’t have to partake in that niggly little thing called work I remind myself that it is, after all, currently funding my extreme book habit…

As it is, the vast majority of my reading is done in bed at night (woe betide the man who tells me to turn my light off!) on the rare empty weekend afternoon (drizzly) and, most importantly for the purposes of this post, on the train to and from work. I do so love my quiet 30 minutes, coffee in one hand, book in the other. The perfect way to relax before a stressful and potentially irritating day at the grindstone.

There have been a plethora of blog posts popping up of late on the Little Free Library movement; wonderful, bird-box-like structures that have steadily multiplied from Wisconsin eastwards and now number the several thousand. Nestling often in front yards and gardens, these structures elaborate on the ‘take a book leave a book’ philosophy you see in all too few coffee shops and waiting rooms.

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As you can see from the cute little basket above, the literary prowess of my daily commute does not just extend to me catching up on my personal reading. Some inspired bookworm at our local station has added huge joy to my mornings by installing a little mini library of their own, one where it isn’t even obligatory to leave a book should you take one! Many a minute has been spent harvesting pristine copies of classics and new publications that I haven’t yet had the joy of reading (e.g. Jim Crace’s HarvestMargaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind) and leaving my own copies of books I know will otherwise merely languish on my shelves collecting dust for the rest of all time. Even though the books I leave in there are often stories I’m not overly fussed about, I do get a little tetchy if they don’t disappear right away into the arms of some appreciative commuter. The people in my neck of the woods happily seem to avid readers of a wide variety of books, usually quality and I often wonder how fun it would be to restrict myself to only reading from the book basket (yikes).

I think perhaps my little local station should seriously consider joining the Little Free Library community and make the book-loving official. I’m even subtly hinting to the other half that my idea of a perfect birthday/Christmas present would be a little literary chalet of my very own to stick in the front garden and watch the book loving villagers/walkers/bikers and horse riders ramble by and help themselves. Reading can often be such a solitary and lonely pastime, the more opportunities to share the worlds you love and discuss them with others the better.

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The Goldfinch


The Goldfinch

Frederic Guillory

It’s not usually my style to stick my beak into the furore, however, thanks to a highly ambitious and enthusiastic Manchester book group, I actually managed to spend two weeks reading just one book last month, devouring Donna Tartt’s doorstop, ‘big American novel’ The Goldfinch in readiness for August’s get together.

As always, the greater the hype the greater my nerves about a new release however, one certainty was the fact that this was always going to be a book group-pleaser, whichever way the pendulum swung. After a series of damp squibs, this captivating tale was sorely needed and deeply admired by all.

Theo Decker’s life is outwardly unimpressive. To others, this is a young man defined by the loss of his mother in a violent accident; an event that sends him spiraling into an existence of drug-addiction, depression and deception. Orbiting around his connection with an unassuming 17th century painting of a goldfinch, we follow Theo from the bleak deserts of Las Vegas, to the musty antique shops of New York, to the back streets of Amsterdam in a superb love story dedicated to enduringly beautiful objects and human flaw.

Seeing how hooked I was to this book (dragging it around with me everywhere – see picture below) my other half enthusiastically asked me what it was about. Struggling to get beyond the ‘just a story about some guy’s life’ bit, I frankly made it all sound a little dull, which this book could so easily be. Instead, under Tartt’s deft pen, Theo’s life takes on a rather sweeping, film-like feel with stunning scenery (see the wide Las Vegas skies) and a superb inner monologue, written in such a way that our hearts dip and soar with him:

‘the flavor of Pippa’s kiss – bittersweet and strange – stayed with me all the way back uptown, swaying and sleepy as I sailed home on the bus, melting with sorrow and loveliness, a starry ache that lifted me up above the windswept city like a kite: my head in the rainclouds, my heart in the sky.’                            

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The Goldfinch

Tartt’s writerly prowess means that we don’t glimpse even a peek of middle-aged woman in this teenage boy. Theo is a hopelessly flawed individual, something that resulted in a grand debate into his likability and, rather melodramatically, whether he is ultimately a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person.  With our anti-hero just unremarkable and mutable enough to blend into the background of his own story, fabulous characters such as eccentric childhood friend Boris and cosy protector and business partner Hoby take centre stage.

With an uproarious, positive reception from the start, as time has gone by critics seemed to have turned disappointingly snobby on this novel. The dialogue isn’t ‘literary’ enough you say? A 15-year-old drug addict isn’t ‘literary’ enough for you?! What rubbish. Books are for entertainment and, as an avid reader of both ‘high brow’, classic and popular fiction I can tell you that I enjoyed this very much indeed. Boo to you critics!

I’ve read few books that keep up the momentum for 800 pages and this is no exception. One particular twist of the plot irritated me slightly and meant that, with only 150 pages to go, my confidence in the story took a wobble (swiftly righted, I’m happy to say). It also has to be said that a big daydreamer like myself can also start to get a little down on all the dying…

This is a beautifully written novel, brave in its sorrows and unique in its celebration of fine-things. A book that loves beauty, and, as a typical Libra, it turns out I do too.

Ten Authors I Own The Most Books From


I love a Top Ten Tuesday post, mainly because I love a good list, but this week’s task is a bit tricky for someone with such a serious book problem (not quite as bad as the insane picture above!) Short of getting my library out and counting it all (a more pleasurable task than it sounds I’m sure!), based on a swift glance alone it is clear that the ten authors below are coming up trumps on my shelves:

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1. Charles Dickens  – mainly due to a dank winter book buying frenzy a couple of years ago and an astonishing offer from The Book People, an entire shelf of our ‘classics’ section downstairs is now devoted to the great man himself…better get some of them read!

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2. Paul Gallico - I’m sure I’ve bored you all before with my postulating on the greatness of El Gallico. I only have a few of the forty-plus books that he did write but those few are definitely worth mentioning here. Many are out of print/only falteringly in-print from time to time.

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3. Derek Tangye - Having had Tangye’s beautiful cat books pressed on me for years by my family I have now inherited all of his Minack Chronicles. A perfect celebration of life.

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4. Haruki Murakami - Although I’ve only read a handful of his books, I seem to have an impulsion to buy Murakami’s monochrome volumes. The poetry and sheer weirdness of it all never fails to draw me in.

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5. Margaret Atwood - Another fail-safe author I collect heaps of and simply cannot read fast enough. Just MaddAddam to go in the Orynx and Crake trilogy and then I can settle down with them all for a readathon!

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6. Eric Newby - My other half is rather the adventurer; climber, runner, action man extraordinaire. Eric Newby’s travel literature therefore features rather heavily in the travel-cum-climbing section of our library.

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7. Laurie Lee - I have all of Lee’s books and have only read the Spanish trilogy so far. Cider with Rosie is arguably his best-loved work and one I should definitely get read before our beautiful English summer ends.

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8. Roald Dahl - Although I haven’t read any of Dahl’s adult fiction yet, The Book People had a wonderful offer on all of his captivating children’s books. I bought a set for our four year old niece and couldn’t resist a set for Relish Towers as well. They’ve already been lent out to friends!

9. Georges Remi - Better known by his pen name ‘Hergé’, I’ve been an avid fan of the (admittedly, yes, rather racist) Tintin comics for years and years and am at least halfway through my French collection…just need a few more holidays to finish it off.

10. Graham Greene - A stalwart, reliable author if ever there was one. I always enjoy Greene’s novels, that are so very varied and masterfully written. The Vintage editions are also hugely pleasing on the eye!

50/365:Word Canyon by Magic Madzik via Flickr
Paul Gallico and Roald Dahl by Carl Van Vechten
The Minack Chronicle... by Linda Hartley, Wikimedia Commons
Haruki Murakami by wakarimasita via Wikimedia Commons
Margaret Atwood Eden Mills Writers Festival by Vanwaffle; Wikimedia
Georges Prosper Remi, Hergé by La Tête Krançien via Flickr
Graham Greene by Richard Kenworthy via Flickr