Blog Tours

BLOG TOUR! A Patient Fury by Sarah Ward

DC Connie Childs is back! Long time readers of The Shelf will know that I’m a big fan of Sarah Ward’s Derbyshire based crime series that began with In Bitter Chill and continued last year with A Deadly Thaw. Set in and around the fictional market town of Bampton, the series focuses on DC Connie Childs and her boss DI Francis Sadler as they investigate present day crimes that often have a link to past misdeeds and cold cases.

33876124A Patient Fury, the third book in the series, sees Connie and Sadler investigating their darkest case yet – a devastating fire that leaves three dead and a mother suspected of murdering her family. Despite the evidence all pointing in one direction, Connie can’t buy into the matricide theory and, with the aid of the family’s surviving daughter Julia, sets out to investigate the past and a link to another missing woman. As the investigation deepens, Connie’s determination to uncover the truth behind the tragedy leads her to put everything on the line – and this time it could even cost her her career.

Once again Sarah has given her readers a relentless narrative that grips from the start and doesn’t let up. Her focus on the intricacies of familial relationships and the tangled webs that humans weave makes for a suspenseful read. She is particularly good at getting the minor details – the little oddities of character or phrase that set you on edge and make you aware something isn’t quite right – down onto the page and at making even the innocuous seem eerie. It really keeps the reader guessing until the very last page.

Connie and Sadler also become a real focus in this book. Connie feels refreshingly well-rounded; brilliant at her job but also obsessive, non-conformist and stubborn. Unlike traditional loose cannons in detective fiction however, she operates within a world of police procedures and, without giving away spoilers, it was refreshing to see her having to balance her determination with reality and find evidence to back up her intuition. Sadler, more mature and level-headed but headstrong in his own way, provides an excellent counterpoint to the impetuous Connie and their relationship – veering between admiration and antagonism – is one of the highlights of the book.

Previous knowledge of In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw aren’t necessary to enjoy A Patient Fury (although I would highly recommend checking both books out as they’re page-turning reads) but long time fans of the series will notice a slight shift in tone and focus. A Patient Fury definitely feels a lot more like Connie’s story. Whilst chapters continue to alternate as in previous books (some are told from Sadler’s perspective andsome from outside of the police investigation), the reader spends the majority of time in A Patient Fury inside Connie’s head.

This, I feel, is no bad thing. Whilst it narrows the viewpoint slightly, I felt it gave greater momentum to the narrative. As a reader, you’re along for the ride with Connie – you share her curiosity, her triumphs, her frustrations and her disappointment. For me, multiple narrators can feel like head-hopping, with too many voices preventing identification with any one narrative strand. Connie, more than ever before, provides the central thread in the book and binds the various threads of the narrative together.

Sarah’s writing has always been strong – one look at her blog, Crimepieces, and you’ll see she’s a lady who knows her crime fiction onions – but, in A Patient Fury, it’s stronger than ever, building on the first two books to forge a tighter, tauter narrative that’s sure to be a hit with fans and will hopefully lead to many more readers discovering her work. Providing a page-turning blend of police procedural and domestic thriller, A Patient Fury is an atmospheric, engrossing read that’s perfect for crime fans to snuggle up with as the nights draw in.

A Patient Fury, published by Faber & Faber, is available now in hardback and ebook from all good book retailers. My thanks go to Sarah Ward and to Faber & Faber for providing an advance copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

 

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Autumn Reading

Ah September, the beginning of autumn. The leaves begin to turn, the nights start to darken and book lovers everywhere prepare to turn on the fire, find their cosiest PJs and hibernate with a pile of books and a supply of comforting hot drinks under their favourite blanket. As thoughts turn towards Christmas, the stars of the publishing world unveil their heavy hitters and there’s a veritable feast of literature to look forward to over the coming months so, in this post, I thought I’d talk about some of the books that I’m hoping to curl up with this autumn.

29758006First up, and the book I’ve just started reading, is Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World, now out in paperback. I adored Ivey’s debut, The Snow Child, and her second book returns to the wild beauty of Alaska in the Winter of 1885 as Lieutenant Colonel Allan Forrester attempts to navigate the Wolverine River and map the inner portions of the Alaskan frontier. Alternating between Allan’s journals and the diaries of his young, heavily pregnant wife Sophie left behind in the fort, I’m hoping for more of Ivey’s vivid descriptions of the natural world and her meticulous portraits of human relationships.

35508160Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017, has been garnering praise from across the literary world. Loosely based on Sophocles’ Antigone and set in contemporary London, Home Fire is the story of two British Muslim families and examines familial love, political ideology and what happens when the two collide. Isma is finally free, studying in the US after years spent raising her twin siblings. But she can’t stop worrying about headstrong, beautiful Aneeka, left back in London, and Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of their father’s dark jihadist legacy. When handsome, privileged Eamonn enters their lives, two families fates becomes inextricably intertwined in what promises to be a compelling story of family and loyalty that feels completely relevant to the world we live in today. I’ve got my reservation in at the library for this one and I’m looking forward to its arrival.

Arriving in October, Phillip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage is the first part 9307699of his much anticipated The Book of Dust and sequel to the acclaimed Northern Lights trilogy. I’ve stayed deliberately ignorant of any plot details for this because I want it to be a complete surprise on reading but I do know that it’s a prequel to the events of Northern Lights set when Lyra is just a baby. In preparation for its release, I intend to finally read the last part of the Northern Lights trilogy, The Amber Spyglass. Quite why I’ve never got around to reading the final part is a mystery even to me – I think maybe I just didn’t ever want the book to end so deliberately deferred reading the final portion. Now that I know more Pullman set in the same universe is on the way, I can read without fear!

34913762Joanne M Harris’ forthcoming A Pocketful of Crows, also due in October, promises to be a modern fairytale with a nameless wild girl at its heart. Again, I know very little about the premise but you only need to say Joanne Harris and fairytale to colour me interested. Plus I’m booked to an event with the author at the wonderful Booka Bookshop at which I look forward to hearing Joanne speak and debating whether my starstruck self is brave enough to ask a question at the end.

33876124Last, but by no means least, I’m taking part in three blog tours this autumn for upcoming titles that I’m happy to sing the praises of. The first, for Sarah Ward’s A Patient Fury, is taking place on Saturday 09 September to tie in with the launch of the third book in her extremely enjoyable DC Connie Childs series of Derbyshire-based crime novels. Combining police procedural with domestic thriller and with a dash of nordic noir, there’s still time to check out Sarah’s first two books – In Bitter Chill and A Deadly Thaw – before picking up the third.

35079533Next up will be the second collection of the late, great P D James’ short fiction, Sleep No More. Published in early October as a companion volume to last year’s The Mistletoe Murder, the collection offers six more tales of murder from a master of the crime short story, all with the dark motive of revenge at their heart.

The Shelf will also be visited by Christopher Fowler, author of the popular Bryant & May series of crime novels, when he releases his intriguing non-fiction foray into the back catalogues and backstories of authors that were once hugely popular but have now disappeared from the shelves of most readers. The Book of Forgotten Authors promises to be an entertaining guide to 34100964some forgotten gems from an enthusiastic and enlightening guide and a real treat for any book lover who enjoys books about books!

Those are just a few of the titles that I hope will be gracing my shelves this autumn. What are you looking forward to in the upcoming months? Do let me know in the comments or by dropping me a line over on Twitter or Goodreads.

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Summer #CosyReadingNight Wrap Up

Just a quick post today to follow on from my #CosyReadingNight TBR yesterday to let you know how the evening went and what reading I got done.

When the evening kicked off at 7pm I was still in the kitchen cooking tea – Toad in the Hole with mash and baked beans on the side. For those non-Brits who maybe don’t know what Toad in the Hole is (it’s one of those curiously British dishes that doesn’t seem to have migrated from our shores), it’s essentially sausages in a delicious Yorkshire pudding batter and is pure comfort food – perfect for a cosy night in! There’s a super easy recipe here for anyone wanting to try it out.

Being in the kitchen didn’t put me off reading though and, with the Toad in the oven and a glass of rioja at my side, I kicked off hour one with Sarah Ward’s ‘A Patient Fury‘, the forthcoming third book in her DC Connie Childs series. I’m going to be part of Sarah’s blog tour (details below) in September so I won’t say too much here about the plot but this is definitely shaping up to be Sarah’s strongest book to date and it kept me gripped throughout the first hour.

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Having scoffed a substantial portion of Toad in the Hole and poured myself a large cup of tea, I settled down onto the sofa to head into hour two with a short story from the forthcoming P D James’ collection ‘Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘. Again, I’m part of a blog tour later in the year for the collection so I won’t go into specifics but the two tales that I read had James’ trademark psychological insight and packed a punch in the shorter form.

Having been joined by my cat Lexi, I headed into the final hour of cosy reading night with a dip into Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind‘. In hindsight, I possibly should have started with this one as my increasingly relaxed and sleepy brain did struggle to keep up with all the scientific insights and I made slow progress. I hasten to add that this isn’t because the book isn’t good – it’s fascinating – but because the combination of being full of food and tea, a warm cat, a cosy sofa and a very relaxed brain meant that I was nodding off and kept having to re-read paragraphs!

Overall, #CosyReadingNight was a real success. I read about 50 pages of ‘A Patient Fury’, two short stories from ‘Sleep No More’ and a chapter of ‘Sapiens’ but, more importantly, I had a much needed evening of self-care and relaxation. Lauren has already said she’ll be back in the Autumn with another #CosyReadingNight so do go subscribe to her channel on Youtube to get notified when this happening and make sure you can join in!

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Summer #CosyReadingNight TBR

Tonight is summer #cosyreadingnight, as created and hosted by Lauren over at Lauren and the Books. What is a cosy reading night? Well, it’s exactly what it says on the tin – a night dedicated to getting some snacks in, getting your PJs on, shutting the world away and snuggling up with a good book. Lauren has done a great video introducing the video which you can watch here, as well as another with her personal TBR for the night. It starts at 7pm British Summer Time and runs for three hours until 10pm. I’ll be tweeting throughout the evening over @amyinstaffs but, before it starts, I thought I’d pop a quick TBR up so you can see what I’ll be reading over the course of the evening.

I’m currently preparing to take part in two blog tours that I’m super excited about. The first is for Sarah Ward’s upcoming ‘A Patient Fury‘ (published 07 September) which is the third in her DC Connie Childs’ series set in Derbyshire. I’m about 150 pages in to the book and it’s certainly shaping up to be the twistiest and darkest yet so I’m going to crack on with that for at least part of the night.

I’m also taking part in the blog tour for the upcoming second collection of P D James’ short stories, ‘Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘ (published 05 October). A companion to last year’s successful collection ‘The Mistletoe Murder: And Other Stories‘, this latest collection features six more stories with revenge at their heart. I’ve always enjoyed James’ Adam Dalgleish series of crime novels – I can highly recommend them on audio in particular – so I’m looking forward to diving in to some of her shorter fiction and hope to read the first story this evening.

Finally, I have ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind‘ by Yuval Noah Harari to dip into as a change of pace from the fiction. I’ve had this on my shelf for an absolute age but the sheer density of it (just shy of 500 pages of anthropological study) has been a bit daunting. Having started it a couple of evenings ago though, it’s proving to be both fascinating and very accessible.

So that is my #cosyreadingnight TBR. And for snacks and drinks? Well, I currently have a Toad in the Hole cooking in the oven to devour with mash and baked beans. If there’s any room left after that, I’ve got some NOMNOM Honeycomb chocolate leftover from my recent foray back to Wales. For drinks, I have a glass of rioja (my favourite) on the go then I’ll stick to that British favourite, a nice cup of tea. Perfect for snuggling up in the PJs on a Saturday night!

If you’re joining in with #cosyreadingnight, come say hi over on Twitter throughout the evening and let me know what you’re reading. All being well, I’ll be posting a short wrap up of the evening on here tomorrow. Keep an eye on Lauren’s channel for future Cosy Reading Night announcements and, if you’re taking part, have a great night! x

 

 

 

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Non-Stop Non-Fiction

I recently took a glance over my ‘Read’ shelf on Goodreads and was surprised to see how many non-fiction titles I’ve been reading of late. Whilst I’ve never been adverse to reading non-fiction, I’ve always considered myself  primarily a fiction reader. Yet out of the last ten books I’ve read, five have been non-fiction and my only recent 5* Goodreads review went to a non-fiction title. So why the sudden change in my reading habits?

I think primarily it’s because I’ve been super busy  recently so most of my reading has taken place in snatched bites of time. 5 minutes over my morning cup of tea, 15 minutes before bed, 10 minutes whilst waiting for an appointment. A whole day to sit and read – or even a few uninterrupted hours – sounds like a complete luxury to me at the moment. Reading in small doses means its hard to settle into a plot-heavy novel where it’s important to recall who all the characters are, what happened in the last chapter and what person A said about person B ten pages ago.

 

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child MurdererThis coincided with my discover that the true crime genre – something I’d always worried would be sensational and tacky – has become home to some thought-provoking, genre-blending books that scratch the itch left by ‘Serial’ and ‘S-Town’: two of my favourite podcasts in recent years.

First up, I listened to the audiobook of Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer‘. Although not actually as focused on the ‘sensational’ murder as the blurb and advertising would have you believe, this was a fascinating piece of narrative non-fiction covering such varied topics as early mental health treatment in Victorian England (surprisingly progressive) and the role of bandsmen in the trenches of WWI (much larger than they’ve been given credit for). Complete with the narrative drive that Summerscale is known for, this was a great audio – although the ‘mockney’ accent the narrator used for some of the characters nearly drove me to distraction!

Killers of the Flower Moon: Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBIDavid Grann’s ‘Killers of the Flower Moon‘, subtitled ‘Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of the FBI’, is ostensibly a book about the murders of a number of Osage Indians throughout the 1920s, but opens up into a discourse on power, money, land rights, injustice and racism. It was a sensitively written, fascinating and powerful examination of a largely forgotten piece of  American history. Grann’s writing is a brilliant blend of journalistic drive (he knows how to work a cliffhanger!) and stylised reportage and I was keen to check out more of his work so also read ‘The Devil & Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness and Obsession‘, which is a collection of his shorter essays and articles. I didn’t enjoy this as much as ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ – as with all essay collections, some pieces held my interest more than others – but it confirmed my opinion of his writing style and I’m looking forward to starting ‘The Lost City of Z‘ soon.

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a MemoirAlexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s ‘The Fact of a Body‘ is a slower-paced combination of narrative true crime with memoir resulting in an emotionally raw yet moving examination of the lasting effects of historic abuse. Juxtaposing the 1992 molestation and murder of a young boy by a paedophile with the author’s own repressed feelings about abuse within her own family. Not an easy read by any means, and with subject matter that will undoubtedly have triggers for some readers, but a skillful and intimate blending of two genres that really pushed the boundaries of what I thought a ‘true crime’ book could be.

Most recently, I’ve read ‘True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Disappearance of Maura Murray‘ by James Renner. This is written in short, snappy chapters – often only one or two pages each – and is also a blend of personal memoir and true crime. Less literary in style than ‘The Fact of a Body’ and with more of the narrative drive found in Grann or Summerscale’s work, this is a dual investigation of the strange disappearance of a young woman from rural New Hampshire and of Renner’s own complicated true-crime addiction. It definitely had that page-turning quality although, because the focus is less on a historic case and on an open, unsolved investigation, I did experience a level of unease about some of the speculative elements of Renner’s investigation. It’s a compelling narrative to be sure – and Renner does a good job of keeping the primary focus on his own mentality and raison d’etre – but there are some leaps into the dark corners of the internet and  toying with outlandish amateur theories that left me feeling a cold.

So do I intend to carry on with this non-stop slew of non-fiction? More than likely. I’ve got a short break planned this coming weekend which is a much needed chance to get absorbed into a nice chunky novel. But I have become more aware of how my reading habits need to change to fit around my lifestyle in order to avoid a slump. When I’m busy, non-fiction is just easier to read in short doses. So maybe I need to use non-fiction as my weekday reading and make fiction my weekend choice, when I can indulge in a lazy morning sipping tea and curling up with a good book? If it stops me from entering those hideous periods when I just don’t read at all, it’s certainly worth a try!

I’d be interested to know if anyone else finds their reading habits have changed with their lifestyle and if you find yourself reading differently at different times? Drop me a comment down below or send me a message over on Twitter. And, until next time, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction or something in between, Happy Reading! x

 

 

 

Reviews

REVIEW: The White Road by Sarah Lotz

The White RoadAh, summertime. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the grass is blowing gently in the breeze. What better time then, than to read a twisty psychological thriller (complete with a side of creepy supernatural goings on) set on Everest’s dark and snowy peak? Enter ‘The White Road‘ by Sarah Lotz – my choice of reading over one of the hottest weekend’s of the year!

Desperate to get their click-bait website ‘Journey to The Dark Side’ off the ground, wannabe filmmaker Simon Newman is persuaded by his friend Thierry to go caving in the deadly Cwm Pot Rat Run with the aim of filming the bodies of three students who died there years before. When Simon’s own horrific experience in the caves goes viral, the pair seek the next challenge – an ascent of Everest, the ‘Death Mountain’. But, when Simon gets to Everest, he discovers there may be more dangerous things on the mountain than the elements – and this time, his luck may have run out.

For me, one of Sarah’s main achievements in this book is the creation of Simon, our narrator. He is, in all honesty, a bit of a louse. Lazy, dishonest and largely out for himself, Simon is not a likeable narrator. He is however interesting and well formed as a character and we see flashes of the person he could become and the life he could lead if he chose to. Fully aware of his own deceits, he becomes torn between his best and worst selves which really added to the psychological suspense as he battles with his personal demons. The supporting cast are also well realised – Thierry was slightly one dimensional, being the epitome of the self-centred, obsessive ‘internet sensation’ but that’s a minor niggle. In a genre that often relies on tense plotting rather than well constructed characters, it was great to be in the head of someone who felt so real and was surrounded by people you felt you could actually meet.

The opening salvo in Cwm Pot is deliciously dark and full of menace – a great way of setting the tone for what is to follow – but it’s once Simon reaches Everest when, for me, the book really comes to life. The sense of place and of the challenge of the climb really came across and I found the incidental details about climbing and the mental and physical challenges posed by being at altitude absolutely fascinating. It made me want to read some non-fiction about the history of Everest and find out more about mountain climbing in general.

I also felt that the supernatural elements were well handled – I’d never heard of the ‘Third Man’ concept before but it’s a really intriguing one and used to very good effect here. Even at the end of the book, I couldn’t decide whether or not to consider this a ghost story!

Tautly plotted and immensely enjoyable, ‘The White Road’ balances psychological intrigue with dashes of the supernatural to create an intense thrill ride that grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go until I’d turned the final page. Fans of Michelle Paver’s recent ghost stories (especially ‘Thin Air‘, with which this shares a great deal in terms of theme and setting) will find much to enjoy here, as will fans of psychological suspense and anyone who enjoys being gripped by a good book!

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I Heart Jane: A Reader’s Tribute to Jane Austen

Pride and PrejudiceToday marks 200 years since the death of Jane Austen. As a longtime Austen fan, it seems only fitting to mark the occasion with a tribute to her writing.

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy Austen’s work. Her wry observances of character are as relevant today as they were when she first put them on the page. Surely we have most of us known a Mrs Bennett or a Mr Collins in our time? From the moment that my mother first handed me her treasured paperback of Pride and Prejudice – given to me on holiday to alleviate my teenage boredom when all my own books had been finished or cast aside – I found her ready wit and perceptive characterisation captivating. Plus I was head over heels in love with Mr Darcy, of course.

Sense and SensibilityIt wasn’t long before I read the remainder of Austen’s major works. Sense & Sensibility quickly became another favourite, my teenage self desperately wishing I was more like tempestuous Marianne than dutiful Elinor. Emma was sparkling and witty – although Mr Knightly was a bit of a downer I thought. Mansfield Park was….long. And I enjoyed Persuasion although I completely failed to understand why Anne hadn’t just ignored her odious family and married Frederick Wentworth when she had the chance first time around.

Looking back, I think a lot of Austen’s subtleties were lost on the teenage me. I liked her books for their spark and romance but a lot of the subtle tensions were lost to me. Austen, like many great authors, reveals her art gradually as one re-reads. And, with each round of re-reading as I get older (although not necessarily wiser), another layer of her books is revealed to me.

Northanger AbbeyAt university I had the pleasure of studying Northanger Abbey, a book that becomes infinitely more enjoyable, in my mind at least, when put into context. Finally I was able to appreciate Austen’s satirical asides on the nature of books and reading and contextualise the book amongst it’s contemporaries. Northanger is often seen as one of Austen’s more juvenile novels – and arguably the romance and plot have less structure than her later works – but I love it for its vitality and it’s sharp skewering of those who would malign the novel as an artform.

PersuasionAs I’ve entered my thirties, Persuasion has also taken on new meaning and become a novel that’s easier for me to appreciate. Odd isn’t it how someone’s reserve and dutifulness, so annoying when you’re a teenager, becomes so much more relatable when you’re an adult and have made the same mistakes? Austen was rather brave I feel to write about the predicament of so many older women and about having a second chance at love and Anne is now one of my favourite Austen heroines as a result.

I still love Pride and Prejudice of course – who doesn’t – and, in my adulthood, have decided being an Elinor is no bad thing (I mean, you’d just want to slap Marianne if you met her wouldn’t you?!).  I still debate whether Emma and Mr Knightly are well matched Mansfield Park  but I think Austen’s skill is so well displayed in that novel – her characterisation is spot on throughout and in Emma she creates one of the first unlikable narrators who, by the end, the reader cannot help but root for.

And as for Mansfield Park? I confess, we still have issues. Maybe I’m still not quite old enough to appreciate Fanny Price’s endless forbearance. Which just means I’ll have to keep giving them all a re-read until I am doesn’t it!

EmmaIf you’ve never read Austen before, I really would urge you to give her a go. She’s so often deemed a romance author – and, indeed, her romances are excellent with all the sweeping drama and petty misunderstandings that a reader would want from a love story – but there’s so much more to her as well. Wry humour, satire, family drama. She captures so much of day to day life on the page. I’d recommend Northanger Abbey to start with – anyone who loves books and reading will appreciate Catherine Morland’s dangerous descent into her fantasy world!

If you’re already an Austen fan, I’d love to know your favourite of her works. And why do you think she’s stood the test of time so well? Drop me a comment down below or over on Twitter.

And for anyone interested in finding out more, click here to be taken to the website marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death which is filled with links to events across the country about Jane, her life and her books.

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A New Home

Welcome to the new home of The Shelf of Unread Books! After some deliberation (and a lot of putting it off through sheer laziness), I finally decided to give The Shelf a new home here at WordPress.

Blogger has served me well over the last couple of years but I want to start developing and customising the blog in ways that Blogger just can’t offer and, having heard good things about WordPress from fellow bloggers, the time seemed right.

The migration of old posts from Blogger was a pretty painless process so all the old content is still here. As for the new stuff – bear with me! It might take me a little while to work out all the shiny new things that WordPress can do but I’m hoping to be able to develop the blog to include more content as well as links other interesting bookish pages and some of my favourite book blogs.

In the last couple of months, I’ll admit that I haven’t been giving The Shelf the love that it deserves. That old chestnut, Real Life, has been getting in the way of both my reading and writing. Yeah, Adulting sucks. I’m still in the process of sorting that out but I very much don’t want the blog to fall by the wayside in the meantime so think of this as a mid-year re-fresh and a re-commitment from me to bringing you bookish joy, chat and reviews from here on out.

I’ll be back soon with some bookish content but, for now and as always…

Happy Reading! x

 

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At Home in Slumpsville


Firstly, an apology. It’s been a while since my last blog post I know. Partly this has been to do with having had a busy few weeks in my real life including a very pleasant but very busy weekend away in Cornwall (it involved mead, good times were had by all). But, if I’m being completely honest, it’s also because I’ve been a fully paid up resident of Slumpsville for the last month or so. 
 
Yes, the reading slump has paid a visit. For some reason – and I’m never entirely sure why – I’ve been really struggling to get into anything, fiction or non-fiction. I’ve tried all of my usual tricks – reading something really pacy, re-reading an old favorite etc etc – and nothing has managed to get my reading mojo back.
 
For anyone who doesn’t read regularly (so, probably not people who are reading this blog, right?!), a reading slump might not seem like a big deal. So what if you’ve not got a book on the go? But reading is a really important part of my day to day life and not reading majorly messes up my routine. The nature of my day job means a regular lunch break during which to read isn’t, alas, a thing in my life any more but I do enjoy reading in the bath (for those of you appalled by the thought of this, see my post of Bookish Confessions!) at the end of a long day and I have, for as long as I can remember, always read immediately before turning out the bedside light and heading off to the land of nod. So not reading really messes with my equilibrium – late night YouTube, computer games and podcasts do not for a good nights sleep make.
 
The good news is that, fingers crossed, I seem to be breaking the back of the slump a little. I took the drastic step of taking a couple of weeks off reading and all things reading related (hence no recent blog posts!). As a result the sense that I should be reading has lifted a little. It’s odd but sometimes I feel so pressured to read (either because I want to have something to blog about, because my TBR has reached mountainous proportions or because I’m reading to a deadline for review or for book club) that it takes the joy out of doing it. Instead I’ve been playing my PS4, listening to music, writing a bitand listening to podcasts – just giving myself permission to have a bit of a reading break basically. And you know what? I miss reading. I miss that moment when I settle down with my book at the end of the day and cosy up for the evening. Some time away is drawing me back and I’ve begun to look at my bookshelves again with excitement.
 
My plan now is to capitalise on this. I usually have an immediate TBR next to my bed – books that are due back to the library, books that I need to read for some purpose or deadline, or recently purchased books. And sometimes, just sometimes, I feel that pile traps me into reading the books I think I have to as opposed to what takes my fancy. So I’ve got rid of the pile and gone back to my shelves to pull out some titles that just appeal. My plan is to curl up with them and read the first few pages of each then read the book that most appeals after that. It’s an idea called ‘Try A Chapter‘ that I first saw on Simon Savidge’s YouTube channel that seems just perfect for narrowing down a TBR and deciding on your next book. Hopefully it’ll mean I’m on the next train out of Slumpsville at any rate. 
 
I’ll let you know how I get on in the next post – which will hopefully be soon! In the meantime, if you have any tips to help me finish off this reading slump, I’d very much appreciate them. You can tweet me @amyinstaffs, leave me a comment down below or come say hi over on Goodreads. And, until the next time…
 
Happy Reading! x
 
 
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REVIEW: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Our Endless Numbered DaysSome books I can review straight after I finish reading them – whether that’s because they left me flatter than the average pancake or because we clicked from the off and I’ve been left with all of the feels. With others however, I feel that I need a little distance before I can comment. Our Endless Numbered Days was one such book and it’s taken a couple of weeks for me to feel certain enough in my thoughts to be comfortable putting finger to keyboard to review it. 

The premise of the novel is, I have to say, fantastic. Peggy is eight years old when her father takes her to ‘die hütte’, a ramshackle cabin in a remote European forest, and tells her that her mother and the rest of the world are gone. Forced to survive on whatever they can find in the forest, Peggy’s fairy-tale cabin holiday becomes a nightmarish fight for survival. And, as she grows up and starts to discern fairy tales from reality, the veracity of her father’s tale becomes harder  and harder to believe. Blending tropes from mythology and folklore with a taut psychological thriller and a gentle commentary on consumerism, the story is certainly original and the effect is haunting. 

It’s no spoiler to say that Peggy survives her time in the forest. From the outset it is evident that the novel is being told as a recollection by a now seventeen year old Peggy, recently back in London with her mother Ute and Oskar, the nine year old brother she never knew existed. As Peggy, or Punzel as she has come to call herself in the forest, struggles to re-adapt to everyday life, she sifts through her memories of her time in die hütte, leaving the reader to filter out the imagined from the real. It’s a very clever technique but not one that I felt worked as well as it could have, with a number of key points left unresolved at the novel’s close. This may well have been Fuller’s intention but, as a reader, it was immensely frustrating as the truths about the dream-like world of die hütte and the reality of Peggy’s childhood remain blurred, deadening the impact of the ending. I don’t do spoilers in my reviews but there is one key mystery surrounding the entire existence of one character which is left maddeningly unresolved – either outcome has disturbing implications for Peggy/Punzel but the irresolution resulted, for me anyway, in a decreased sense of impact in these final revelations.

My other major issue was with Peggy’s father, James. Although Fuller tries hard to paint a picture of a complex man who clearly suffers from some form of mood disorder, I found it hard to empathise or sympathise with him. He’s just too selfish. Even before the revelation that brings his world crashing down and leads to his decision to take Peggy off to the woods and tell her the world has ending (not exactly A-star parenting), he’s all me, me, me. From making his young daughter carry out practice drills in the fallout shelter to allowing her to skip school and live in the garden for a week, James is one jumbled up mess of bad choices and poor decisions. And one they are on their journey, his alternating fits of rage and crushing bouts of depression endanger Peggy’s life on more than one occasion. Which, for me, made Peggy’s devotion to him seem almost unbelievable. Yes, he’s her Dad. And yes, he is definitely the more laid-back and ‘fun’ parent (Peggy’s mother Ute is, to put it mildly, a bit of a cold fish). But at times it’s really hard to buy into his love for Peggy and I never quite bought their relationship – a bit of an issue as a lot of the plot revolves around the parent/child relationship and the impact of James’ lie on Peggy’s life and world view. 

So does this mean that I don’t think ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is a good book? Well, no. I’m really glad that I read it. Fuller has packed a lot into this novel – probably a little too much for a comparatively slender 300 pages – and she does a lot of it very well. Her descriptions of Peggy and James’ woodland world are wonderful, filled with all of the senses and creating a dreamlike world whilst retaining the gritty reality of what a life of survival really means (acorn soup and eating lots of squirrel, in case any of you were wondering). I also adored the fairytale allegories. I could wax lyrical about all the ways Peggy’s story mirrors themes of childhood versus adolescence in Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and, of course, Rapunzel but then this review would turn into an essay and we’d have disappeared down tangent alley. Needless to say however, if you dig fairytales then you’ll probably dig ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’. 

All in all, ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is a book with a lot to offer to a lot of different readers. Fans of books such as ‘Room’ will enjoy another tale of a difficult situation told from a child’s perspective, fairytale fans will enjoy sifting through the symbolism and thriller fans will get a kick out a dark tale of abduction and lies where the main fighting is that which takes place inside the characters heads. And there is plenty to discuss which makes it an ideal choice for book clubs. Personally I didn’t love it. Didn’t hate it either. It’s a pretty good book. Which sounds like damning with faint praise but certainly isn’t intended to be. Fuller is a good writer and I’ll be interested to read her next novel, ‘Swimming Lessons‘, which has just been released. If she can keep the accomplished style whilst tightening her plotting, it should be a damn fine read.

Our Endless Numbered Days‘ by Claire Fuller is published by Penguin Books and is out now in paperback, ebook and on audio from all good retailers. Go make a bookseller happy and buy it from your local independent or high street bookstore – if you need any more incentive, they probably do coffee and cake too.