Top Ten Sequels I Can’t Wait To Get

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Although having time to do any valuable reading at all fills me with excitement these days, the more I do read the more I see the benefits and excitement of immersing myself in a particular world an author has created. Worlds we can rely on time and time again. Since I don’t read nearly enough series of books, most of my anticipated sequels have been around a fair while. Do bear with me in my ignorance for this week’s marvellous Top Ten Tuesday….


1. The Year of the Flood; Margaret Atwood. The impetus to read any series of books for me is often the publication of the final, much-anticipated installment – hence my final foray into Margaret Atwood’s much-loved Maddaddam trilogy this year. Thought-provoking stuff.


2. The Mirror and the Light; Hilary Mantel – Even though my experience of Mantel’s writing outside the Wolf Hall trilogy has been poor to say the least, her depiction of the life and times of Thomas Cromwell is thrilling and I cannot wait to continue on his predictable journey.


3. The Mad Apprentice; Django Wexler – Wexler’s The Forbidden Library was my first worthy experience of a ‘children’s book’ in fifteen long years. It won’t be my last as this was the first tale to sweep me well and truly away in a long time. Magical.


4. How to Build a Girl; Caitlin Moran – Moran’s How to Be a Woman was so funny and insightful it made me snort into my corn flakes. Although I imagine this is much of the same thing, you can’t knock a winning formula.


5. Love in a Cold Climate; Nancy Mitford – The Pursuit of Love brought me just the type of cosy English drama I sometimes crave. A reading of this will be all the more poignant following the death of the last Mitford sister; Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.


6. Silver: Return to Treasure Island; Andrew Motion – This might sound naff and read even worse, but I can’t deny my love for Treasure Islandan admiration so deep I might just have to get my fix with Motion’s questionable sequel.


7. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There; Catherynne M. Valente – No, I haven’t ready of these yet. Maybe Christmas is just the time. They’re really supposed to be the BEST.


8. Gormenghast; Mervin Peake – On the side of a much darker fantasy, the thought of reading Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy thrills (and frightens) me just a tad.


9. 1985; Anthony Burgess – Although not a sequel to Orwell’s seminal novel in the truest sense of the world, the thought of a Burgess-take on this political dystopia, coupled with an academic response to Orwell’s original work, is intriguing, if not widely loved, to say the least.


10. Vile Bodies; Evelyn Waugh – A natural conclusion. After reading and, much to my surprise, chuckling my little socks off at Waugh’s farcical Decline and Fall recently, this one is the next on the list to keep me entertained over Christmas.

An ode to Maxine…

Claire Sutton

I have a little confession to make – the Relish household is experiencing a massive girl crush at the moment that we’re quite struggling to overcome.

That girl crush is the ruddy gorgeous Maxine Peake, whose career on the small screen I have been mesmerized by over the past couple of years. Although the other half’s particularly fave is her role as Grace Middleton in grim, Peak District drama The Village (even more so since it’s filmed near us) I currently carry a personal torch for the tough, smart Martha Costello QC in Silk

From the seedy Manchester streets in Shameless to the theatrical brilliance that has formed the sturdy backbone of her career, she’s our Northern Socialist sweetheart and I was very honoured, as a birthday treat, to go and see the much anticipated performance of Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Theatre last month. Despite the obvious reasons to go and enjoy a hearty chunk of the ultimate Shakesperian tragedy, this particular offering courtesy of director Sarah Frankcom has been the talk of town, rapidly selling out and forcing the company to extend the run to meet demand.

Hamlet 2Supported by a cast of seasoned actors who had a strong grasp on each and every line, the anger and conviction of Peake’s performance shone out all the way into the cheap seats. The power with which she delivered Hamlet’s very first speech sent shivers down my spine:

Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not ‘seems.’
‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected ‘havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

Act I, Scene II

Although so croaky as to be almost indecipherable at times, this quirkiness of delivery, perhaps because we know the tale so well, almost enhanced rather than spoilt the performance for me, a voice cracked with emotion in this instance being preferable to a straight-laced Hamlet. With Horatio, the King and Ophelia all convincing enough to stand up to any celebrity appeal Peake may have attracted, this was a fresh yet satisfyingly traditional interpretation. Just how do they remember all those lines?IMG_2428

For Shakespeare rookies such as ourselves this was truly an education (although a rather tiring one after three hours of Elizabethan English and a full day at work!) and I’d persuade any of you out there who may not necessarily heft up one of the Bard’s plays on your commute into work to at least go and see it, particularly a production with rave reviews such as this one. You won’t look back and, let’s face this, these works were born to be performed, with audiences both crying out and chuckling along since the times of Good Queen Bess


Maxine Peake is back where she started her acting career at the Exchange Theatre, now in the position of Associate Artist. I feel privileged to have this beautiful, unique building on my doorstep and can’t wait to see what it, and she, bring to the table next.


The YA Review: Half Bad


The myriad of sometimes wickedly awesome, sometimes frustrating things that make up my everyday life have conspired over the past few months to make it gradually more and more difficult to get any writing done at all, let alone this little blog. One such perfect distraction has come in the form of the cheeky little bugger to the right, and her sisterphoto (43), who have decided that this website is in sore need of an uplift and who is, as you can see, doing a crash course in html to help me out….

In short, not much is getting done at Casa Relish at the moment and I’m coming to accept that, although I will mosey on down here from time to time to keep my hand in and, of course, keep on with any more ‘professional’ reviewing commitments, it may simply be that I have to take a step back for a little while on here until life quiets down.

With that in mind, and also the fact that many of you, teenage and adult alike, like to dip into a fair amount of YA fiction these days (a genre I’m a little naff at, it has to be said) it’s time to pass the baton on to a the younger generation from time to time. My good friend Liv is an avid reader and budding blogger and reviewer and the book she’s chosen to share her thoughts with us on sounds dark indeed. Just the thing for this creepy, blustery night and one I might just borrow from her myself…

Half Bad

Half Bad is the first book in the Half Life trilogy, written by Sally Green. The book is about a sixteen year old boy, Nathan and is set in modern-day England where witches live in secret among us; definitely not Harry Potter. His mother is a white witch who is married to a black witch hunter. He is also a white witch and they have three children: Jessica, Deborah and Aaron who are also all white witches. They all live with their grandmother. 
When Nathans’ mother has an affair with his dad, Marcus, Nathan is born. He is born half black, half white. Nathan’s dad attacks his sibling’s dad, kills him and steals his powers. His mother is ashamed so she kills herself and the kids stay with their grandmother who teaches and protects them.
Nathan sets out to find his father and get three gifts and his magical ability from him before he is seventeen otherwise he will die. He gets these gifts and finds out the only way to save his girlfriend is to kill his father.
I have to admit when I read the first few chapters I was a little confused, so, I went back and re-read it until it became a bit clearer, I was still a little confused but it made more sense the more I read.
But overall I loved this book and can’t wait for the sequel, so I can find out what his powers are, and if he finds his dad again so he can kill him, and save his girlfriend from the grasp of his auntie. It’s a really good book and it always had me on the edge of my seat. I LOVE it. It`s a must-read book and I recommend it to anyone and everyone.

Cider with Rosie


Laurie Lee has been on my bookshelf for many years, having read and loved all of his biographical tales set in Spain (As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, A Moment of War, A Rose for Winter) and bought them for a relative who lives out there. What I’d never read however, much to my family’s horror, is his first, most famous memoir; Cider with Rosie; a nostalgic trip down the Gloucestershire valley of his childhood, meeting the quintessential characters and exploring the wilderness of an age that has now almost entirely disappeared but that we mustn’t forget. Here’s why;

Lee grew up in the isolated village of Slad, in the damp, lush creases of the Cotswold hills. With six brothers and sisters raised by his mother in a cluttered little cottage, he charts his sheltered childhood, from the folds of his mother’s skirts to the wider, lustier, scarier world beyond. Although the famous Rosie of the title doesn’t make much of an appearance herself (her cameo being restricted to some steamy kisses beneath a hay wagon) Lee’s family and extended family, friends, teachers, pastor and various neighbours do; showing how a sheltered post-war community is gradually nudged ever so gently into the 21st century.

292314All those promises that people made about this beautiful novel were clearly made with confidence. This is the perfect portrait of a forgotten age and English countryside of a rawness and innocence that exists in very few places nowadays. Lee’s foundations as a poet shine through in his exquisite prose. His evocation of the seasons are some of the most brilliant I’ve read in a long long time:

‘It was world of glass, sparkling and motionless. Vapours had frozen all over the trees and transformed them into confections of sugar. Everything was rigid, locked-up and sealed, and when we breathed the air it smelt like needles and stabbed our nostrils and made                                                        us sneeze.’ [Winter]                                             p.137

‘Inside the cowsheds it was warm and voluptuous, smelling sweetly of milky breath, of heaving hides, green dung, and udders, of steam and fermentations. We carried cut hay from the heart of the rick, packed tight as a tobacco flake, with grass and wild flowers juicily fossilized within – a whole summer embalmed in our arms.’ [Summer]           p.139

Lee devotes an entire chapter to his beloved mother, whose irrepressible, haphazard figure lends brightness into every dusty corner and is one of the most lovable, selfless characters I’ve come across in a long time, raising both her own children and others from the previous marriage of a man who abandoned her. No hard feelings. Both she and her fellow honest village folk remind us that you can be rich beyond your wildest dreams yet not have two pennies to rub together. A good slice of bread and butter and a kind ear is rich enough.

The fantastical road from childhood innocence to the headiness and confusion of teenage years is universal, whatever the era, and it is this that makes Cider with Rosie a classic. There is no nastiness in this novel. Even more sinister reminiscences such as the murder of an arrogant pub-goer and a childishly hatched plan to assault a local girl (thankfully half-hearted) are written into the memoir in such a matter-of-fact, even nostalgic tone that the edge is taken away and the reader is left feeling suitably yet comfortably confused.

As the twentieth century beckons and the young folk of Slad escape in the cars and charabancs that start to rumble down the lanes, I started to feel a little sad myself for the world left behind. A world of hazy woodland, log fires and magic; one I would sorely like to return to myself.


Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read


Hurray! Back on track with the old blog with yet another glorious Top Ten Tuesday to perk up the dud end of the week courtesy of The Broke and the Bookish. This one is a little negative (and very similar to this one from May) but, you never know, it may well persuade me to have a re-read and see if it all clicks together a little better. Let’s face it folks, however much we read and however bright we may be, much to our dismay we can’t always sail through our books, even those we thought we’d love. Here are my current top ten tricky ones:


1. The Barefoot Queen; Ildefonso Falcones  – this took one serious weekend of stealth reading to finish, topped off by me scrawling ‘too long!’ in pen on the front! (I know, I was that frustrated). A massively corny, swashbuckling read that I judged from the cover from the off….I should have considered myself warned.


2. Misfortune; Wesley Stace - a rather unfortunate tale that, although hugely quirky and thought-provoking on the whole gender-identity front, lost its way in the last quarter and was almost impossible to finish.


3. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Stieg Larsson - Pre-Relish days I impulse-bought the whole Larsson trilogy, so sick I was of people harping on about it. Although this is an easy ready, I found it boring in the extreme and simply didn’t care. Needless to say I haven’t read the others. Yawn. Bye bye girl-with-no-face.


4. The Drought; J G Ballard - The book against which all Manchester Book Groupers judge their boredom.


5. Beloved; Toni Morrison - I don’t know why I found this (widely considered) modern classic so hard to read. The prose isn’t particularly difficult and it is ground breaking in its gut-wrenching portrayal of slavery. However it is, quite rightly, a devastating read and really dragged me down. Make sure you’re in a happy place when you read this one.


6. The Teleportation Accident; Ned Beauman - a book so baffling, silly and smart-arse that, frankly, I couldn’t even be bothered to try and understand Beauman’s madcap world.


7. The Robber Bridegroom; Eudora Welty - primarily a tricky dialect barrier but a wonderful book and brilliant writer all the same.


8. Hard Times; Charles Dickens - I love you Charles but oh Stephen Blackpool, you and your faux northern accent were the bane of my life and a huge interruption to an altogether perfect novel.


9. The Picture of Dorian Gray; Oscar Wilde - finally finished this classic this year after starting three times and failing miserably. I think the effected posh boy malarkey put me off a little. God only knows why because Wilde clearly is a master of suspenseful, psychological fiction.

And for the boyfriend (of ‘Seed’s Reads’ fame) >>>>>>


10 The Count of Monte Cristo; Alexandre Dumas - My other half has been taking part discreetly in Literary Relish for years (see: ‘Seed’s Reads’ in the right hand column), being an avid book lover himself. His personal Everest has always been this doorstop of a book, a rip-roaring adventure I must pick up myself one day….

Five bookish reasons to love the autumn


Autumn (or, as you American folk prefer to say; ‘Fall’) is my absolute favourite time of year hands down. Unflattering clothes and sweltering offices are instantly replaced by cosy knits, delicious drinks and the very real need to sit in front of the fire with a wee dram to warm up. This time of the year is when our countryside is at its most beautiful, as the vibrant heather on the hillside fades and the ground and trees start to turn all russetty and lovely. I love no better excuse than to dig out my wellies and jumpers once again and with a nip in the air there’s of course no better excuse than to curl up with a good book. I have an inkling many of you are also fans of this time of year so here are my top five bookish reasons to welcome the wind and rain:

1. More excuses to readGeorgios_Jakobides_Girl_reading_c1882

Again, not that I need any excuses to indulge in a bit of reading time but – the evenings and morning are darker, making it much easier to justify staying under the covers with your nose in a book. The weather is more frequently the enemy of outdoor pursuits equaling more time with the sofa and bookshelves. A book is also a natural companion to a delicious brew, which I drink far more of when it’s chilly.

Throes of creation Leonid_Pasternak


2. The antidote to writer’s block

The boyfriend and I inevitably end up so busy with random social/sporty events in summer (which are great fun, don’t get me wrong!) that it leaves very little time to be productive. The pressure to be out in the world is oh so very strong and goddamit it totally hampers my blog upkeep/general creative vibe/speaking with all you lovely people.

3. Awards and stuff 5843148183_b30094c1cb

As you know, I’m really am not one to focus my reading life around what the next hot book is or what has won all the prizes (more often than not I’m massively disappointed. See: The Tiger’s Wife) but, I do adore a good book list to drool over and what can be more interesting than the long and shortlists milling around at this time of year? The Guardian first book award, The Man Booker, The Costa…..I’m excited already (though firmly NOT making any guesses as to nominations/winners, etc).

clown-238527_6404. Getting spooky

I really wished we celebrated Halloween over here in a more celebratory American fashion because lordy lord would it be awesome. I love fancy dress (which I never get to do) and I love spookiness and the perfect accompaniment is a nice scary book, of which there are many. I recently updated My Independent Bookshop to include some slightly creepier reads for Autumn (if you’d like to stop by and make a purchase!) and I’m getting more and more excited about what I’ll read this Halloween. Any recommendations? I inevitably end up reading M R James every year (not a bad choice of course but I should mix it up a little…).

5. The Autumn issue of Slighty Foxedphoto (42)

I am totally obsessed but yet again I found myself totally overexcited at the autumn arrival of Slightly Foxed and its literary delights and am already (even though I haven’t finished this one yet) getting distracted at the thought of the winter edition. I recently bought their beautiful edition of John Hackett’s I was a Stranger for Daddy Relish; a poignant memoir of the commander’s experiences in Arnhem during WWII (all the more poignant for a certain family connection and the 70th anniversary of the battle this year) which I’m keen to read myself. I hope to develop my colourful collection of Slightly Foxed Editions well into 2015!

The Guest Cat

The Guest Cat Takashi Hiraide

Darron Birgenheier

After reaching the heights of bestsellerdom in both France and its native Japan, poet Takashi Hiraide’s tantalising novella; The Guest Cat, has finally been translated into English for us all, courtesy of Eric Selland. Having become rather a fan of beautifully written Japanese fiction over the past couple of years (see Yoko Ogawa, whose latest story collection; Revenge, I simply can’t wait to read) and being a life-long cat aficionado, this slim volume; the tale of an oddball couple who unwittingly befriend the neighbour’s cat, warmed the cockles on the basis of the blurb alone.

Our unnamed, thirty-something couple live in a rented cottage somewhere in the vast suburbs of Tokyo. Working as copyeditors from their quirky little home, their quiet, somewhat mundane lifestyle is suddenly transformed with the appearance of the neighbour’s cat in their back garden. Delicate, lithe and charming, this beguiling feline quickly forges a place for herself in the hearts of the pair, who nickname her ‘Tinkerbell’, and await her arrival at their door anxiously everyday, with the animal soon warming and transforming their everyday lives into something truly special, something all animal lovers and pet owners will no doubt identify with.

The rented cottage, though not their own, is a special place. Light and airy, all tatami mats and sliding doors, it has a strange, small window in the kitchen that projects a reversed17574849 image of people in the adjacent alleyway onto the wall for contemplation. The garden is sumptuous and wild, the creatures within it characterful and both project a calm, healing atmosphere which becomes so very valuable to the pair.

It may seem easy to dismiss this sentimental story as the domain of the cat-lover only. In reality, this is a novella whose scope spans far beyond that of feline appreciation and plumbs the depths of human emotion for more. With great simplicity and delicacy, Hiraide subtly explores the human capacity for love, our need to connect with the living world around us and the deep grief that can occur when that connection is seemingly lost forever.

Although I found Selland’s translation a little jarring and intrusively ‘translated’ at times, this slight clumsiness added to the lovely oddness that attracts me to a lot of Japanese fiction, perhaps reflecting a certain way of living and thinking that is alien to me in all my Englishness. This isn’t a book for plot-lovers but one for simple beauty. That the author is an acclaimed poet will come as no surprise and it is this poetry that allows us to suppress our logic and our assumption that this couple clearly have some serious issues that, rather than addressing, they instead choose to lavish upon their ‘guest’. Disquieting, metaphorical stuff indeed.