Monday, 28 November 2016

A (Small) Bookish Catch Up



Today we are going to catch up. And by catch up I mean I am going to talk about Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven which I loved more than I have loved anything for a long long time and also Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children which I should have read a long time ago and which freaked me the hell out and the new book by Jennifer Niven which I have mixed feelings about. Get comfortable lovelies.

I love Chris Cleave. Or at least I loved the only other book of his I’ve read (The Other Hand) so I was super excited to get my hands on a copy of Everyone Brave, and the proof is so pretty too, all black cover and red pages and my copy has a signature. Lush.
It’s a really really beautiful book on the inside too this one, it doesn’t just look good, it tastes good too, I’m not even kidding: ‘…a galaxy of seeds that crackled in his mouth like bereaved punctuation.´ well, just seduce me with your pretty words why don’t you Mr. Cleave.
And it’s such an incredible story. It’s set in WWII and follows young socialite Mary, determined to make a difference, Zachary a little boy who can’t be evacuated because he’s black  and nobody wants him and art restorer Alistair who finds himself in the army and it hurts and it’s wonderful and it’s witty and hurty and so freaking smart. It’s just….it’s kind of mind-blowingly good, this epic novel full of love and war and loss and bravery.

It’s SO GOOD. SO VERY GOOD.

The language is beautiful, the dialogue is so snappy, and the characters like people you wind up feeling like you know (the characterisation here is so powerful oh my God and some of these people are messed up and make dubious choices but at the same time they all changed so much, grew up, lost pretty much any and all sense of innocence and made you fall in love with them. Hard.) The characters get under your skin and the setting is so real you can taste it. It took me ages to read partly because I wanted to savour every word and partly because I didn’t ever want it to be over. I got to the end and I just wanted more.  & I wanted to go back to the start and read it all over again. Which, that very rarely happens.

It’s strikingly raw and honest and bittersweet. It’s so damn powerful too, but not in an ‘in your kind of face’ kind of way you know. He’s a master of subtlety this guy and this book is all about the slow build and you don’t realise you’re feeling ALL THE THINGS until you wonder why your chest hurts and realise it’s because you’ve been holding your breath or that actually of course your face is wet  - you’re crying, damn it.

And how many books have been written about the war? SO MANY BOOKS; do you know how refreshing it is to fine one that’s not at all the same, that’s a step away from anything else you’ve read, ever? Let me tell you: so refreshing. Malta for starters, oh God, Malta. It’s always kind of surprised me, when I read a book like this how there are the things I know about, and then the things i just sort of know about you know. Like how there’s the things you learn about and hear about repeatedly and in depth and then there’s the other things, equally important that yet somehow you only really scratch the surface of. Anyway. Another thought for another day, maybe.

Everyone Brave is also a really interesting look at race, I thought so at least. I mean WWII was a war against Hitler wasn’t it, and his plans for a master race – if we’re going to really simplify it down I mean and I am totally aware that’s what I just did right there so don’t yell please  - and there we were sending our men to fight against that, whilst here at home we’re sending a little boy home from the country, back to the Blitz because his skin is the wrong colour (or because he’s in a wheelchair or she had Down’s Syndrome etc etc) I loved that juxtaposition. Loved it.
‘We are a nation of glorious cowards, ready to battle any evil but our own.’ BOOM. Also, how relevant please. Let’s not even talk about current affairs.

This is a book about love and longing, about loss and discovery, about life and it’s beautiful. This, actually, is the kind of book you dream of reading. I bet I won’t read anything to match it this year.

And then I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children which is entirely different in every way. I wonder actually if I’m the only person left not to have read these books. Am I? And I’m not sure why it took me so long to be quite honest. I liked it a lot. It’s kind of like a more realistic X-Men, if an abandoned orphanage and a time loop and a load of children with extraordinary powers can be realistic. It’s a clever book, a combination of prose and these hauntingly weird photographs – which I loved, it’s such a clever and unique way of storytelling and the fact that these are actual real life photos is just…it’s pretty cool. And so mysterious. It gave me the creeps though, this book, in a major way. That’s the downside of living in your house on your own alone I think, when you have a pretty active imagination. This book creeped me out; I was too creeped out to stop reading and too creeped out to go to sleep and was just sat in my dark house by myself reading this creepy as hell book and then having to spend half an hour scrolling through Twitter to try and fend off the bad dreams. And I’m 33. Imagine if I’d read this when I was 16. Gracious. I was creeped out, but I also figured out some pretty significant plot points way before I think I was supposed to. Perhaps I’m just that smart *snorts* - although I do like to think I’m adept at spotting a little bit of foreshadowing. Mostly though, I really liked it. If you haven’t read it already and you’re looking for another series to get drawn into then you wouldn’t go far wrong starting with this. My copy is lush too, it feels so nice.

And then, after that, I read Jenniver Niven’s Holding Up the Universe which…I didn’t hate it. Actually that’s harsh. I liked it; I gave it 3 stars, but I was massively underwhelmed. That’s better.

I haven’t read Niven’s stuff before, although I’ve heard ALL THE GOOD THINGS. Like all the good things all the time everywhere. People have been going nutso for this book, so, I was hoping to be blown away. I was not. I mean, there’s good writing, Niven can certainly write and her narrative voices are strong and this was an easy read, but it felt like YA romance paint by numbers. Like here is a girl who has been ostracised by her peer group for whatever reason (in this case, her weight) and here is a boy, good looking and popular but with his own set of demons that nobody knows about (in this case he’s face blind, which we’ll come back to, because it fascinated me) and here are some other people that they know, some are nice and some are less so, and now let’s throw the girl and the boy together and see what happens. Well, what was going to happen was obvious from the very beginning. The boy and the girl fall in love.
Is that a major spoiler? No, not so much. It is exactly what you probably expect if you pick up this book. I guess it bugged me a little bit, partly because the whole love story thing happened so fast and that whole insta-love thing, it’s not my thing and also I did feel a little bit like these characters, who are supposed to represent real teens, were being used for the sake of a good old angsty love story and that’s a little bit less than good. & I kept reading Libby Strout as Libby Stout and that bugged me also.
I feel like….I feel like the issues that Niven hints at addressing here, like fat shaming and body image and mental illness and bullying and isolation are all so important and she’s on the perfect platform to really get a really important message out there and instead she uses those issues to help her tell her love story and the whole time I was just aggravated. (& kind of wishing I was re-reading Eleanor & Park again and I’m sorry I’m such a bitch) I felt like Libby’s weight and Jack’s cognitive issues were massively dumbed down and that made me sad because I was so interested and I felt like Libby’s self validation came down to whether or not she had a boyfriend and I felt like there could have been so much more story than there was.  & Libby was so self-righteous too. Although she dances a lot. Which I liked, mostly because – have you seen Whitney: Fat Girl Dancing? The whole Libby dancing thing reminded me of that. I also loved all the TKaM references. High five Jennifer Niven, high five.

And there’s Jack. Jack hasn’t told his family he thinks he is face blind. He’s spent his entire life not being able to recognise faces, he doesn’t even recognise his own family and he hasn’t told a soul. A pretty big part of me found that a little hard to believe, but also kind of sad and I feel like if that were true, if that were what he had lived with for as long as he could remember, well, there’d be more of a negative impact than there was. He’s pretty well adjusted, all things considered.  Also I get that he can’t retain the knowledge, that if someone walks out of a room and then walks in again its like he’s seeing them for the first time and that he doesn’t even recognise his own family and that must be the worst ever but there’s a whole lot of ‘the woman in the kitchen’ and ‘the man I assume to be my father’ and WHO ELSE WOULD THE TWO ADULTS IN HIS HOUSE BE IF NOT HIS PARENTS? I mean, I can be sitting in my parents lounge and hear my Dad coming down the stairs and I don’t see him because there’s a wall in the way but I know its him because THERE’S NO OTHER PERSON IT COULD BE. Hashtag minor niggle. 
I did like the whole face-blindness story though and I did like Jack, I found it, and him, really interesting – 1 in 50 people are affected by Prosopagnosia, and that’s a massively high number for something  that’s relatively unknown and God it’s so frustrating when you run into someone and they start talking like they know you and you just can’t place them and how awful must it be if that’s your life, if you wake up in a morning and the person next to you in bed is as unfamiliar as a stranger in the street, if you don’t know you mum or your brother or your best friend. Horrible.

Anyway, this book is an okay book and probably loads of people will love it – hell, take a look on Goodreads, loads of people do love it. It’s just perhaps not my cup of tea. I’ll be giving All the Bright Places a go though.

So there you have it. Come back in a couple of days because before All The Eye Problems I read an exciting new book by and exciting new writer and I am excited to talk to you about it.

Friday, 25 November 2016

In which I am thankful for my peepers.


So it's been a pretty rough two weeks really, which if you follow my Twitter and/or Instagram (or know me away from the internet) you probably already know because I am ashamed to say I have been wallowing in a sea of self pity expressed mostly via social media. I know. I've been That Person. And I'm sorry.

It's been a scary time though. I've had eye problems like I've never known before. A corneal ulcer - or ulcerative acanthamoeba keratitis if you wanna be fancy; I got the eye doc to tell me that yesterday  - which was actually just the physical manifestation of a really nasty eye infection that started on my cornea and worked its way inside my eye. I know, right?
It hurt like a bitch (seriously I never knew my eyes could hurt like that) and my vision was really messed up (is still pretty shit truth be told) and everything was rubbish and for a few days there I was genuinely terrified I was going to lose the sight in my right eye. Genuinely terrified. And not just because I was being a DQ either; it was a genuine possibility.
There have been trips to the eye doctor and all manner of tortuous tests and antibiotic eye drops that I had to apply every hour - even through the night, which, well not so much fun at all  - and other drops which paralysed my eye and it's pretty much been a horror from start to finish.

However, I got the all clear yesterday. The infection has gone and the scarring is only at the edge of my iris which is as good as it can be, really and things are so much better, I just have to wait (and hope!) my vision rights itself over the next few days and I am so relieved, you have no idea.
And the whole thing has just made me realise how lucky I am you know, not just to have my sight (but oh wow, that. I will never ever take my sight for granted again) but that I have the people in my life that I do. I really am the luckiest: my parents who drove me to appointments and sat in on consultations and loved me and made it so clear that actually you're never too old to need your Mum and Dad; and the not family members, the people who called me multiple times a day just to check in and who talked me down when I was verging on hysteria, who made me laugh when actually I just wanted to cry, who drove me to the pharmacy at 9 in the morning on a Sunday, who drove me to the hospital at 9 in the morning on a Wednesday with a one year old in tow, and sat in the waiting room and didn't cry, who took me for brunch and pub lunch and pretty much kept me going, who listened and talked and rationalised and text and who figuratively 'stroked my hair and told me I was pretty.'

I am SO lucky. So lucky. I have amazing people in my life and I haven't lost my sight and actually, my life is pretty damn good and I am so grateful. So very grateful.

I guess my point is be grateful for the little things, appreciate the people that are there for you - even when times are hard and you're not at your best. Especially then - and look after your eyes. Please look after your eyes. And for the love of all that is good, don't sleep in your contacts because corneal ulcers suck.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Review: The Cursed Child




Holy Smokes but this review has taken all of time to write. Seriously, I cannot actually remember the last time I found it hard to put my feelings about a book into words. I mean I know I flail sometimes and I have kind of made the incoherent keysmash into an art form of my own (and I am eternally sorry for any and all posts that are basically just READ THE DAMN BOOK) but I hardly ever sit and just think ‘well then.’

Thing is, ‘well then’ is pretty much what I did think when I got to the end of The Cursed Child and now I don’t know quite what to do or say. WHAT SHALL I DO OR SAY?

I’m not going to talk about it lots. I could, and maybe I should. But I’m not going to, partly because see above and partly because I know some people haven’t read it yet and I don’t want to be SPOILER GIRL. I’m basically going to say that I have feelings and they’re mixed and a lot of that might be down to what Harry Potter means to me, and how despite myself my expectations for The Cursed Child were unrealistically high. So high though, you don’t even know. They were always going to be. Harry Potter owns a part of my soul, my love for this franchise knows no bounds. For all of time I have – for all of time I will – make grabby hands at anything new that JK Rowling and her cohorts want to throw at me. I will grab it all and I will want it all and I will devour it all, and I will expect it all to fill me with the same wonder that the books did the first time around.

And when it doesn’t, I will feel sad about it.

I think that’s perhaps what I’m feeling now. Sad. Because you see, I remember so well the last time a new Harry Potter book arrived on my lap. I remember Deathly Hallows release day so well. I remember how it was so very very worth the wait. I wanted to love The Cursed Child, believe me I did. & I read part one and made myself stop for the night because I didn’t want it to be over too fast – who knew when (if ever) I was going to get this again, I didn’t want to rush it. & it felt good to be back at Hogwarts, it did. So good. I giggled, and I rolled my eyes and I thought ‘yeah, of course he said that’ and I snorted at Draco and Harry and I was mildly irritated by Ginny and I felt strangely calm and settled and like as JKR promised me, Hogwarts was still there to welcome me home. It just….wasn’t entirely the Hogwarts I was expecting. 


& still, I don’t want to say too much, I don’t want to spoil and I don’t want to bias and to a point I don’t actually want to say anything negative about a part of something that I love so hard (writing this review is hard, dammit. I feel like a house elf.)

I’ll tell you a few things though and the main one is, is that it’s glaringly obvious that a JK Rowling piece of work this is not. Jo very kindly agreed to let somebody play in her sandbox and that’s fine because it’s nice to share your things, but it’s not Harry Potter in the way I know Harry Potter. It doesn’t feel to me to be Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter and I have feelings about that, because it kind of should be, you know? Jo’s Hogwarts is also my Hogwarts and this, this is something else. I didn’t want something else.

It was weird to read too, in some ways, perhaps because it was a script and not prose. We lost a lot there, a mon avis, because a lot of Harry Potter is in the storytelling; the world JKR built; in the way she used her words. So much of what made me fall in love with the whole damn thing in the first place was lost, and I missed it and it was so obvious to me that it wasn’t Rowling’s writing and that made me sad. You don’t get the same level of description in a script, the same level of detail. The detail is what made Harry Potter and without it, at the risk of sounding like a poor and broken record, it just wasn’t the same.

Also, there were flaws in the plot: things that really bugged me and things that felt too convenient and things that needed explaining and things that made me facepalm so hard and there were some pretty major issues with characterisation, such as (sometimes) Hermione (holy feminist issues batman do not let me get on that soapbox because I was a little bit ragey) and Ron (who albeit had some excellent lines) coming across like he was a caricature of himself.
& then there was pretty much everything about Harry as a parent. I felt like some key issues from the books had been conveniently cast aside in order to try to make the story work. Anyone else remember Sirius, and Remus and how thanks to them Harry sort of did have a father figure? Ok, good. Because all of that stuff, the Harry as a father stuff… actually, no. Let’s not. Don’t get me get on the Sirius Black train, it won’t be pretty.

Oh, and I missed people that I thought should have been there – where was Hagrid please? Where exactly was Hagrid. Perhaps Jen was right (and I don’t mind telling you that our live texting of this was a world away from our live texting of DH) and they just didn’t know how to stage him, ha, but still. WHERE WAS HAGRID???

It’s just….I was from the fanfic era you know? I read a lot of fanfiction back In The Day. A lot. And some of it was out of this world excellent. I read fix-it fic, which essentially is what this play was and whilst I was totally a Marauders fangirl, after Deathly Hallows I also read a fair amount of Next Gen fic and that’s kind of what this felt like to me. Next Gen Fix-It Fanfiction. I already knew this version of Albus and Scorpius because I’d met them – they felt like they’d been lifted straight from the internet.  (& if you want to tell me that Scorpius has a thing for Rose then sure, go right ahead, but that’s not the play I read.)

On the flip side, the Voldemort storyline made my skin crawl in the way I imagine it was supposed to and there was also a scene with Harry that ripped out my heart in a way that I was not prepared for, fuckety fuck and also ouch.
There was some excellent and very moving Snape stuff (good God is anything to do with Severus Snape ever not going to destroy me?) and, there was Scorpius. Oh, Scorpius Malfoy, how I love you. If JKR wanted to write an actual book about that kid, I would so totally be down for reading that thanks.

& despite my misgivings I can totally see that it would be pretty impressive on stage, and I really want to see it. I also loved the little bits of JKR that shone through – I mean look at Albus’s initials and tell me she hadn’t already sorted him when she wrote the epilogue. There are zero coincidences in Harry Potter and I have always loved Jo for that. Those little bits, the blink and you’’l miss it foreshadowing, the ‘fuck yes’ moments of realisation, the seemingly insignificant details that turn out to be epically important, the things. Those are what I love. This play was lacking in things. I WANT ALL THE THINGS. 



TL;DR: If you want to read some really excellent fan fiction then start here. For the love of God if you’re going to read The cursed Child because you’re a Harry Potter fan, then read this because wowzer.
If you want to read something that’s been for actual real published then read this and then read this because Rainbow Rowell is a genius. 

& you know what, read The Cursed Child. Let’s be honest, you’re a HP fan so you’re going to anyway. Just, just remember that it was never meant to be read like this, it was supposed to be seen and remember that JK Rowling didn’t write it, and don’t expect it to be like the books, and make your own mind up afterwards.

(Sad Jo is still sad about this whole damn thing.)

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Quick Quick Catch Up



People of the blogosphere, dance with me: it’s pumpkin spice season. Or autumn, we could just call it autumn if you’d like. Either way, it is the season of joy and delight. The season of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (Starbucks I love you *other coffee shops are available) and leaves underfoot; of conkers and so many colours; of fingerless gloves and woolly jumpers and delightfulness. The colours of autumn though, are they not just lush!? Last October my pal and I walked through St James’s park and the colours were so stunning they took my breath away a little bit. I went a bit snap happy because I am totally girl of the instagram generation, today (for work related purposes I hasten to add) I photographed my socks. Anyhow. That’s another story.

Autumn is my favourite I think, partly because of the PSL which may well be the most delicious coffee related beverage in the history of time. There’s a pumpkin spice Bailey’s this year, did you know? DID YOU KNOW? Oh, but I am excited to get my little hands on a bottle of that. I also love autumn because it’s perfect for reading. The nights start to draw in and you find that you feel deliciously melancholy somehow and so you (and by ‘you’ I obviously mean ‘I’ and I am so sorry for projecting) feel less guilty for curling up under a blanket and shutting the world away. A blanket, a cozy spot, a cup of coffee and a good book. Is there a pleasure in the world that is equal to that? NO THERE IS NOT. It’s totes a cliché, but it’s a freaking excellent cliché and I am all over it. LET ME BE THE GIRL IN THE OVERSIXED JUMPER WITH THE AUSTEN NOVEL PLEASE.

& so because it’s autumn and it’s a time for reading and because I have been awfully lax of late (my last post was in June and I hate myself a little bit for that) here are some books I’ve read recently that I feel like should be on reading lists everywhere right now, along with some exciting looking autumnal releases.

What have I been reading, then; what do I think you should all read now that it’s September?


The Ship by Antonia Honeywell is a book I was super excited about because when it was released last year it was everywhere and I was hearing All The Good Things. All of them.  & I liked it. It starts of in dystopian London (I love me a good dystopia. Everybody knows it) where everything is bad: Oxford Street burned for week, people are homeless and desperate and squatting in the British Museum and not having an identity card doesn’t only mean you don’t exist, it means you’ll be shot. Lalla is 16, her dad is a (really creepy) visionary and thanks to him she gains passage on The Ship which is kind of like Noah’s Ark for humans – 500 humans, one ship and no talk – ever- of a destination and nobody seems to think that’s weird, except Lalla. It’s good, and interesting and a pretty unique twist on the whole dystopia thing. I liked it. It’s also a pretty cool coming of age story and you cannot get enough of those am I right? I’m right. Anyway, it’s worth a read.

Robin Wasserman’s Girls on Fire is good. It paints a terrifyingly accurate picture of how crazy and passionate and intense female friendship can be. It’s like, imagine your late teen self (some of us have to imagine that ok, for some of us it was a while ago) and then exaggerate it by some and you have Hannah and Dex and even though it’s really extreme you kind of relate to it because it can be like that, female friendship more potent and intense and under-your-skin emotional than any romance and this book gets that. It’s also super pretty, which, I am always all about the pretty words, and mindblowingly observant, there’s ordinary and also extraordinary all tangled up as one and the same and ain;t that just how life goes sometimes? And it’s set in the nineties. THE NINETIES.  Fascinating, gripping, different. It’s messed up and it’s addictive and full of fucked up characters and destructive relationships and completely unreliable narrators. All those excellent things.

I read Sarah Pinborough’s The Death House last year and adored it so I was ridic excited when I saw she’d got a new book out there: Thirteen Minutes. Totally different to The Death House but still quite, quite excellent. AND SO DAMN CLEVER. So clever. Natasha is pulled from a freezing river. She was dead for thirteen minutes. She has no idea how she got there, what happened or why but the more she tries to figure it out the more it looks like perhaps somebody tried to kill her, and perhaps that somebody is a person she loves. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer and all that, but what if you can’t tell them apart? Reading this made me question why I don’t read more psychological thrillers because I do love them so.

You should also look at Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours which I read last week and plan to come back and review properly because I have feelings. It freaked me out.


As far as new (and upcoming) releases go I feel like you should keep an eye out for these babies. I haven’t read any of them, yet (although Today Will Be Different is next on my list) but I want to, because they all sound marvellous.

Today Will Be Different – Maria Semple who wrote Where’d You Go, Bernadette (which I haven’t read but feel like I should) is about a day in the life of one woman, about tackling the little things, and about life often gets in the way of doing just that.

Holding Up the Universe from Jennifer Niven who wrote All the Bright Places because would I be me if I didn’t hit you with a YA rec? It sounds a little Eleanor & Park.

Here I Am, the new novel from Jonathan Safran Foer sounds interesting and relevant and rather excellent and I really liked Extremely Loud so you know, fingers crossed.

The Wonder is the latest from Emma Donoghue which I shall likely read even though I am mad at her because I watched Room recently and my heart broke a little bit.

Ali Smith’s Autumn because hello, it’s called Autumn.

And, GARY OLDMAN and Douglas Urbanski’s BloodRiders. GARY OLDMAN. COWBOYS. VAMPIRES. VAMPIRE COWBOYS. Do I need to say more. It will either be incredible or awful. Or incredibly awful. Frankly, I don’t even care.

So there you have it. I’m back, I think. I have Only Ever Yours to talk about, and I’ve been trying to get my thoughts about The Cursed Child in order for weeks so expect to see me talking about that at some point and I’m reading the new Chris Cleave right now (and I love it, don’t wait for my review: read it now) and my BFF’s baby is one now and is making me want to talk about picture books so that might be a thing and I feel like I might be back to having Things To Say. Hurrahs.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Author Visit: Carys Bray Talks Books




This Tuesday is an excellent Tuesday because I’ve got the lovely Carys Bray – author of the shiny new The Museum of You here to chat about all things bookish. Hurrah!

Carys!  Thank-you so much for stopping by my little corner of the blogosphere; grab a coffee and a jar of Biscoff spread and a spoon and make yourself comfortable.

Before we get started, let’s warm up with a quick fire round.

Ready, steady, GO:

  1. Coffee, tea or…?
Coffee
  1. Favourite film?
Oh, erm – I do like the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I know it’s not strictly a film, but I’ve watched it loads of times!
  1. Favourite book?
It changes, but at the moment I love A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler.
  1. Summer or winter?
Summer
  1. Favourite Colour?
Red
  1. Last thing you ate?
A Magnum ice cream.
  1. Dream holiday destination?
Moab, Utah.
  1. If you could jump to any point in history, who would you have dinner with?
I’d love to have dinner with Carol Shields. I think her novels and short stories are brilliant and it would be great to speak to her about her writing.
  1. How do you like your steak?
I’m a vegetarian, so alive and mooing, living in a field somewhere would be good!
  1. What are your pet peeves?
I hate it when taxis park overnight on both corners of the end of my street, just outside my drive. According to my family, my annoyance is totally disproportionate (but it definitely isn’t – ha!).

I do love that bit! Anyway, on to the proper bookish fun stuff!

Let’s get started.

Firstly, I’ve read The Museum of You (and I thought it was ridiculously wonderful) but for anyone who’s yet to get acquainted with the book, can you tell us a little bit about it?

The Museum of You is the story of Darren and his daughter Clover. Clover is twelve, old enough to spend the summer at home while Darren works, driving a bus between Southport and Liverpool. After a school trip to the Maritime Museum, Clover decides to curate a collection of objects that have been sitting in the second bedroom for years.

I love the whole premise of the book, the way Clover goes about setting up The Museum of You and the way you weave the story she’s discovering for herself with Darren’s. Where did the idea come from?

I was thinking about museums. In my town we lost both our nearest library and nearest museum (the loss of the library was particularly galling – the building that housed it was knocked down and whenever I drive down that road the empty space is there, like a missing tooth). I was thinking about objects and the stories they tell. I’d been to the Titanic Exhibition at Merseyside Maritime Museum and I was fascinated by a display case containing some of the personal effects that had been found at the bottom of the sea. I started to think about curation and what, if anything, we can learn about people from their possessions.


It’s always so excellent when a book is set somewhere you’re familiar with so I loved that Museum of You was set in my neck of the woods – Rivington Pike (about a ten minute drive from my old house), Southport, Formby (which might be my favourite beach ever). Was it a conscious decision to set the book here or did you find Clover and Darren living on your doorstep quite by accident?

It was definitely a deliberate decision. After Issy Bradley, I wanted to set another book in the North West – there wasn’t a reason not to, and we have so many amazing museums here that it was easy to set the book locally.

I can remember a pal of mine telling me about The Lawnmower Museum and thinking she was joking. Have you ever been? What is the best museum you’ve ever visited? Or the weirdest?

I have been! I’m not that into lawnmowers, but the stories really make the museum. I learned that James May of Top Gear once reassembled a particular lawnmower without any instructions. Another lawnmower was pulled by a horse that wore leather shoes so as not to spoil the lawn. And some people like to participate in lawnmower races (12 hour lawnmower races!). My favourite displays involved the ‘lawnmowers of the rich and famous.’ I saw Paul O’Grady’s lawnmower and Eric Morcombe’s Dad’s lawnmower (an object which provoked some serious giggling).

I used to love the Botanic Gardens museum which was close to our house. It was closed in the recent government cuts. The best bit was the taxidermy room which was full of interesting birds and mammals. 

Dagmar. Oh my heart. Talk to me about Dagmar please because I love her, I love her just as much as I love Clover. I actually did contemplate just sending a one question interview that just said ‘Dagmar?’  I want to know about her background and about her friendship with Clover and about what her life was like when she wasn’t with Clover but most of all I just want to know she’s okay.

Dagmar moved to England from the Czech Republic when she was 10. She had a hard time in year 6 at the primary school she attended and she has been having a hard time during her first year of high school too: children call her Dracula and make fun of her accent. Her dad was in the Czech army and experienced some awful things and her mum works long hours in a hotel. Dagmar has had a horrible couple of years, but now that she and Clover are friends, things are looking up for her.


And also Mrs. Mackerel. Is she somebody you know, or did you completely make her up? I’m not even sure which I would prefer. She’s fab by the way. Laugh out loud funny.

I made Mrs Mackerel up, but she was inspired by a funny notebook I inherited from my maternal grandmother. The notebook was full of linguistic mistakes that my grandmother had overheard and jotted down. I decided that Edna Mackerel would make similar mistakes and I started keeping a notebook of my own, writing down funny things I overheard in order to use them in the novel.
Some of the funny things in my grandmother’s notebook came from one of her colleagues at work (she was a teacher).
They included:
“I’m saying this with my tongue in my mouth.”
“There’s a pair of knickers here. I’ve had them on my hands for a fortnight.”
“These three have hit the headlights.”

My own notebook included things my children said:
“I’m just twisting your leg, Mum.”
“He was an “escape goat.”
“It was a racist Shloer.”


The book kind of made me want an allotment; it felt like a kind of catharsis for Darren and for Clover, the allotment – a place they could just go to and be and I love the idea of that. Do you have one?

I do have one and I love it. In 2015 we didn’t need to buy any potatoes or onions for the whole year, which felt very satisfying. I’d love to get better at growing more exciting things like sweetcorn and spinach; that’s my goal this year.

The Museum of You is a different story entirely to your first novel A Song for Issy Bradley although they both deal with loss and grief and the strength of love &your book Sweet Home is a short story collection so a different thing entirely. Which of the books did you find easiest to write, and why?

I loved writing A Song for Issy Bradley because there wasn’t any pressure. I didn’t know if the novel would ever be published and I didn’t think about how it would be received. I just wrote it, and really enjoyed myself in the process. Writing The Museum of You was a very different experience from writing Sweet Home and A Song for Issy Bradley. I knew quite early on in the process that The Museum of You was going to be published which meant that I was working to a deadline and hoping that people who enjoyed my other books would like it. As a result, the process felt quite different.


And is the answer to that question the same as the answer to ‘which is your favourite’ and if not because I’m just a little bit mean, which is your favourite? & I hope that doesn’t make you feel like I’m asking you to choose a favourite child!

Oh, I don’t know! Perhaps Issy Bradley because it was the first book to find a wide range of readers and the one that made me feel like it was okay to begin to describe myself as a writer.

If The Museum of You was a DVD what would the special features be - are there any scenes that ended up ‘on the cutting room floor’ that you can share? *cough*A Dagmar and Clover scene*cough*

The special features would include a few deleted scenes. There was a parent’s evening scene during which Clover attempted to set Darren up with her English teacher. It was pretty excruciating! And there was a scene during which Darren almost thumped someone in a staff training exercise.

Tell us about how you write: do you prefer a loud room or a quiet room; is your manuscript typed or handwritten, do you write during set hours or as the word comes, and at home or some place else? What works best?

I type everything. I like being able to go back and delete things or move them around by copying and pasting text. I work in both loud and quiet places, although I do prefer things to be quiet, if possible. I try to work while my children are at school, but I also work in the evenings and, occasionally, during the night.
 
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new novel about a marriage that goes wrong when one partner starts to believe that the world is ending.

What’s the best writing tip you’ve been given?

Read lots. I think it’s really important to read while thinking about what works and what doesn’t. It’s also very enjoyable!

& because I’m always on the look out for new book recommendations, what are you reading right now?

At the moment I’m reading Modern Lovers by Emma Straub. It’s very entertaining.

& what’s the best book you’ve read this year?

I recently read Jenn Ashworth’s fourth novel, Fell. It’s creepy and disturbing, a haunting evocation of regret, redress and the kindness of strangers, and it’s not quite like anything I’ve read before. It will be published in July 2016.

If you want to read The Museum of You (and you should because it's glorious) then you can grab a copy here.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: When We Were Alive



I have been away for a while again haven’t I? I do so hate it when real life stops me from doing blogging. I’m back now though, my mojo sorta returned and to make up for it I have a list of books I’ve read that I want to talk to you about and maybe even a special guest. We’ll talk about that later though, because right now I wanna talk about this:


I went into CJ Fisher’s When We Were Alive not really sure what to expect.

Do I need to mention that Fisher is also on YouTube under the handle Ophelia Dagger? Most people probably already know that already. I didn’t; I’ve seen her videos but hadn’t realised that this was her. I’m not actually sure how relevant it is, actually, because I’m not here to tell you that you ought to read this book because books by YouTubers are super cool. I’m telling you to read this book because YouTube Channel or not, CJ Fisher is A Very Good Writer. I tell you, for a debut, this is seriously good. In fact, that might be unfair. Probably I should just say that it’s good, because it is.

It’s very wordy, which, well I loved. All the pretty words, all of the time thank-you please, and it’s very cleverly written, with three equally excellent stories interwoven together and taking us from 2011 to the 1970’s to the 1930’s and back again, each voice sharp and unique and strong with a mixture of third person narrative and letters from a young boy to the Mother he doesn’t know. It’s witty and clever and very perceptive and I was gripped. Utterly gripped.

Lemme tell you a bit about it because I’m being vague, and being vague does not a helpful review make.

It’s three stories – I said that already I know, bear with - seemingly unconnected stories, told independently of one another but woven together so intricately that sometimes it makes your breath catch. Themes are repeated and ideologies are repeated and it’s so damn clever that you don’t even realise it right away. I love that.

In 2011 you’ve got Myles. Myles is in his early 20’s and though it’s never explicitly stated you can’t help but think he places somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. He reminds me a little of Charlie a little bit, from Perks. He tells his story, random and wonderful and a little bittersweet as it is, through the letters he pens to the Mum he never knew – gimme all the epistolary stories please – and he’s candid and honest and open even though sometimes he’s a little bit inappropriate and he’s really intriguing. Probably not the most reliable of narrators lets be honest but that’s kind of the appeal.

Then, in the 70’s there’s Will who is on a path to self destruction in a bid to just feel. He gets drunk in a hotel in Vegas and meets a girl. Dawn turns his life upside down. Will’s kind of fascinating, a bit of a train wreck, and you kind of want to help him, to save him, and at the same time (because you know he’s not real) you want to sit back and watch, see where, exactly he’s going to end up.

Then further back still, right back to the 1930’s and Bobby. We meet Bobby when he’s 12 and he’s a misfit and he wants to be a magician and he has no friends but his parents until he meets Rose. Rose who becomes his friend quite by accident and is part of his story through WWII and after and Bobby might be my favourite actually, partly because of the setting of his story and partly because he sort of makes your chest tight. Gah. I love him.

It’s a book about life, skipping from one decade to the next and back again and showing you with no holds barred these snapshots into these three lives and making you root for them, ache for them, believe in them. There are twists and there are turns, there are things you see coming and sometimes you find yourself saying ‘oh hello foreshadowing’ and things that you absolutely did not see coming but at all. It’s not a barrel of laughs (and I know, I hear you say: probably that’s why I liked it so) but it’s a good book. It’s about love and it’s about life and it’s about how with the passage of time some things remain the same even as others change beyond recognition. It’s about how sometimes things look truly fucking awful but you have to find a way to pick yourself up and carry on. It’s a book that wraps it’s arms around you and clings; you can’t help but be absorbed. I cannot wait to see where Fisher goes next.



Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Review: The Museum of You



…Sometimes it’s the wait that’s the best bit isn’t it? Knowing something's coming and enjoying the feeling of it about to happen – like Christmas Eve, which is always better than Christmas Day.’





I think Carys Bray might be one of my most favourite recent authors. I read her debut novel A Song for Issy Bradley in 2014 (I talk about that here) and feel into a book love so hard it took me a while to recover so I was super excited when I learned that she has a new novel out in June. I also got to chat to her last year at one of Jen’s events. She signed a copy of Issy Bradley for me and was just as delightful as I had hoped – it’s always a pleasure isn’t it, when somebody you want to be lovely actually really is. Anyway, point is, I read The Museum of You last week – I finished it last night - and I absolutely adore it. I think it’s the best book I’ve read this year. I kind of want to smoosh it close at the same time as I shove it in the faces of everybody I know with a demand of read this book right immediately right now.

Have a blurb, people like blurbs. I like writing the word blurb.

Blurb.


Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, but now she’s not sure. She’d like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories.
Darren has studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want – everything he can think of, at least – to be happy.
What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is still full of her mother’s belongings. Volume isn’t important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell her the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be.
But what you find depends on what you’re searching for.



It’s so good.

It’s tender and it’s funny and it’s moving and it’s so damn pretty. And honest, unflinchingly honest and full of lines that make you just say, ‘yes, yes¸ exactly that.’


People aren’t speed bumps, you don’t get over them.


Carys has a really strong, really unique voice and it’s one that fits really well with the way that I read, truthful and somehow at the same time simple but intricate and she has this way of getting right into the very heart of her characters. Clover and Darren aren’t just words on a page, they’re like real living breathing people that you feel like you know; that you want to know better. They step right off the page. There’s an exchange in a bedroom over a mug of warm water, between Darren and his Dad that choked me up. The whole damn book choked me up to be honest, but that bit: oh hello tears, where did you come from? It’s just….real. So very real.

Oh, and Dagmar, the little girl in Clover’s class at school. Let me talk to you about Clover and Dagmar because those two girls, I swear, it’s one of the most beautiful perfect depictions of friendship I have ever read. Dagmar. Every single word about her made me feel all of the things and the scene near the end where she quietly confronts Clover about their friendship and what it means, it’s just so perfect and unflinchingly raw. I would like more Dagmar. I want to know the summer from her side. I want to know that she’s going to be ok.

This is a beautiful read.  This is writing as writing should be, it’s so easy to read, picking you up and carrying you gently along, you’re swept away and you don’t even realise it, just like you don’t even realise really how deeply it’s gotten under your skin and how wonderfully complex it is until hours have passed and your chest is tight and you look around to reach for Clover and hold her only to realise she’s not actually real after all.  WHY IS SHE NOT REAL?
It’s like, Carys Bray writes grief and quiet unassuming love like nobody else I can think of, in a way that hurts your heart but at the same time makes you feel hopeful and somehow better.


It’s the same with love, he thinks. It doesn’t go anywhere. You can decrease its volume and increase its density; you can bundle it up, tight, but you still have to lug it around with you.


The Museum of You was like a catharsis I didn’t even know I needed.

Which, I know I know, but surely if you’ve stopped by here before you’re used to me making no sense by now.

This book is sad y’all, it’s really really sad and that’s just a thing that is, and you get deep into it. Deep into Clover and this longing for a Mum she never knew (and God, Clover is so amazing, naïve and at the same time wise beyond her years and curious and so open) and deep into Darren and this struggle to be without Becky, to be everything to his little girl but it’s never sadness for the sake of it and it’s never over the top and it’s never prying. It is at its heart a simple story about love and loss and life, a simple story told in the most beautiful of ways.

Bittersweet. Is that the word? Bittersweet and careful and compassionate and at times so honest it makes your breath catch. This is not a dreary sad times book that’s just going to leave you feeling sad and empty, it’s hopeful and it’s funny and Mrs Mackerel is the most excellent neighbour in the history of ever. Fact. And the ending is gorgeous. Really really gorgeous.

I want you to read this book, please. Please. It's released in June - do yourself a favour and pre-order!