Random Bookish Things

Love Your Library #LibrariesWeek

This week, 9 – 14 October, sees the return of Libraries Week, a nationwide celebration of libraries and their place in our community.

As both a reader and a book blogger, I’m a huge fan of my local library. As someone with a finite supply of disposable income, they’re a fantastic way of feeding my page habit without earning the disapproval of my bank manager, plus they offer a way of trialing books and authors that I’m interested in but not sure I’ll enjoy without investing my hard-earned funds.

And it seems I’m not alone in my admiration. According to statistics collected for Libraries Week, in 2016 the great British public made 250 million visits to public libraries across Great Britain. That’s more people in and out of the door of libraries nationwide than visited the cinema, the theatre, live music gigs and visited the UKs top ten tourist attractions COMBINED.

Surprisingly, young people are the group most likely to use public libraries with 15 – 25 year olds more likely to use their local library than over 55s. And 3 out of 4 people across the UK say that public libraries are essential or very important to their communities.

Despite this, libraries continue to be under threat from cuts in public spending, making national initiatives like Libraries Week – and support from all of us readers – increasingly important for their continued existence.

I’m aware that services vary across the country but I have to say that my local library service is fantastic. They’re continually investing in stock to ensure that new titles are available for loan soon after release, have an extensive audiobook and ebook selection and offer both print and digital issues of a range of magazines. All this in addition to offering a range of clubs and activities, computer access and a host of community services and information. For FREE.

But what, I hear you cry, if my local library doesn’t have a copy of the book I want? Well, for the princely sum of fifty pennies (25p for concessions and free for children), I can order a book in to my local branch from anywhere in the county. Out of county requests are more expensive but if that rare book that I just have to read can only be obtained from a library in Cornwall, then it’ll cost me £7.00 (or £3.50 for concessions and, yet again, free for the kiddos). All of which is pretty darn good I think.

It’s not a service immune from the cuts by any means. Our mobile library service has been drastically reduced and a number of smaller branch libraries are now run by the local community. Regular book sales to top up library funds mean that an author’s latest title will be readily available but try to find their debut and you might be struggling (which is especially frustrating when you want to read a crime series from the beginning). But, overall, it’s a fabulous service and one I know that I’m lucky to have access to.

The photo at the top of this post is my current library haul. As you can see, there’s everything in there from new releases to award winners. Some of the books I’ve borrowed because I want to read them ASAP but can’t really afford to invest in a hardback (Reservoir 13, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Stay With Me), some of them because I think they sound interesting but I’m not sure they’ll be my cup of tea (The Best Kind of People, Home Fire), some because I think I’ll only read them the once (The Marriage Pact) and some because they’re non-fiction that I want to dip into for specific research (A History of Ancient Britain, Inconvenient People).

If I’d had to buy all of these books, I wouldn’t have picked up half of these titles – and would probably have waited for the paperback edition on another quarter of them. Which makes the library a huge part of the way in which I discover and enjoy new authors and new titles.

All of which boils down to me saying that I love my local library. It’s a fantastic service and a really important way for many people to access books, media and computers. So please, if you don’t already, go and show your local library some love. I’d love to hear from readers about if you do use your library (and, if not, why not), whether your library reading differs from the books you would purchase and what your current library read is. So please, drop me a comment down below or over on Twitter and, until the next time…

Happy Reading! x

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Author Q&A · Blog Tours

BLOG TOUR Q&A! The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler

Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you’re dead.

Thus begins Christopher Fowler’s foray into lesser known literary history as he identifies 99 authors who were once hugely popular but have now all but disappeared from the shelves. From the lost rivals of Dickens and Holmes to the woman who pioneered psychological suspense, it seems no author is immune from the fate of being forgotten.

It’s an entertaining, eclectic and enlightening collection written with a book lover’s enthusiasm so I was delighted when Christopher agreed to answer some questions for The Shelf as part of his blog tour.

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View More: http://enroute.pass.us/lucasfoxWelcome to The Shelf of Unread Books Christopher! The Book of Forgotten Authors is a fascinating premise. What made you decide to write about authors that have been largely forgotten by modern readers?

I spent a lot of time going through my parents’ bookcases, and later my own, wondering why so many of the books I saw there seemed not to be available anymore. Perhaps, I thought, they’re not any good, so I bought a few online and found that many were superb, and there was no clear reason to explain why they had been lost. A little digging started to reveal the reasons why.

How did you research such a large topic and choose which authors to write about? I imagine there must have been a few who didn’t make the cut?

I would have liked to include more dramatists, SF writers and non-fiction books but was forced to limit myself. I started out with around 450 authors and submitted them to group-testing by asking 20 well-read friends if they’d heard of them. If I got a lot of blank looks I covered them. I was looking for people who’d led interesting lives and were interesting – not always perfect – writers. Most were worthy of inclusion, but I’d have swamped the poor reader with too much information! Perhaps there will be another volume…

You’re well known for your crime novels, especially your Bryant & May series. How did researching and writing The Book of Forgotten Authors differ from writing your fiction books?

It was a labour of love, so often I was already familiar with the books themselves. Where it got tricky was in tracking the personal lives of writers who did not always wish to be rediscovered, or who died after covering their tracks. These were writers with no Facebook profiles, so I often simply had to ask around. Sometimes, after a lot of pestering, their relatives got in touch with me.

Did you find any common reasons as to why once popular authors are no longer read? Is it to do with publishers not re-printing blacklists, rights issues, or just because reading tastes change?

All of the above, and more. The saddest lost books were those from writers whose publishers decided they were no longer fashionable. Some lacked confidence to begin with, and lost heart when their latest works were rejected. Certain other problems repeated themselves; addiction, madness, poverty – and sudden wealth – all played their part.

Thinking of reading tastes, did you discover any trends in writing, publishing & reading habits whilst researching the book? I’m thinking about the surge in erotica sales after the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy came out and wondered if there were similar phases in the 19th & early 20th centuries?

Interesting question. The erotica reboot was marketing-driven, but there were definite trends in the past. The boom in detective fiction was simply phenomenal thanks to Conan Doyle and Christie. Many women wrote about psychological states after the war because, having been required to play a part in the conflict, they were then pushed back into kitchens and felt frustrated. Men had often fought – it’s surprising how many novelists were pilots – and wrote themselves into fresh adventures once they were grounded. I think that’s why we had so many action-adventures and spy novels in the 50s and 60s. There were an awful lot of books about rugged chaps who were good with a spanner.

In recent years dedicated imprints (such as Persephone) and podcasts (such as Backlisted) have started to reignite readers’ interest in lesser known authors from the 19th and early 20th centuries. There have also been a number of rediscovered classic bestsellers, such as John Williams’ ‘Stoner’. Do you think publishers and readers have become more open to discovering modern classics & forgotten authors?

Absolutely. One of the most pleasurable parts of writing the book was finding authors coming back into print whom I’d assumed were lost forever. I cut many from the final edition simply because they had become popular once more. There remain some truly mystifying gaps in reprints though, partly to do with missing copyright, partly because not all publishers are so forward thinking.

Do you think modern readers would be surprised by the scope of some of the books you came across? Were there any that you felt were particularly before their time or really resonated with you?

Definitely. One of the book’s centerpiece authors wrote a novel I discovered when I was seventeen. It was so casually shocking that it stayed very modern. This was Maryann Forrest’s ‘Here (Away From It All)’. Another was Richard Hughes’ ‘A High Wind In Jamaica’. I think the key to longevity was a clear eye and a lack of sentiment. Both books feature children and families but are certainly not family reading. I feel we’ve become more timid about big themes in the last few years. There are too many small, personal stories.

Out of your 100 forgotten authors, were there any that became particular favourites and that you think modern readers need to re-discover?

Three of the most surprising to me were JB Priestley, Margaret Millar and Norman Collins. They were all superb writers with terrific stories to tell, whose work simply vapourised. Happily they’re fast coming back into print. Some authors were among the most popular in the English-speaking world before they disappeared!

And finally, can you tell us a little about what you’re currently working on? Will you be sticking with more non-fiction or are you returning to a life of crime?!

Both, I suspect. There’s a new Bryant & May novel called ‘Hall of Mirrors‘ coming up, set in the swinging sixties, my thriller ‘Little Boy Found‘ (written as L K Fox) is due out in paperback soon, then there’s a fantasy epic and a thriller. But I’d love to do more non-fiction, a second volume of ‘Forgotten Authors’, perhaps!

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The Book of Forgotten Authors is out now and is the ideal present for the bibliophile in your life this festive season – or a treat for yourself to curl up with as these winter nights draw in! It’s the perfect dipping in and out book – great for those of us who sometimes need to snatch five minutes of reading in between hectic bouts of work and family life – and is sure to send you on the hunt for some forgotten gems to add to your TBR.

For anyone interested in checking out Christopher’s recommended reads, he has written a fascinating blog post about Maryann Forest’s ‘Here (Away From It All)‘ which you can read here. Print copies seem hard to come by but the book is available on Kindle – although it’s listed under the author’s real name, Polly Hope. Richard Hughes’ ‘A High Wind in Jamaica‘ has been re-published as a Vintage Classic so is more readily available from all good booksellers.

A big thank you to Christopher for answering my questions – it’s been a pleasure to have you visit The Shelf. The blog tour continues until 15 October so do check out some of the other stops along the way.

Forgotten Authors

The Book of Forgotten Authors is published by riverrun and is available in hardback now from all good booksellers. My thanks go to the publisher for providing an advance copy in return for an honest and unbiased review. My thanks also go to Christopher Fowler for answering my questions and to fellow blogger Anne Cater (check out her blog at Random Things Through My Letterbox) for arranging the tour. 

 

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR! Sleep No More by P D James

P D James has long been acknowledged as a Queen of Crime. In the course of her long career, which only ended with her death in 2014, she successfully blended psychological insight with twisting plots and a literary turn of phrase in her much admired Adam Dalgleigh series (check them out on audio CD if you can – they’re fantastically narrated by Michael Jayston), injected a bit of death and deceit into a a beloved classic in ‘Death Comes to Pemberley‘ and also turned her hand to true crime with ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree‘ about the infamous Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

What many readers (myself included) may not have realised until recently however is that James was also a past master of the short story. ‘The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories‘, published last year, was a popular stocking filler for crime aficionados so publisher Faber & Faber are following up this year with a companion volume, ‘Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘, that collects a further six stories together for the first time.

Less overtly festive, ‘Sleep No More’ is loosely themed around revenge and, as with much of James’ work, the stories blend the classic tropes and motifs of Golden Age crime-writing with her trademark psychological insight to create six morally complex stories, all with a twist in their tale.

My favourite story in the collection, ‘The Murder of Santa Claus’, is, unsurprisingly, set at Christmas and sees a workmanlike writer of detective fiction recall dark going on during Christmas Eve 1939. Taking place in a Cotswald manor house and replete with a wicked uncle, an ill-matched group of assembled guess and a shifty servant, the Golden Age motifs are all present and correct and it isn’t long before there’s a side of murder to accompany the mince pies. The wartime Christmas setting is wonderfully evoked and James clearly enjoys playing with reader expectations to create a satisfying ending that neatly re-directed my sympathies.

In ‘A Very Desirable Residence’ and ‘The Victim’, James uses her acute insight into the dark hearts of her protagonists to create two twisting tales of unhappy marriages, vengeance and greed. ‘The Girl Who Loved Graveyards’ is a tightly controlled piece with an ending that is at once poignant and deeply disturbing. And no prizes for guessing the key item in ‘The Yo-Yo’, in which a bullying schoolmaster gets his comeuppance on a snowy winter’s night.

James also has a ready wit and the final piece in the collection, ‘Mr Millcroft’s Birthday’, is both playful and sardonic. Featuring an octogenarian exerting the only retribution he can on his greedy children from the safety of his nursing home, it is a very funny story with a pleasing twist and proves yet again that James’ ability to skewer the absurd and ludicrous can be as on point as Austen’s.

35079533Pleasantly produced in a £10.00 hardback, Sleep No More is a fantastic addition to any crime fan’s bookshelf. James’ many fans will, doubtless, be delighted to have more of her short fiction readily available but, for anyone yet to discover her work, this is an accessible showcase of her mastery of the craft. With it’s pretty cover design, it would also make an excellent gift for a crime lover this festive season.

Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘ by P D James is published by Faber & Faber and is available from today in hardback and ebook from all good booksellers. My thanks go to the publisher for providing an advance copy in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

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5 Star TBR Predictions

I’ve recently watched a few videos on Booktube that use this tag and I thought it was a really fun idea for a blog post.

Basically the idea is to look at your shelves (because, let’s face it, who has just one shelf) of unread books and select some books that you think will be 5 star reads and that you intend to tackle and report back on in the coming months. I think the tag originated with Mercedes over at MercysBookishMusings and you can watch her original video here.

This seems like a great idea to me, not only as a way of busting through reading slumps but also as a way of thinning a large pile of unread books into a more manageable TBR. So, without further ado, here are my 5 star book predictions!


The Good People by Hannah Kent

I adored Kent’s first novel, ‘Burial Rites’, and had the pleasure of meeting her at an author event over at Booka Bookshop in Oswestry earlier this year. She was a fascinating speaker and it’s clear that she puts a great deal of time and energy into researching her books. That said, ‘Burial Rites’ always put the story first and never allowed the history to get in the way of a good tale.

Her second novel, ‘The Good People’, is set in rural Ireland, 1825, and looks at three women who are forced together to try and save a child that they believe has been made a changeling by the faerie folk. Kent is brilliant at portraying the everyday struggles of people’s lives and so I’m looking forward to seeing how she tackles this tale of folklore and ritual.

I’m about 50 pages into this at the moment and it’s building up to be a fabulous read so I have high hopes and will report back when I’m done!

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

I mentioned this in my Autumn Reading post but ended up putting the book down as my chunky hardback copy was just too big to pack in the suitcase for my recent holidays.

I do really want to get back to this novel, set in Alaska in 1885, which follows Lieutenant Colonel Allan Forrester as he attempts to navigate Alaska’s Wolverine River with a small band of men. Alternating between Allan’s diaries and that of his young wife Sophie, left behind as her husband goes exploring, it promises to be a fascinating tale of discovery and adventure as well as a portrait of a marriage placed under unexpected strain.

Ivey’s ‘The Snow Child’ was one of my favourite winter reads a couple of years ago and she has such a talent for realising place so I’m just waiting for a chilly weekend to dive back in to this.

The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas 

I’ve recently added this to my stack after hearing about it on the All The Books podcast. I don’t know much about it other than the blurb which is as follows:

‘Aged 13, Joan Ashby drew up a list ‘How to Become a Successful Writer’. With tenets such as ‘write every day’, ‘do not entertain any offer of marriage’ and ‘do not allow anyone to get in my way’, it is no surprise that, less than a decade later, her short stories took the literary world by story. But, with her failure to abide by her own rules followed by a marriage and two children, Joan finds herself living a life very different from the one she had envisioned. Now she wants to get back on track and complete her much-anticipated first novel but a betrayal of Shakesperian proportions is lurking around the corner.’

This debut sounded fantastic to me when I first heard about it and it ticks a lot of my reading joy boxes – female protagonist, book about books and authors, Shakespearean style drama and betrayal. I’m hoping for something along the lines of Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ or Diane Settenfield’s ‘The Thirteenth Tale’, both past favourites.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig 

Another book that’s had loads of love on Twitter and Booktube (and has also been optioned by Benedict Cumberbatch for TV), this novel sounds like it’s going to scratch my ‘Time Traveller’s Wife’ itch. From the blurb:

‘Tom Hazard looks like an ordinary 41 year old. But a rare genetic condition means he’s been alive for centuries. Always changing his identity and staying on the move, Tom’s seen a lot but he craves an ordinary life. Now, working as a history teacher in London, he can teach kids about wars and witch hunts as if he never saw them first-hand – and he can try to come to terms with a past that is fast catching up with him. What he cannot do – what he must never do – is fall in love.’

I adored Matt’s non-fiction book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ but I’ve never read any of his novels so I’m really hoping that this one lives up the hype.

If We Were Villains by M L Rio

Again, I haven’t started this one and I don’t know that much about it so I’m going to let the blurb do the talking regarding the plot:

‘Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. Years earlier, as a young actor at an elite conservatory, he noticed that his talented classmates seemed to play the same characters onstage and off. But when the teachers change the casting, good-natured rivalry turns ugly and the plays spill dangerously over into real life. When one of the seven friends is found dead, the rest face their greatest acting challenge yet – convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.’

Doesn’t that just sound like Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’?!?! That is one of my favourite books so I’m really hoping that this debut will have similarly gothic, Shakespearean tragedy vibes whilst adding something new and original.


So those are my 5 star book predictions! I’m really looking forward to starting each of these books and hope to report back with my verdict on each when I’ve finished them. Have you read any? If so, do let me know in the comments or over on Twitter. And, until the next time, Happy Reading! x

Upcoming Books

Coming Soon!

Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts in the last week or so. I’ve been on hollibobs in the beautiful islands of Orkney so have spent the last week exploring the islands’ fascinating history, eating my own body weight in ice-cream sundaes and fully-loaded hot chocolates and, of course, chilling out with a good book or three. For this, I make no excuses. It was wonderful.

But all good things must come to an end and, several pounds heavier and a good deal more relaxed, I wanted to quickly mention some of the things you can look forward to on The Shelf over the next few months.

I read a couple of really good books on holidays once of which – Amy Liptrot’s ‘The Outrun‘ – felt extra special because of reading it in the place where it is set. It’s got me thinking about the relationship between a piece of writing and its location – and whether this has any impact on the way we read and respond to it. At the moment I’m still grappling with my thoughts but I hope to turn these into a coherent blog post and review very soon.

I have a blog tour coming up on 05 October for P D James’ short story collection ‘Sleep No More‘.

Sleep No More

This will be followed by a visit to The Shelf from Christopher Fowler to chat about his non-fiction collection ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors‘ on 07 October.

Forgotten Authors

Also scheduled for later in the autumn are features on the upcoming CWA Short Story Anthology and some classic Christmas crime from Cyril Hare. I’m also discovering the latest in an ongoing crime series that features crime writer Josephine Tey as its detective.

There’s also another Cosy Reading Night from @laurenthebooks to look forward to on 20 October that I’m hoping to take part in. And, of course, with the festive season looming ever closer, I dare say that a bookish gift guide and some Christmas reading suggestions might appear – I do love an excuse to buy books, especially for other people!

I’m really looking forward to the next few months on the blog. Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to The Shelf since it moved across to WordPress – the migration has gone even better than I’d hoped and I’m really enjoying the process of developing The Shelf in its new home. I hope you’re enjoying the posts – if you have any suggestions for content you’d like to see, or comments about any of the posts, please do drop me a line or say come say hi over on Twitter. I’ll be back with a full post soon but, in the meantime, happy reading! x

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. 

 

Blog Tours · Upcoming Books

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