Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Image Description: The cover of A Ghost in the Throat has a striking pattern of red and yellow flowers, with green leaves, against a black background.

‘When we first met, I was a child, and she had been dead for centuries.

I am eleven, a dark-haired child given to staring out window … Her voice makes it 1773, a fine day in May, and puts English soldiers crouching in ambush; I add ditch-water to drench their knees. Their muskets point towards a young man who is falling from his saddle in slow, slow motion. A woman hurries in and kneels over him, her voice rising in an antique formula of breath and syllable the teacher calls a caoineadh, a keen to lament the dead.’

A true original, this stunning prose debut by Doireann Ní Ghríofa weaves two stories together. In the 1700s, an Irish noblewoman, on discovering her husband has been murdered, drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary poem that reaches across the centuries to another poet. In the present day, a young mother narrowly avoids tragedy in her own life. On encountering the poem, she becomes obsessed with finding out the rest of the story.

Doireann Ní Ghríofa has sculpted a fluid hybrid of essay and autofiction to explore the ways in which a life can be changed in response to the discovery of another’s – in this case, Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, famously referred to by Peter Levi as ‘the greatest poem written in either Ireland or Britain during the eighteenth century.’

A devastating and timeless tale about finding your voice by freeing another’s.

How to review a book that is part essay, part memoir, part literary investigation, part history, part ghost story, and part translation? That is the challenge that lies before me for A Ghost in the Throat, poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s award-winning auto-fiction/memoir about her efforts to translate – and understand – Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s eighteenth-century lament, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire (The Keen for Art Ó Laoghaire).

As you can probably imagine, A Ghost in the Throat is a book that defies easy categorisation. Regardless of whether Doireann Ní Ghríofa is writing about her own experiences of motherhood – and the inevitable sacrifices of selfhood that this requires – or conjuring the grief of Eibhlín Dubh, keening over her husband’s murdered corpse, it is, however, a compelling and powerful read.

A Ghost in the Throat opens with the words, ‘THIS IS A FEMALE TEXT’, a refrain repeated throughout the text that serves both to highlight the erasure of lives such as Eibhlín Dubh’s from history, and to underscore the power of shared female experiences. For what begins as a teenage fascination with the romantic figure of a woman grieving for a lost lover becomes, for Doireann Ní Ghríofa, a means of exploring her own lived experience, and of uniting the fractured pieces of her identity: mother, wife, poet, scholar.

It’s hard to explain exactly how this fragmented, often ephemeral narrative can possess such narrative pull but, once I’d settled into the rhythm of Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s words, I frequently found myself reading for hours; devouring the book in chunks and emerging dazed back into the world when I put it down. For me, reading A Ghost in the Throat was to be transported, however briefly, into other lives: both that of Doireann Ní Ghríofa and of Eibhlín Dubh. On the face of it, I have little in common with either woman – not Irish, not a mother, not a poet – and yet the pattern of their lives still resonated with me through the pages and from across the years.

f the eighteenth-century myself, I can understand the fascination that Doireann Ní Ghríofa develops with the fragments of Eibhlín Dubh’s life that remain in official records – and with the tantalising gaps through which Eibhlín, her sister, her mother, and her other female friends and relations seem to have slipped. Literary investigation can sometimes feel like obsession – the pursuit of knowledge through the fissures of history – and Doireann Ní Ghríofa has perfectly captured both the thrill and the despair that often comes with such a pursuit.

Not being a speaker of Gaelic, I cannot testify to the fidelity of Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s translation of the Caoineadh, but I am glad to have been introduced to this deeply moving and powerful poem: a keen for a beloved husband, brutally murdered, and a lament for a wife unable to seek legal recourse for his death. Hopefully this new translation – the success of Doireann’s exploration of her own relationship with the text – will serve to make this particular piece of Irish literature much better known amongst the English-speaking literary world.

A Ghost in the Throat will not, I imagine, be for everyone. Its ephemeral and fragmentary nature can, at times, leave the reader jolted suddenly from one life and forcibly inserted into another, whilst Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s attempts to understand Eibhlín Dubh and to reconstruct her life are, like so much academic enquiry, ultimately frustrated. In addition, it is powerful and, at times, deeply emotional read that explores motherhood, loss, love, marriage, and the weight of expectation, often accompanied by a howl of female anger, despair, and frustration. It is, as Doireann Ní Ghríofa frequently says, a female text.

Ultimately, you’ll know within a few pages whether A Ghost in the Throat is for you. If it is, you’ll be pulled into this book and swept through, captivated by the power of an eighteenth-century Irish woman and the story of the twenty-first-century poet who fell in love with her words. It’s a book that I would love the opportunity to teach one day – unpicking this alongside students and other scholars would be fascinating, and I definitely think this a book that bears repeat, close reading. As a ‘pleasure’ reading experience, A Ghost in the Throat wasn’t the easiest – or the most comforting – of reads, but it was a deeply rewarding and thought-provoking one that I feel will stay with me long after I turned the final page.

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa is published by Tramp Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Helen Richardson for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 7 November 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector by Nicholas Royle

Image description: the cover of Nicholas Royle’s White Spines showing blurred white-spined Picador classics on a bookshelf shelf, covered by orange, black and white title text and blurb

A mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction, White Spines is a book about Nicholas Royle’s passion for Picador’s fiction and non-fiction publishing from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s.

It explores the bookshops and charity shops, the books themselves, and the way a unique collection grew and became a literary obsession.

Above all a love song to books, writers and writing.

Like most book bloggers, I love a book about books – and I’ve reviewed a few on this blog since its inception, with Cathy Rentzenbrink’s Dear Reader being a recent favourite. So when a bookish memoir blurbed by Cathy (she “didn’t want it to end and would like a gargantuan infinite edition”) crossed my blogging doorstep, I wasn’t going to say no to giving it a read!

White Spines is, as its subtitle suggests, about books and book collecting. A mix of part-memoir and part narrative non-fiction – with occasional detours into bookshop conversations and various surreal dreamscapes – the book details Nicholas Royle’s love of (obsession with?) his collection of white-spined Picador fiction and non-fiction. Like all good books about books, however, White Spines is more than the sum of its apparent parts. Whilst Royle’s passion for Picadors and love of book collecting provides the backbone of the book, White Spines is also a love letter to literature more widely, and to the power of books to captivate, enthrall, and transform.

Royle talks with wit, charm and intelligence about the joy of discovering a good secondhand bookshop, or the exhilaration that the bookworm feels at discovering a pristine edition on a charity shop shelf. He also captures perfectly that bookish obsession with presentation – the frustration of a publisher changing cover design mid-series, the horror of the TV tie-in cover, and the desire to curate shelves of matching, beautiful spines. In his conversations with author and publishing friends, he brings across the inherent exuberance of conversations about books, from the discovery of new authors to the joyful dissection of a shared read.

Anyone who has ever lost themselves having a rummage through a second hand bookshop, accidentally fallen into a charity shop for a ‘quick look’, or contemplated how to fit several new purchases onto already bulging shelves, will find themselves in White Spines. Although my own reading taste is quite different to Royle’s, I found myself nodding along or smiling in agreement with so many of the incidents and experiences that he recounts.

White Spines also provides some insight into the business of publishing. Royle talks to a number of former and current Picador authors, illustrators, and staff to consider how the ‘white spine’ paperback list was built, how the covers were chosen, and why the list (which includes an impressive collection of both authors and titles) became the cultural force that it did during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

That said, the book is not a ‘publishing memoir’, nor is it a documented history of Picador or an account of all of their titles. It is, as I said at the start, a love letter to books and, more specifically, to book collecting. To the physicality of books – to the desire to hold a physical object in your hand before putting it on your carefully curated shelf with its fellows, or the intrigue that comes with finding a letter or note left in a book by a previous reader.

White Spines is a book that spoke to the part of me that loves seeing the stripy spines of my Penguin English Library editions next to each other on the shelf, as well as the part that’s a sucker for a beautiful cover or stunning endpapers. It made me think about the times I’ve found receipts or train tickets in books and wondered about the people who put them there – and about the times I’ve given books with my name or ephemera in away and wondered what will become of them. It is, in short, an ode to the book and a journey of delight through the pleasures of being a bookworm.

White Spines by Nicholas Royle is published by Salt and is available from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. You can also support the publisher by buying from them directly on their website.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Helen Richardson for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 20 July 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Image description: blog tour banner for the White Spines blog tour showing the book cover (described above), tour dates/stops, and publisher information. Tour dates run from 15-20 July with one blogger posting per day. Tour posts can be found and followed using the #WhiteSpines.

Reviews

REVIEW!! Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink

‘Reading has saved my life, again and again, and has held my hand through every difficult time’

For as long as she can remember, Cathy Rentzenbrink has lost and found herself in stories. Growing up she was rarely seen without her nose in a book and read in secret long after lights out.

When tragedy struck, books kept her afloat. Eventually they lit the way to a new path, first as a bookseller and then as a writer.

No matter what the future holds, reading will always help.

If you’re reading a book blog, it’s probably a safe bet for me to assume that you are a bit of a book lover or, at the very least, a fairly regular reader. If so then let me assure you that Dear Reader is most definitely a book for you.

Part memoir, part ode to the joy of books and reading, Cathy Rentzenbrink has written a book that will resonate, in some way, to all readers. Whether it’s the way in which early encounters with books enrapture us, to the power of stories to transport us away at the times when we need that break most, Dear Reader is a love letter to the power of the written word.

Rentzenbrick has previously written movingly about the death of her brother in her earlier memoir, The Last Act of Love. Here she turns her attention to the books that supported and comforted her in the aftermath of that tragedy, and examines the way in which the act of reading itself encouraged her to see a future for herself beyond the one that grief had sucked her into.

Coming in at just over 200 pages, Dear Reader is a slim volume but is packed to brimming with bookish reminiscences. From young Cathy being told off for reading books that were too advanced for her age (been there) to the sheer joy of losing yourself in a gloriously trashy novel and the delight in discovering a new favourite read, the pages are packed with anecdotes and readerly experiences.

I particularly enjoyed reading Rentzenbrink’s anecdotes about her life as a bookseller, first in the Waterstones outlet at Harrods then later in stores at Oxford Street and Piccadilly before moving to that most venerable of book-selling establishments, Hatchards. Whilst she’s careful to name very few names, her tales of demanding customers and spoilt celebrity authors make for darkly comic reading.

There was also great joy to be found in Cathy’s recollections of her father, a born storyteller whose early exit from education left him illiterate into adult life. His new-found joy at discovering books leaps off the page and Dear Reader is at its most passionate and heartfelt when describing the reading shared between father and daughter, as well as Cathy’s later work with the ‘Quick Reads’ initiative that supports adult literacy programmes.

Interspersed throughout the memoir are selections of themed reading recommendations. From Children’s Books that can be re-read throughout adulthood, to novels about Posh People Behaving Badly, there’s sure to be something to catch the eye of every reader – my own TBR certainly got a little longer as a result!

Beautifully written, Dear Reader is by turns poignant and passionate, joyful and comforting. As an ode to books and reading, it’s up there with Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm, Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris and Will Schwalbe’s Books for Living and would make the perfect present for the bookworm in your life – or the perfect treat for yourself!

Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink is published by Picador and is available now from all good booksellers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! Fuck Yeah, Video Games by Daniel Hardcastle

Fuck Yeah CoverAs Daniel Hardcastle careers towards thirty, he looks back on what has really made him happy in life: the friends, the romances… the video games.

Told through encounters with the most remarkable – and the most mind-boggling – games of the last thirty-odd years, Fuck Yeah, Video Games is also a love letter to the greatest hobby in the world.

From God of War to Tomb Raider, Pokémon to The Sims, Daniel relives each game with countless in-jokes, obscure references and his signature wit, as well as intricate, original illustrations by Rebecca Maughan.

Alongside this march of merriment are chapters dedicated to the hardware behind the games: a veritable history of Sony, Nintendo, Sega and Atari consoles.

Joyous, absurd, personal and at times sweary, Daniel’s memoir is a celebration of the sheer brilliance of video games.

Confession Time. In addition to being a postgraduate student, book blogger, home owner, cat lady, wife, responsible employee and Fully Paid Up Adult (with a capital ‘A’), I am also a HUGE video game nerd. Ever since I got my tiny little mitts on a Sega Mega Drive and discovered that an interactive (and rock solidly hard) version of Disney’s The Lion King existed, I’ve been hooked.

As such, Dan Hardcastle’s Fuck Yeah, Video Games might have well have been written for me. I’m just a tad older than Dan but we were both introduced to games in the same era and at a similar age. So many of the games that Dan covers in his memoir/love-letter to video games are personal favourites of my own (SSX3, BloodborneAnimal Crossing, Tomb Raider – though personally I preferred TRII to TRIII, sorry Dan), and I can recollect many of the frustrations and failures that Dan touches on in his hardware overview chapters.

Dan is a professional YouTube gamer (his channel, Official Nerd Cubed has more than 2.6 million subscribers and more than 4,000 videos) so he’s well qualified to wax lyrical on video games, and does a brilliant job of conveying his passion for gaming as he takes a wander through some of his favourite gaming memories.

Combining sharp, often sweary, humour with personal anecdotes, Dan’s style is both amusing and insightful – he really does manage to capture what makes these games special, especially when talking about multiplayer and couch co-op games. I genuinely snorted out loud with laughter on more than one occasion, and frequently interrupted my reading to read out particularly funny sections to my long-suffering (and slightly less nerdy) husband.

I am, of course, writing this review from the perspective of the target audience. This is, as the title would suggest, a book about video games written by a gamer and for fellow gamers. For those who don’t get gaming, I doubt there will be much here that will be either of interest or entirely understandable (although Dan does provide a brilliant glossary at the back of the book for those who don’t yet fully speak Nerd).

But for video game fans, whether old or young, Fuck Yeah, Video Games is an absolute riot.

Combining short, sharp chapters with witty illustrations by Dan’s partner Rebecca, Fuck Yeah, Video Games will be immediately relatable to anyone who has broken a controller out of sheer frustration (my Tekken 3 years were rough on the old controllers), spent work/school days contemplating exactly how to defeat that bastard of a boss (I’m looking at you Dark Souls), or severely damaged a thumb through a combination of intense button mashing and the non-ergonomic nature of an N64 controller (yeah…that happened). I loved it and, if you love video games, I think you might too.

Fuck Yeah, Video Games by Daniel Hardcastle is published by Unbound and is available now from all good bookstores and online retailers including Unbound, Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon.

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this tour and, as always, being a fantastic tour organiser. The tour continues until 29 September 2019 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!

Fuck Yeah BT Poster