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Reading Life: 20th March 2023

A macro photograph of the side of a blossom

In posting this (writing it, too) the next day on my former schedule I’m not going to say I’m back to how I was before just yet – this is far too early to say – but I am going to try. The rabbits have a diagnosis and daily medications, and one of them has developed a way of telling me when she starts to feel ill so it is far easier to stop it getting to the level of a vet appointment; so whilst it’ll be lifelong for them, the daily stress has mostly gone away and with it the fog that was a constant in my head. Mental space is entirely underrated.

I’ve taken baby steps towards getting back into reading, if it can be called baby steps when you make your first ‘official’ read of the new practise a 1053 page book. It was accidental, in a way – in looks it is about 700 pages – but given it’s Outlander book three, Voyager, and I find the series a pretty easy read, I’m not too daunted. And not surprised the publisher opted for very thin paper to keep the heft down.

I unintentionally (well, accidentally but not quite on purpose while being conscious enough of it… I think I know why the US has created ‘on accident’) spoiled a bit of this book for myself by reading about Claire and Frank’s relationship on the Outlander subreddit and finding out something about Jamie which I wrongly assumed would happen in later books… it ended up happening within about 10 pages during my next period of reading. But it’s given me something to think about.

Absolute credit for my reading and general ‘getting back into this habit’ consistency the past week has to go to my friend who is a keen reader herself. She also gave me a wonderfully detailed introduction to TikTok, in particular BookTok, and I’ve created an account. Only one post so far but I have ideas. I’ve realised that TikTok may be the answer to those ideas I’ve had that were never enough for a blog post unless I wanted to bore everyone, but were too much for social media in years gone by unless I wanted to try and subvert the instantaneous, scrolling nature of it. If you are on there, do let me know. I for some reason can’t follow people properly yet – I’ve been able to follow 3 and that’s it – but this appears to be a bug that’ll hopefully be fixed. Unsurprisingly I’m @carnelianvalley

And on the note of TikTok, I decided to get Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights. Gong is one of the biggest, if not the biggest author on the platform and I badly need to get back into knowing what is going on in the book world at the time it happens. I’m looking forward to it – Romeo and Juliet in 1920s China, yes please!

Let me know what you have read recently that you would recommend, particularly newly published books!

Reading Life: 27th July 2020 + Podcast

A photograph of a stalked flower bed at Hever Castle

Reading is going well at the moment; I’m aiming to have a good few books finished by this month, to try and get back to that ‘lots of books in July’… thing I used to have going on. And it’s thanks to some really excellent novels.

Inevitably I’m reading for interview; I’ve read and re-read both Sofie Laguna’s and Tracy Rees’ backlist (in the latter case it’s the present tense re-reading) and it’s been a ball. Laguna’s work is brilliant but difficult at times, in terms of the content. Her three current books (one more on the way in October) all look at formative childhood years and positives and negatives of those times; most cases include some level of abuse and neglect in a very caring way and the children are the narrators which allows for what is a balance of informed and uninformed look at what’s happening. Laguna has a superb talent for characterisation and realistic characters and she also looks at various learning difficulties and disabilities.

Tracy Rees’ books are far from Laguna’s in terms of genre, historical fiction with a tiny bit of contemporary plot thread – I say tiny bit because it’s a part of one book. I’m guessing most of you who read this will have heard of her and a good number of you will have read her books, they are often tomes, very high on the bestseller lists and with good reason. I’m currently reading her fourth book, which is very different to the rest of them. The first and second books, Amy Snow and Florence Grace, are set in the 1800s, and as noted in my review, the third, The Hourglass, is set in the 1950s and present day. However, despite the big differences in time it’s actually the fourth book, Darling Blue, set in the 1920s, that breaks the mold. The characterisation differs, the narrative structure looks at more people, and the storytelling, too, is new. I quite like it – I absolutely loved the first three books but the difference in Darling Blue is like reading a book by a different author and I rather like it when that happens without the book foregoing anything in particular.

I’m getting a lot out of the historical content; one of the things I love about Amy Snow is the detailing of what the average person’s day might be like, those people who are perhaps most like ourselves today; working in what we’d now call retail, visiting pubs and coffee shops. There’s only one scene in a coffee shop and only a very brief scene in a bookshop but when then added to Florence Grace‘s visit to a cheese shop (Rees’ second book) it adds up to some interesting context. To be sure, there’s a lot of this kind of stuff in TV shows and films, but in a book, where everything’s slower and there’s more detail to help you imagine what the places look like, it’s just… better.

On my list to read next are Orlando Ortega-Medina’s The Savior Of Sixth Street and Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop, both out in August. It’s going to be another diversion in genre, two in fact as they will be very different, and I love that idea. I know the basics of both of them but am otherwise keeping away from information. I’m also hoping to return to Christina Courtney’s Echoes Of The Runes which I started at the very beginning of June and had to leave for a while; it’s a time-slip set, so far, in Britain and Sweden, and involves a present-day character who finds an exact match for the ring she always wears in a museum display cabinet for early history; in short, it’s right up my street.

Today’s podcast is with Sofie Laguna. Email and RSS subscribers: you may need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

Charlie and Sofie Laguna (One Foot Wrong; The Eye of the Sheep; The Choke; the forthcoming Infinite Splendours) discuss beginning with acting, writing from a child’s perspective and not labelling those who are different, bad fictional parents, not liking John Wayne… and we have the inaugural reading of Sofie’s October release.

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

Reading Life: 29th May 2020

A macro photograph of the side of a blossom

How are you all? I’m officially bored of not being able to leave home but the sun, whilst reminding me of days out, is also helping. I went through a few weeks of taking photographs of various everything things before running out of interesting subjects – the birds have past their courtship phases; the flowers were spring flowers; the rabbits are a bit sick of their human taking photos of them being cute for the 123456th time of the day, particularly as it doesn’t tend to result in treats. I’m looking at finding a metaphorical angle for books and playing around with different settings.

I’ve still a number of books on the go but I’m making headway; I’ve been adding books, so technically, the over all number is same, but the titles have changed. I’m also adding bookish films to both my ‘watch’ and ‘watched’ lists. I loved the 2019 Little Women to distraction, and enjoyed Booksmart and this year’s Emma.

My current priority is Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome To Lagos, which I’d been wanting to read for a while. It’s an interesting one – a book that seems too simple until you scratch the surface, after which it seems almost too clever. It’s definitely different but I’m enjoying it a lot.

Before that I read Isla Morley’s Come Sunday in preparation for our podcast recording. The initial idea was to focus on her newest book but we increased the scope and I’m glad we did; Come Sunday is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I think I like it even more than her latest… (Having just reviewed it I won’t go into detail on The Last Blue here.)

Diana Evans’ Ordinary People is still on the go. The title is proving to be correct, but this shows how stories are everywhere.

On the subject of re-reads, Terri Fleming’s Perception has made me want to catalog my books properly. I already keep a basic list of physical books in order to track how many I’ve read (this ranges between 68-70%, a number that understandably changes little due to new arrivals). I also note where I got the book from. Now I’m thinking more info on the ‘where’, including, where possible, ‘when’. I’m thinking genres, ISBNs, format, new or second-hand… it’s ridiculous how exciting organising book collections can be.

I should add that there’s been an additional ‘push’ to expand my cataloguing. Whilst researching Jane Austen I fell down a rabbit hole – a necessary phrase given last weeks’ post – and discovered a project that is cataloguing the contents of the library at the old Godmersham Park estate, a library Austen visited when staying with her family. The website for it, Reading With Austen, is absolutely fascinating: the team have made it graphical so you can digitally peruse the shelves; they’ve gone to great lengths to identify all the books and their placements.

It was perhaps inevitable that my various research projects and reading would lead me to note other past authors. I’ve downloaded Lady Sydney Morgan’s The Wild Irish Girl, which was popular in its day but largely forgotten now. The prolific author had a number of books published but it’ll probably be a while before they’re all available. (Despite the recent uptick in interest in Charlotte Smith and Charlotte Lennox, these authors works are still difficult to find. On Sarah Burney – yes, the sister of – I’m currently considering scans of the original editions.)

I’ve got a post on the aforementioned Alcott adaptation to write and a few books to choose from next. I have finished a good number of books this month, six – a breakthrough – and want to see if I can squeeze in one more in addition to the Onuzo before June.

Do tell me what you’re currently reading or, if you’re struggling to read at the moment, what you look forward to reading when you can. Also, if you have any favourite book-related podcasts that are currently active, do mention them in the comments. (I’m following Smart Podcast Trashy Books, Charlotte Readers, and the two Jennys’ Reading the End.)

Reading Life: 20th April 2020

A photograph of a trellis in Hever Castle's gardens

I have talked previously about being able to have two books on the go, and every now and then I’ll have three, which includes an ebook. With the Coronavirus causing concentration issues, I found taking on extra books to be helpful. And whilst I’ve gained more focus, I’ve still those books on the go, and I’m adding more. Although it’s not particularly sensible in terms of getting anything finished, starting a new book when I fancy has helped keep my spirits up.

I currently have… (seven)… books on the go. It’s a variety, which has been key, and I do have a small raison d’etre for each of them beyond the ‘want’.

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Lillian Li: Number One Chinese Restaurant. I’ve been trying to get into this one for a while, so it is the book on this list I’m likely to finish last. I’m hoping the familial connections are better explained as the book moves on, because keeping track of who is family as opposed to friend or business associate is difficult, however I recognise that that confusion may be part of Li’s point, with the restaurant’s future and effective spin-offs centre stage.

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Oliver Goldsmith: The Vicar Of Wakefield. A book that was wildly popular in its day (1766), this one is pretty funny, though at the moment the humour is all in the travel; a previously well-off family have to move elsewhere when they lose their money. The language is easy, it’s simply that I made the mistake of starting it when the news turned grim and so I haven’t followed the narrative as closely as I normally do – I may well restart it.

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Caroline Lea: The Glass Woman. Lea’s book is incredibly different to her first; whereas When The Sky Fell Apart, was a devastating story of fictional residents of Jersey during the Nazi occupation, The Glass Woman is set in Iceland in the 1600s. The use of history is good; it’s very much character-driven and has few of them so it’s easy to keep a hold of even whilst there is lots of story detail. The social details are abundant. There’s a long-term woman in the attic atmosphere to the book; I’ve since gone past that part and as you’d expect, there’s a difference, but regardless the atmosphere of the Brontë novel remains and it’s incredibly interesting; 1600s Iceland is pretty different to 1800s Yorkshire but there are interesting similarities between her story of an isolated married woman (which, considering her first book, could well be based on facts) and the governess on a deserted moor.

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Michael Wolff: Fire And Fury. In any other time the following would make no sense: I’m reading this for the escape. Given the presidential events of the past week, I should add that I started the book a couple of weeks ago; after finishing Dan Richards’ Outpost, and having thoughts of non-fiction at this time due to my spring-summer non-fiction reading last year, I picked it up. It’s to be a purposely slower read.

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Shannon Stacey: Yours To Keep. My reasoning for this one is the good weather. It’s an enjoyable contemporary romance set in Maine and steeped in family that I first read some years ago. It’s my read for when the sun is out. I’m speeding through.

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James Rebanks: The Shepherd’s Life. Bedtime reading was going well until I forgot to choose another book to follow my previous; I remembered. I’ve had Rebanks’ book sitting on my desk for a couple of years; it’s actually my Dad’s copy that I bought for him, he read it, then lent it to me. Dad said I’d like Rebanks’ book. Reviews and the general raving a few years ago said I’d like the book. I like the book. I’ve only just started but the introduction is great in itself, detailing a day at school when Rebanks was a child; a teacher waxed lyrical about the Lake District in romantic, tourist-like terms, which the pupils – born and raised there – cannot yet relate to.

Book cover

Diana Evans: Ordinary People. Another ‘sun’ read. It’s different enough to all the others, and it’s very good – a promising beginning and a lovely, somewhat relaxed, literary style. I’d been interested in Evans’ work since last year’s Rathbones Folio Prize; I’m happy to have gone for it.

As I’m speeding through the Stacey re-read and am mostly through the Lea (68% – ebook) I should at least have some content for a round up at the end of this month. I highly recommend breaking at this time previously-imposed reading rules.

Are you reading differently at the moment?

Reading Life: 24th January 2020

A macro photograph of the side of a blossom

Whilst I’m currently in the middle of writing a couple of further thoughts type posts, one in particular that I thought would take only an hour or so and then ballooned in the research department, I thought I’d have a think on what I’ve been reading so far this month, though not everything because that would make this post very long and I don’t want to descend into naval-gazing. As I said on Monday, it’s been a fair amount, and I hope to finish at least a couple more. It’s also been immensely satisfying.

I started the year by finishing a book I’d carried over, Sherry Thomas’ Delicious. This is different for me as I like the idea of that first book of the year, a brand new page. But I did find that finishing a book you’ve carried over feels the same as if it were new, which was a nice discovery – I know, it probably should have been obvious. This all said, whilst it was a carry-over, I was only a quarter of the way through it, and this was because I was finding it difficult. I’d read three of Thomas’ romances before, liking two a lot and disliking the other, so I knew it was possible I’d like this next one.

(I’ll say here that I’m specifying Thomas’ romances because whilst she is known as a historical romance writer, in recent years she’s written Young Adult fantasy which I want to read regardless of the general ratio I find in regards to my enjoyment of her romances – her use of language has always been stunning.)

I found Delicious difficult because it was confusing, at least to me – perhaps if I’d read it quicker, with fewer breaks for other books, I’d have been less confused, but the basics of the plot are that a woman has relationships with two brothers, and she feels she has to hide her face from the second years later because it had up to then been a one-night stand and awkward. She also seems at the start of the book to be some sort of ex-Lady, which was also confusing at that point.

Anyway, over all I liked it enough. Subjectively I suppose it was always going to be less successful for me because it’s about a cook and I can rarely get into fiction books where food is a big feature. But I’m glad to have finished it. I will try another of Thomas’ books at some point, I might just double-check the storyline.

I’ve read Table Manners and The Forgotten Sister as you know, and I read E C Fremantle’s The Poison Bed.

Then I have my bedtime read – the short story collection Reader, I Married Him – which is a concept I’ve essentially instigated because I’ve been having trouble sleeping; I suppose Christmas hasn’t quite worn off. I picked a book I’d had for a while in the hopes that I wouldn’t be too excited about it – when thinking about the recommendation of a bedtime routine to foster good sleeping habits, I have to pause at the advice to read as a way to calm down. It is great advice, unless you like to write notes, or review, blog, and so forth. How am I to relax and get ready to sleep if I’m needing to make notes in the book or, in my case, note down anything I should remember for a review? Reading is relaxing, but not as much as I expect the people who write these guidelines expect it to be. Needless to say it’s not working as I’d hoped – I hope that’s a not yet – but it is at least enjoyable; I like that I have a book I’m reading in the evenings followed by a change to another book. It’s an unintentional nicety but I reckon switching books during an evening helps keep away any burnout, and the effective procrastination I’ve found previously when trying to change books for whatever reason doesn’t happen when there’s a routine reason for the change.

I don’t think that’s what the original advisors were imagining when they came up with reading as an aid to sleep, but it’s been an interesting experience.

Reader, I Married Him is effectively what you would expect it to be – a collection based on Jane Eyre, and the sentence in all its emotions and meanings. Some stories are quite distant to the classic text, others very close to it; this is to say there’s a fair amount of variety in it. I’m enjoying it – some of the stories I’m not quite ‘getting’, I believe, but it’s fun. It’s also more lengthy than you might think when picking it up, the differing subjects perhaps adding to the length as you have to ‘reset’ your thoughts ready for a different location, time period, and author.

So it has been a good month so far – I hope I can add a few more books to it.

Completely off topic, Lit Hub has compiled a list of the many literary adaptations coming to screens this year and it is worth a check if you haven’t seen it already – there are tons and a variety of genres are included. I’m looking forward to David Copperfield with Dev Patel myself.

Do you read before bed?


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