Book Tags

The Summer Bucket List Book Tag

Summer might be coming to an end (although you wouldn’t know if from the glorious sunshine we’ve had in the UK the last few days) but that doesn’t mean an end to summery thoughts!

I got tagged in the Summer Bucket List Book tag by the wonderful @_forbookssake some weeks ago but have only just got caught up enough on blog tours, overdue reviews, and PhD writing to be able to take part. The tag was created by @readbytiffany.

Hit the Beach: a book set by the sea

I’m going to go with Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier because (whisper it) I haven’t read it yet.

Terrible, I know and I really must rectify that. It’s one of my Mum’s favourite books and she bought me the GORGEOUS 80th anniversary edition so I have a copy sitting on my shelf. I’ve just never quite found the right time to read it although, with a new adaptation coming to Netflix this autumn, now might be the perfect opportunity!

Anyway, despite not having read Rebecca (yet), I do know that it’s the sea plays quite a crucial part in the plot. The novel opens in Monte Carlo, by the glistening waters of the Mediterranean, and the famous Manderley has lawns stretching down to the sea – and to a seaside hut that hides terrible secrets.

Watch Fireworks: a book that had a fiery romance

I don’t read a huge amount of romance but I do enjoy a good romance subplot in other genres of literature so for this one I’m going to pick Ambrose Parry’s The Way of All Flesh, the first in a series of historical mysteries that follow medical student Will Raven and housemaid Sarah Fisher.

Will and Sarah make for an unlikely couple – he thinks she’s too clever for her own good and her first impressions are that he’s an arrogant little upstart – but they soon realise that their combined intellects will make them formidable foes for Edinburgh’s criminal underworld.

Go For A Road Trip: a book that involves a journey

Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is one of my favourite novels (and one of the few books I’ve re-read more than once) and involves an epic journey that takes our protagonists from the dreaming spires of Oxford, through Eastern Europe and across to Istanbul.

It’s a glorious romp of a novel that combines a poignant coming-of-age tale with an elegant literary mystery. Throw in a series of adventures, a hidden family history, and a deadly, possibly immortal enemy, and you’ve got a page-turning novel that ticked all of my boxes.

Camp Under The Stars: a book that had you starstruck

The talent and craftsmanship of authors is a continual delight to me but the most recent read that utterly bowled me over was Bernardine Evaristo’s masterful Girl, Woman, Other.

A thoroughly deserving winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, Girl, Woman, Other captivated me with its exuberant portrayal of black lives in Britain today. Told from the perspectives of twelve very different characters, this novel teems with life.

As the characters grapple with the ever-present spectre of racism, interrogate their own sense of gendered and cultural identities, and develop connections that cross the boundaries of generations, class, culture, and race, Girl, Woman, Other masterfully interrogates and explores the multitudes of modern-day Britain.

Marathon Some Movies: a book you couldn’t put down

Again, there are many books that could have filled this category but, most recently, Jess Kidd’s Things in Jars had me utterly captivated for days.

You can read my full review here but, in brief, Things in Jars is an enthralling blend of detective story, personal journey, and magical realism and it’s heroine, the indomitable Bridie Divine, is one of the best literary creations I think I’ve ever read.

Go Out For An Ice Cream: a book with a sweet romance

As I said earlier, I don’t read a huge amount of romance but there is the occasional sweet romance to be found in other genres.

My favourite is probably the one that develops between quiet, self-effacing merchant Jonah Hancock and vivacious, spoilt courtesan Angelica Neal in Imogen Hermes Gower’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, a joyful romp of a novel that delights in the eccentricities of eighteenth-century life.

I’ve reviewed this one in full on The Shelf so do check that out here for more details of this fabulous novel!

Picnic In The Park: a book that was a breath of fresh air

Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Inheritance Games came along at just the right time for me. I’d been reading a lot of quite heavy eighteenth-century literature for my PhD and, as a result, was in a bit of a book slump when it came to my recreational reading.

I tend not to read a lot of YA but The Inheritance Games, with it’s combination of clever Knives Out style puzzling, sizzling teen romance, rich-people problems, and family intrigue had me feverishly turning the pages! It was the perfect refresher after long days at my desk.

Again, a full review is available here!

Go For A Hike: a character who conquered an obstacle

I’m choosing another book from my TBR here: Cash Carraway’s memoir Skint Estate.

Whilst I haven’t yet read Cash’s memoir, I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh last summer and was astounded by the obstacles that she had overcome.

Alone, pregnant, and living in a women’s refuse, Cash was unable to vote in the 2010 general election that ushered the age of austerity into Britain. Despite being one of the people most likely to be impacted by the proposed cuts, her voice had been silenced.

Living below the poverty line and trapped in a brutal cycle of universal credit, zero-hours contracts, rising rents, and public service cuts, Cash struggled to bring up her daughter in a society that seemed determined to reduce her – and those like her – to a working-class stereotype. Her memoir promises to be a raw and cutting recollection of these struggles, and of Cash’s refusal to be beaten down and her determination to stay afloat in a world designed for you to sink.

Grill Some BBQ: a book featuring delicious food

As if I could choose anything other than Joanne Harris’ Chocolat for this prompt!

This magical novel, the first in Harris’ series set in and around the small village of Lansquenet and featuring the mysterious Vianne Rocher, involves – as the name suggests – chocolate.

When newcomer Vianne opens a chocolate shop in the middle of Lent, she finds herself at odds with local priest Father Reynaud. But whilst her non-attendance at church and her ability to read tarot lead to her ostracisation by the more devout members of the village, Vianne’s vivacity and generosity soon begins to attract the more eclectic members of the community.

Chocolat is a joyously vivid novel that revels in the celebration of giving in to our desires, following our dreams and enjoying a little bit of what you fancy. Just don’t try to read it without your favourite sweet treat to hand!

Watch The Sunrise: a book that inspired you

Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was both revelatory and inspirational.

As an introvert then working in an extroverted sales environment, it was sometimes difficult to get my opinions heard or my skillset valued. Quiet showed me that I didn’t need to be controlling a conversation in order to make observations within it, that listening can be as valuable as speaking, and that innovation can come from moments of solitude.

Drawing on a mixture of personal experience, scientific enquiry, and anecdotal evidence, Quiet showed how introverts like me are a valuable (although often under-valued) part of a workforce and allowed me to become at ease with my need for silence and space in a world that, sometimes, feels overwhelmingly loud.

I hope you enjoyed reading my entry into the Summer Bucket List Book Tag and thank you again to Danni at @_forbookssake for tagging me! As summer is coming to an end, I’m not going to tag anyone in this tag myself but, if you do want to have a go at the tag, please do so and please do tag back to this post and to the original creator!

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Seasonal Reads

Spooky Reading Recommendations

The leaves are changing, the nights are drawing in, and it’s time to drag that favourite  jumper out of the closet. Is any more of an excuse needed to settle down with a mug of tea, curl up under your favourite blanket and pick up a book? And, for me personally, if that book has a touch of the sinister about it – something that’ll send a slight chill down my spine despite all that cosiness – then even better! So without further ado here are five of my favourite chilling reads, plus a few choices that I’m hoping to get to during 2018’s season of spookiness.

584843I can’t talk about spooky books without mentioning The Woman in Black. Susan Hill has written a number of ghost stories but this, without a doubt, remains my favourite. Possibly this is because I first read the book one dark All Hallows Eve, curled up in a caravan on the wet and wild Welsh coast whilst the rain lashed on the roof and the wind howled outside. Talk about pathetic fallacy! Having re-read the book many times in considerably finer weather since however, I can attest to it being an extremely fine ghost story with just the right level of menace. Arthur Kipps’ visit to desolate Eel Marsh House and his glimpses of the vengeful woman in black remain utterly terrifying on even the brightest of days.

8350864More readily known for her young adult series, Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, Michelle Paver has also written two chilling ghost stories after the Gothic mould. My favourite of the two, Dark Matter, is set during an ill-fated expedition to Arctic and brilliantly adds chilling events to an even colder location. Her second, Thin Air, takes place during a similarly doomed mountaineering expedition. Both books play with ideas of repression and psychology, cleverly weaving the characters’ fears into the narrative so that the reader begins to doubt the veracity of their narratives. Paver is also excellent at using the stark yet dangerous beauty of the natural environment to great effect when creating her sinister tales.

36434359Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions, which I reviewed at the start of the year, is an unsettling gothic chiller that will leave you curled up under the covers and peering into the shadows. Part ghost story, part psychological mystery, the book uses interweaving narratives from the 1600s and 1800s to unravel the unhappy tale of the wooden companions that haunt crumbling country estate The Bridge, with possibly sinister intent.  Plus it has a really creepy child in it and nothing says dark and disturbing quite as much as childish innocence gone bad.

10692Moving away from ghost stories for a moment, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian is a brilliant romp which combines the gothic horror of Dracula with the country-hoping adventure of a Dan Brown thriller. Late one night when exploring her father’s study, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters ominously addressed ‘To my dear and unfortunate successor’. When her father goes missing, our unnamed narrator is forced into an epic cross-continental quest that takes her into the heart of Romania, uncovering the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s disappearance, and constantly coming up against the name of one Vlad Ţepeş. As you can probably tell from the synopsis, The Historian is a bit of a romp but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable one written in a high gothic style and with plenty of literary and historical references for Dracula fans.

6550482For those who like their horror to come with a more literary flavour, Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger combines Waters masterful prose with a dash of the supernatural. Set in the crumbling Hundred Hall, the novel follows the provincial, middle-class Dr Faraday as he gradually integrates himself into the life of the once wealthy Ayres family. Struggling to keep up with a changing society, the Ayreses are haunted by past glories. But are they also being haunted by something more sinister than their dying way of life? Combining a thoughtful meditation on class in post-war Britain with a creeping sense of dread and a fantastically creepy atmosphere, this is a slow, understated chill of a novel with a fantastic twist in its tale.

So what is on The Shelf’s spooky TBR for this season? Having still not got around to Laura Purcell’s latest chiller, The Corset, I’m eager to pick that up. Sarah Perry’s latest slice of gothic, Melmoth, is also on the pile – I loved The Essex Serpent so much that I’m almost afraid to read it! I’m taking part in the blog tour for SJI Holliday’s psychological ghost story The Lingering in November so am also very much looking forward to reading that, especially given all the high praise it has been getting from fellow bloggers. Finally Katherine Clements’ The Coffin Path picked up a lot of praise on its release last year but remains unread so I’m hoping to get to that now that the season is appropriate again.

As always, I would love to know if you’ve read any of my recommendations – or any of my TBR books. I do love a good ghost or supernatural story so if you’ve got any chilling recommendations for me then do also drop me a line in the comments, or come say hi over on Twitter (@amyinstaffs), and let me know about them!

Happy Reading!!