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December 2020 Reading Round Up + Podcast

I didn’t read too much in December, favouring festive films this year and spending more time with my rabbits. With no social visits for humans, the furry siblings had the best Christmas ever, which helped lighten the mood. The two have definitely noticed the difference as normal days have resumed.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Elizabeth Baines: Astral Travel – Following her father’s death, Josephine looks to make sense of his abusive behaviour through writing about him, and there is a lot more to uncover than her family will allow into the book. Probably the best book about childhood abuse I’ve read – this is an incredibly difficult book to read but the study and further exploration is exquisitely done.

Marianne Holmes: A Little Bird Told Me – Robin has returned to the place of most of her childhood (relavent) in order to find the truth behind the crying women her mother had round the house, the police visits, and the man in the cowboy hat who knew who she was and seemed protective but very off. Trying not to spoil it too much – this is a very good book that looks carefully at its subjects.

Baines’ book, which I am admittedly very behind on reviewing, is superb and worth the difficult moments. Holmes’ book is easier, but the subject no less difficult if very different. Both well worth the time.

I’m already on book two of 2021 which I consider a success. The unintentional breaks in blogging have done me the world of good too and I’m looking forward to sharing the posts I have ready.


This week’s podcast episode is with Marianne Holmes. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Marianne Holmes (A Little Bird Told Me; All Your Little Lies) discuss procedures when children go missing, societal changes in regards to domestic violence in the 1970s, and, on a lighter note, trying not to finish books you’re not enjoying.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 
November 2020 Reading Round Up + Podcast

November was fairly difficult this year but it’s getting a lot better. I didn’t read as much as usual but I did enjoy what I read, very much, and ended the month with a book started that I’ve since finished and enjoyed too. I’m now looking at trying to get through a backlog of books in terms of reviewing; I’m not the best at writing reviews for books I read a while back – even a week and I struggle! – but I’ll see how it goes.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Deborah Swift: Past Encounters – originally published under the name Davina Blake; when Peter comes home from war, Rhoda marries him, but she’s never been very happy and when she finds a note from a woman she becomes suspicious. A truly excellent book.

Deborah Swift: The Occupation – as the Germans approach Jersey, Celine’s German husband Fred goes off to fight and Celine herself misses the evacuation; instead of leaving for England she and her Jewish friend, Rachel, must stay on the island, whilst in France, Fred must assume the role of a Frenchman to infiltrate the resistance. An excellent book that is fearless in its motive to show what it must and has a very poignant ending.

Roselle Lim: Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop – in order to try to hone the fortunetelling ability she has tried to neglect for fear and dislike of it, Vanessa agrees to stay with Aunt Evelyn in Paris for a couple of weeks; the one thing that can’t be changed, is a fortuneteller’s fate to never find a romantic match, and when Vanessa meets Marc she strives to enjoy the time for as long as it lasts. An incredibly enjoyable magically realistic novel that envelopes you in its generally happy world and brights a rainy day.

As said, I enjoyed all three books. Lim’s made a chilly rainy autumn afternoon much better, Swift’s second book caught me with its ending and her use of characterisation to explore aspects of history, and re-reading Past Encounters, this time with proper knowledge of the film (I hadn’t watched it the first time around) inevitably allowed for an entirely different reading which was interesting to consider as its own element.

I wrote a post on it so I’ll keep it short here: December, or, rather, Christmas, is about finishing books.


This week’s podcast episode is with Deborah Swift. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Deborah Swift (Past Encounters; The Occupation; the forthcoming The Lifeline, also many books sets in the 1600s such as The Lady’s Slipper; A Divided Inheritance) discuss Brief Encounter at Carnforth, the experiences of prisoners of war at the time and once back home, the real life story of a Jersey woman who hid her Jewish friend, and reactions to the death of the last woman in Britain to be given capital punishment.

To see all the details including links to other apps, I’ve made a blog page here.

 
Planning For (Pandemic) Christmas

A photograph of fairy light in the shape of a star

Amy, you have no idea…

It’ll be quieter here, and whilst not nearly as busy and fun, I’ve realised that a quieter Christmas does mean more time for reading and some solo games I’ve got on a perpetual ‘do that later’ list. I’ve clocked up plenty of unfinished reads this year so I’m hoping to make a dent in that pile, and I might spend more time watching Outlander than I have the previous two Christmases, during which I unintentionally started a new festive routine of watching a decidedly un-festive programme over wine, cheese, and fairy lights. I enjoyed it so much – the fewer sex scenes really helped – that I’ve actually relegated watching the show to Christmas time and am therefore only on season two and reliant on Amazon continuing to make it available.

Books: Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant; Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar Of Wakefield; Diana Evans’ Ordinary People; and, hopefully, Deborah Swift’s The Gilded Lily, which is a very recent addition. No Christmas books as yet; I’m still having a think about that one.

Games: Trine – another few-Christmas’ worth tradition; Overcooked; and possibly The Sims 3 and Kingdom Come Deliverance. If any of you readers are gamers and haven’t tried Trine, I very, very much recommend it.

Films: various cheesy Hallmark Channel ones I’ve not yet seen that our British Channel 5 make available, and Happiest Season (2020) as long as it’s on Amazon.

What are you doing this festive season?

 
October 2020 Reading Round Up + Podcasts

October was quite busy as reading and podcasting goes. I was a little under the weather for a few weeks of it – torn muscles (there’s definitely a limit to how much housework can be done at once!) – so I was pleasantly surprised by how many books I finished, and more so when I noted the ones I had on the go that were almost finished. There were days to read outside which was lovely. And during my mandatory no-more-housework days I got through the BBC’s Ghosts which I highly recommend, and Love Life which seems to be BBC/American, a well structured romance/drama sort of series by and starring Anna Kendrick. I can also highly recommend the Cary Grant/Katherine Hepburn Bringing Up Baby if you’ve not seen it – it’s on iPlayer for several months and is pretty hilarious. Don’t read the film summary; not knowing what it’s about made it even better.

The Books

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Eric Beck Rubin: School Of Velocity – Jan’s lined up to play in front of an audience, one of many occasions he’s done so, but this time the random music in his head is too much to bear; he takes us back to his childhood, his extremely popular and extroverted friend, and a relationship that he’s still to get his head around. This was a re-read: a super book about the lasting affects of a friendship and a whole lot about music in all its technicality.

Intisar Khanani: Sunbolt – On the run from the puppeteers behind the government. A diverse quasi-Asian/Eastern fantasy that’s brilliantly written and thrilling, but is short in terms of plot – this was a re-read: there is now a second book out (this was a re-read) and knowing that means that the issue of length is not a problem. The second book is also a lot longer. In essence, it’s best to go into the novella with a plan to continue the full story. The series as a whole is utterly fab.

Intisar Khanani: Memories Of Ash – Hitomi, now somewhat better and with more magical knowledge, looks to find her mentor who has had to leave to be questioned by the Arch Mages. This is the book mentioned above: it’s full of diversity, very well planned and written and just an absolute riot – a brilliant book full of hope and reader fun against a backdrop of evil.

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Marianne Holmes: All Your Little Lies – Local teenager Chloe is missing, and Annie realises she’s probably the last one who saw Chloe that night… except that she was drunk and so didn’t see anything, had driven home drunk, and before that had entered her boss’s home without permission after he told her to leave the pub the team was socialising in; difficult to explain. An incredibly well-planned novel exploring PTSD and the effects of trauma and alienation from society.

Orlando Ortega-Medina: The Savior Of 6th Street – Virgilio’s artwork is bought by a wealthy woman; Beatrice wants to make him a star but this means leaving behind a lot and being among people very different to those he values, people with connections to the underground. Hopefully that brief premise is enough – this is a very good tale about art and an effective clash of a couple of different worlds that uses as its literary base the religion of Santería, weaving religious concepts into its chapters.

Tammye Huf: A More Perfect Union – The potato famine in Ireland has left Henry’s family destitute; he travels to America in the hope of a better life and whilst looking for work meets Sarah, a house slave walking back to her plantation from an errand; the two become close and the ultimate goal is to escape, which will prove more difficult than Henry could ever expect. A fantastic story, based on the author’s great-great-grandparents, that in its use of romance amongst an appalling situation manages to highlight all the more the horrors of the slavery era whilst maintaining that feeling of hope for those who escaped.

This was a very strong set of books, all very different and so difficult to compare in any way. I loved the Holmes for the author’s careful handling of her character’s situation; I loved the Huf for that excellent balancing of romance and the history; the Ortega-Medina was compelling for its use of Santería, the way it was used as a crucial aspect yet carefully placed as to sometimes appear abstract; Khanani’s Chronicles were a lot of fun (despite the bad guys) and refreshing; and re-reading the Beck Rubin was a delight.

Looking at November, I’m happy to say I’ve a couple of Deborah Swift books to read – the subtextual answer there is ‘yes’ and I’m looking forward to it! Earlier this month I finished Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop which I hope to review soon – it’s going to be quite a different review for good reason, and the basics are ‘loved it’. And I’ve got a couple of Young Writer of the Year shortlisters waiting for me. I’m also starting to look at books I started earlier in the year and didn’t manage to finish – Christmas is going to be very quiet this year and unless my nephew commandeers all my time for gaming over the Internet (which I wouldn’t mind), there’s going to a lot of reading involved.

Has the pandemic changed your reading, and if so, in what way?


Owing to my lesser ability to use a computer recently, I’ve two podcast episodes to include here. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media players below.

Episode 25: Intisar Khanani

Charlie and Intisar Khanani (Thorn; Sunbolt; Memories Of Ash; the forthcoming The Theft Of Sunlight) discuss working to better the health of people in Cincinnati, rewriting and exploring the Goose Girl fairy tale to stunning effect, bonkers jail-breaking heroines, and men who take a far more subtle approach than riding in on horses to save the day.

To see all the details including links to other apps, go to the dedicated blog page.

Episode 26: Eric Beck Rubin

Charlie and Eric Beck Rubin (School Of Velocity) discuss the representation of the Holocaust in literature, using classical music as a literary device, having a main character whose person limits the opportunity for dialogue through his obsession with another, and the reader being a writer.

Please note that the first reading contains sexual content.

To see all the details including links to other apps, go to the dedicated blog page.

 
The 2020 Young Writer Of The Year Shortlist

The book covers of the 2020 shortlist

The time of what I consider a big highlight of the literary year has begun, albeit quite different this time as is everything else. The shortlist for the 2020 Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award was announced on Sunday, and it looks pretty stellar. Here is the announcement by Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of The Sunday Times (email subscribers, you’ll likely have to open this post in your browser using the link at the bottom of this email in order to view the video):

Most years there are 4 shortlisted authors; like the judges in 2017, the judges this year have chosen 5 authors they believe to be the best contenders, spanning the realms of poetry, non-fiction, and novel. Of the five, two are poetry collections, which is unusual (and pretty awesome). So, the writers are:

Jay Bernard for the poetry collection Surge (Chatto & Windus)
Catherine Cho for the memoir Inferno (Bloomsbury)
Naoise Dolan for the novel Exciting Times (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Seán Hewitt for the poetry collection Tongues Of Fire (Jonathan Cape)
Marina Kemp for the novel Nightingale (4th Estate)

This year’s judges are Sebastian Faulks, Tessa Hadley, Kit de Waal, and Houman Barekat. Tessa Hadley said that “The books stand out because they’re so well written, with important things to say – and the wonderful thing is that they have nothing in common apart from that.” Kit de Waal points to the authors “demonstrating a range of technical ability, outlook and style”, and Sebastian Faulks notes that “They have absorbed the lessons of those who have gone before them; but their own books all seem urgent and modern”.

The winner will receive £5,000 and offered a ten week residency by the University of Warwick. The London Library, in normal times the host of the winner’s ceremony, has added a year’s membership to these offerings.

As mentioned by Andrew Holgate in the video, extracts from the books will be in Granta magazine over this week. The first, comprised of two poems from Surge, is now online.

A digital winners ceremony will be held on Thursday 10th December.

 

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