World Book Night

Here is the list for 2013 World Book Night.  To my shame, I’ve only read one of the books on this year’s list.  I probably shouldn’t admit to that.  I wonder if you can guess which it is *cough, Treasure Island, cough*

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I have a good friend who seems to have an uncanny ability to get her favourites on the list, or maybe that should be that she predicts that her favourites will be on the list.  Joking aside, World Book Night is actually enormous fun.   In 2011 my friend voted for Beloved by Toni Morrison.  It made the list and she was sent a gorgeous haul to give away.  We spent the evening at Stafford Gatehouse theatre pouncing on unsuspecting theatregoers and confusing them with gorgeous free books. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who wouldn’t take them because they thought there must be a catch!  It was a lovely feeling, though, like being the magical book fairy, spreading beautiful literature to everyone.

Looking at this year’s list, I feel rather guilty and badly read that I’ve only managed one.  I guess my TBR list has just grown to massive proportions.  I’m thinking of hollowing it out and moving my family in.

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Desert Island Books are back. And this time it’s personal…

The moment you’ve been eagerly awaiting… drumroll please… five more of my desert island books. Ok, so maybe you haven’t been eagerly awaiting this moment. Maybe you just stumbled on this blog by accident looking for dessert recipes. Ah well, I’m posting them anyway…

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickensphoto

The first time I read this book, aged about fourteen, I stayed up the entire night (and I’m not exaggerating) to finish it. It’s long, like all of Dickens’ tomes, and takes a fair bit of commitment before you start it, but I’ve still managed to read it a couple more times since. And if I’m marooned, then at least with books this long I’ll never get bored. Most people will be able to quote the iconic opening line (I say line, some might call it a novella). Most people will be able to quote the closing line too:
‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’
Unless you’re like me, because I’m usually too distraught to be able to focus on the closing line! Either way, you can’t deny that the man knows how to tell a story.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

I know, I know, another Dickens. At uni I had a reputation for being slightly odd as the only girl who actually read them for fun. I adore Oliver, truly, and maybe, if I think really hard, I can trace my love affair with young adult protagonists back to him. Everyone knows this story, even people who’ve never picked up a book, even people who’ve never seen one of the hundreds of adaptations, and this is a testament to the endurance of the tale and the vividness of the creation.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

The trouble with this choice is that, although I love the book and would happily read it forever, I adore the film and have watched it practically every six months since I can remember.  Since the film is only a fraction of the complexity of the book, I forget things when I’m telling people about the book. The main difference, for those who don’t know, is that while the film is a story within a story, the book is a story within a story within a story. The addition of a dysfunctional narrator undergoing some kind of mid-life crisis whilst searching for an elusive copy of his favourite book adds another, sharper, more contemporary layer. But, for all that, you still have to love Inigo, the vengeance obsessed swordsman, the best.

Island by Jane Rogers

This book, aside from being fantastic, has special meaning for me. I make no secret of my obsession with BBC’s Merlin, and the recent film adaptation of this book starred one Colin Morgan, who plays Merlin in the TV show. I was lucky enough to attend the premiere in Glasgow and to meet Colin and the film’s producers. Sad as I am, I took my well-loved copy of Island along. Now it’s even more precious, containing the autographs of Colin and the film’s producer/director/screenwriter. I take it to bed every night and hug it as I sleep. The book is a dark tale of one young woman’s unravelling mind. She travels to a remote Scottish island to track down the mother who abandoned her to a life in care, with the intentions of killing her in order to exact revenge. What she finds on the island is not only her mother, but a strange half-brother who shows her a new way of viewing the world. While the ending is far from happy, its uplifting message, that salvation is possible for anyone, stays with you weeks after you’ve closed the book.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

I love this series, except for the first book, which drives me insane! Luckily, I began reading the Dark is Rising first (the book for which the series is named) and, in my opinion, this is the best one. It can be read as a standalone with no problem. It’s full of ancient British mythology and magic, and a great protagonist in Will Stanton. I just wish someone had done a Harry Potter with it, instead of that awful film version that we ended up with; it could have been the start of a franchise to rival the best of them.

Desert Island Books

A little while ago, fellow Indie author Clare Davidson interviewed me and asked for ten desert island books.  I thought I would share five of them again here, just because I can.  You never know, I might share the other five with you tomorrow…

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The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

I LOVE this book. I’m always telling people how much I love it. Set in England against World War II, it follows the progress of teenager David, who has just lost his mother to cancer.  Shortly afterwards his father meets another woman and a relationship blossoms, one that David finds it hard to accept.  What follows seemingly sets up as a tale of familial conflict, but soon takes the reader by complete surprise. Fleeing an argument, David finds himself trapped behind a wall as a plane crashes in his garden and the only escape is a portal to world of every fairy tale he has ever been told by his mother.  This book makes me cry.  A lot.

Harry Potter by J K Rowling

Sorry, this one is a cheat, as I have to take all seven books.  I’m not even going to bother going over the tale of The Chosen One because unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last twelve years, you’ll already be as obsessed with it as I am.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson has such a lively, inquisitive mind and his writing is so funny that even if you’re not remotely interested in what a quark is (but I don’t mind admitting that I am) you’ll still love this book.  An engaging, refreshing take on what makes our world tick.

An Utterly Impartial History of Britain by John O’Farrell

Another funny one, because by now I’m so sick of coconuts and watching for ships that I’ll need a good laugh.  John O’Farrell’s hilarious account of what made Britain the place it is today is full of lines like this:

410: Goths overrun Western Roman Empire. Romans forced to wear black and listen to Marilyn Manson.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

This is the story of Merlin as a boy, and quite clearly the inspiration for the BBC show.  There’s a whole series of these books, following Merlin into his adult life and chronicling his role in Arthur’s birth and the building of Camelot, but this book is my favourite and easy enough to read alone.  Merlin starts as a real underdog, an outsider child manipulated by the adults that are supposed to care for him, and you’re desperate to see him come into his power.  It doesn’t always go to plan, but that just makes it a more interesting read.

Five Victorian Flavoured Books

After reading the delightful Tethers (a book that has gone on my ‘read more than once pile’) by Jack Croxall (see his author interview here) I got to thinking about other contemporary books influenced by or set in the Victorian period.  And then, as I’m nice like that, I thought I’d share five of them with you.  Actually, the maths spods amongst you will see that there are six entries, but the last one I haven’t actually read.  See what I did there?

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The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

I have to start this with a warning.  Actually, two warnings.  No three… nobody expects the Spanish inquisition (eh, digress, me?).

This book is rude.  Very rude.  So all you YAs out there steer clear *sounds of stampede to bookshop*. But I have to include it because it’s so awesome. And it has black edged pages – you don’t get more awesome than that.  Warning two: It’s not actually set in the Victorian era either.  But sort of.  The action is split between present day and an imagined Victorian landscape and features a crazy Victorian scientist.  It’s a kind of steampunk sci-fi with a smattering of erotica  ‘…a thrilling adventure of sex, death and time-travel.’ It’s indescribable.  Go read.  As long as you are of consenting age, that is.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern  

I think many people are reading this right now. This book contains such beautiful, lush prose that I find myself almost weeping at every page.  The story takes place over sixteen years, some of them actually after Victoria (cheating again, I know). I have read reviews of this that say nothing happens, or that what does happen is pointless or the reviewer didn’t understand it.  What I think they’re missing is the magic, both in the story and in the writing itself, and the magic that comes from the love affair between the two central characters.  I agree that some of the peripheral characters seem surplus to requirements at times and there is rather a huge cast, which might put some off but didn’t worry me.  The book evokes that aspect of Victorian society that was fascinated with new things, new discoveries and spectacle and invention, while still being wholly readable for a contemporary audience.  If you like magic and love and beautiful words, you’ll be in for a treat

The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pullman

The first of the Sally Lockhart mysteries, it’s been a while since I read this – shamefully, the first YA on this list!  Sally Lockhart might just be one of the coolest heroines in literature.  And the first paragraph…  Everything I learned about writing first paragraphs can be traced back to Mr Pullman. How’s this for a line?

‘Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.’

Pullman doesn’t baulk from the blossoming sexuality of a young woman, nor the constraints and expectations of the age that she finds herself rebelling against.  The action is breath-taking and fast paced and dangerous enough to match any adult thriller.

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Affinity by Sarah Waters

This is a slow burner but gradually gets spookier as the book progresses.  We see Miss Prior’s mind begin to unravel and feel as though we are unravelling with her as she struggles to make sense of what is fantasy and what is real.  In the second narrative thread we are shown a history of Selina Dawes, celebrated medium, and the road that sent her to prison.  The two women are thrown together and what follows keeps you guessing the motives of any of it right until the end. Set partly in a women’s prison and partly in the world of spiritualism and table-tapping, Affinity is incredibly atmospheric and evocative of the simultaneous fascination and repulsion of death and sexuality that characterised the age.

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G W Dahlquist

Warning!  Another saucy, bodice-ripping adventure with the best named heroine ever – Celestial Temple.  A bizarre, steampunk Victorian sci-fi adventure with a healthy dollop of fetishism and spy shenanigans, topped off by the odd murder.  An unlikely trio of heroes make their way through the gruesome underbelly of nineteenth century society in a car-crash book – you don’t want to look sometimes but you just have to!

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Young Sherlock Holmes (series) by Andrew Lane

I’m cheating a bit with this series as I haven’t actually read them yet.  But I have it on good authority from an impeccable source that they’re amazing.  I loved Sherlock Holmes as a kid and still do to this day.  There are five books so far in the series:  Death Cloud, Red Leech, Black Ice, Firestorm, Snakebite and my impeccable source has devoured them all as soon as they have been released.  As you can imagine, it’s Sherlock Holmes so there’s oodles of mystery and action.

Five books that had me weeping from the off (and begging for mercy by the end).

I recently started reading a book that had me crying during the first few pages.  Which got me thinking about other books that have done the same thing.  And then I thought I’d share them with you.  So… my choices are, in no particular order, and there will be others that pop into my head as soon as I switch off the laptop:

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

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I LOVE this book.  I have read it three times and am preparing to use it for my PhD studies.  Set in England against  the backdrop of World War II, it follows the progress of teenager David, who has just lost his mother to cancer.  Shortly afterwards his father meets another woman and a relationship blossoms, one that David finds hard to accept.  What follows seemingly sets up as a tale of familial conflict, but soon takes the reader by complete surprise. Fleeing an argument, David finds himself trapped behind a wall as a plane crashes in his garden and the only escape is a portal to a world of every fairy tale he has ever been told by his mother.

Blub factor:  Tears begin falling on page one, people.

The Road by Cormack McCarthy

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On the face of it, nothing really happens.  But The Road, in my humble opinion, is one of the most finely crafted books I have ever read.  A man and a boy (we never find out their names) travel across America in search of some relief from their horrific life in the wake of an apparent apocalypse.  The most important consideration is food and shelter from the incessant cold, but close to that is perpetual fear from the gangs that roam the country capturing and eating defenceless people.  Terror for the reader comes from the notion that this man and his boy will be taken, and tears are shed for the internal dialogue of the man as he vows to protect his son, even if it means killing him with his own hands rather than let him be taken by one of these evil gangs.

Blub factor:  Page nine.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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Teenagers with cancer.  Doesn’t take a genius to work out where this is going.  What Green does that is so poignant is that he gives them spirit and a need to wring every last bit from their short lives in the knowledge of their mortality.  Everything they do is like they’re doing it for the last time.  And when the time comes for at least one, as you know it will, it’s all the more tragic.

Blub factor:  Page twelve

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

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Sorry, but I have to put Charlie Boy in here.  I adore this novel and have done since I was a kid.  I can’t even remember how many times I’ve read it.  And as everyone (unless you’ve been living on Venus) knows the story, I’ll spare you the synopsis.  But God love Charlie, he was a master at tear-wringing.  When Oliver’s mother dies right at the start, I’m already in bits, perhaps because I know what’s coming.

Blub factor:  Depending what edition you have, page three.

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

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This was a book I read for a university module and something I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.  Sometimes, the books that you don’t choose to read are the ones that turn out to be the most rewarding.  It follows Jakob, a rescued survivor of the Holocaust who is taken to a Greek island away from the fighting to grow up. But as an adult he still struggles to come to terms with what he saw and went through as a boy and is haunted by the ghosts of the family he lost.  Michaels has an assured and poetic style that is both melancholy and a delight to read.

Blub factor:  Page seven