Monthly Archives: June 2013

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson

BeforeIGoToSleepI bought Before I Go To Sleep on the recommendation of friend who read it for our workplace reading group. I haven’t joined the reading group (I go to the knitting/crochet/sewing group and prefer to select my books according to my mood) but I’ve had some good recommendations from them and this has to be the best so far.

If you one of the few people left in the world who hasn’t read this book do. Christine wakes up in a strange man’s bed and thinks she must have had a drunken one night stand. Mortified, she goes to the bathroom and sees a stranger’s face staring back at her. Christine learns that she has a very specific form of amnesia following an accident. Whenever she falls asleep, her memory resets itself. But if she can’t remember the people she loves, how can she know who to trust?

This brilliantly written book is a must for anyone who enjoys a thriller. The author’s debut novel it won The Crime Writer’s Association for Best Debut Novel and The Galaxy National Book Award for Crime Thriller of the Year. Apparently a film is in the works with such names as Nicole Kidman, Mark Strong and Anne-Marie Duff but I really recommend you read the book first. You will not be disappointed- I was squeaking in horror and anxiety at times.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

age of miraclesImagine that the earth’s rotation slowed, so that days gradually became longer. It might happen in minutes at first and you wouldn’t even notice, but what about when it started increasing in hours, twenty-five hours, twenty-seven hours, thirty hours… how would society cope?

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel is said to have sparked a huge bidding war among publishers, and though there have been criticisms of both the science behind the slowing and elements of her writing style, you can see why it has generated such excitement. The prose is matter of fact and the narrative voice ideally suited to her eleven year old narrator Julia for whom the slowing is juxtaposed against her teenage concerns of being dumped by her best friend and having a crush on the remote Seth who by turns blows hot and cold. I found it particularly interesting as a piece of apocalyptic fiction as the focus is very much on how life goes on and mankind struggles to adapt, where they can, if they are able. As temperatures soar during days which last weeks in clock time and then plummet during the endless nights, weather becomes more violent and unpredictable, food becomes scarce. It’s easy to read as a warning about climate change with seabirds and marine life dying off first, but it doesn’t feel especially rammed down your throat.

I bought The Age of Miracles on a visit back in Wales a few weeks ago, when the days were getting longer but the weather was bad enough to convince you that we were still in the grip of winter. Reading it on the train back to Oxford was a really disconcerting experience, as the light evening contrasted against the miserable weather almost made me believe that the slowing really was occurring.

I’d certainly recommend this as a good read for anyone who enjoys young adult fiction, and I wouldn’t let the science behind the slowing bother you either. I saw a news broadcast on the BBC the other day which basically said that scientists still can’t explain or predict the movement of the jet stream, even though they’re working really, really hard.

Sometimes I think it’s good to accept that some things are still beyond our understanding.

Fangirling over Sophie Hannah

Looking back through old posts I don’t think that I’ve said anything about Sophie Hannah, which is a massive oversight because I think she’s amazing. I’ve been feeling really sucky with a virus recently, so I decided to read Hurting Distance last night as I always enjoy her books. Chilling, compelling and genius once again… though I have to admit that I’m a bit embarrassed because I bought it for my boyfriend’s mother for her birthday before I read it. I knew it would be amazing, I just didn’t realise there would be a rape scene. You live you learn.

I started reading Sophie Hannah’s novels with The Point of Rescue so I’ve gotten the Zailer/Waterhouse narrative a little muddled, but even on the rare occasions that I’ve been able to predict elements of what is going to happen from information I’ve gleaned by reading the books in the wrong order, I’m still totally blown away by some plot twist and the final reveal. Her books are messed up. And I mean that as the highest compliment. Zailer and Waterhouse, brilliant but deeply flawed detectives who need each other more than they are willing to admit, are fantastic characters who give the books a narrative unity throughout the series. The crime stories are deliciously twisted, if you like thrillers then you have to read them.

Having discovered Hannah’s novels, I moved on to her short stories which are some of the best I’ve ever read. I read The Octopus Nest (from The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets) with my A-level students when I was still teaching and it was brilliant hearing the gasps. I really believe it takes more skill to write a good short story than it does to write a good novel, and Sophie Hannah is a modern master of the genre.

Anyway, that’s enough fangirling from me. I’ll be off to buy The Carrier tomorrow.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led The Revels There

the girl who fell beneath fairylandIf The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making is to be compared to The Wizard of Oz for its tale of astounding journeys, unlikely friendships and a plucky heroine standing up to a sinister figurehead, then The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led The Revels There must be compared to Alice Through The Looking Glass.

Returning to Fairyland, September finds that the magic is bleeding away as shadows fall away from their owners and seep into the dark realms of fairyland below. Being a plucky lady, September is forced to investigate and finds herself in a strange land of anarchy and mischief, accompanied by the shadows of A-through-L and Saturday who, while looking a lot like her friends, aren’t quite the friends that September remembers.

Another plucky, darkly amusing novel from Catherynne M Valente. I can’t wait to read the final instalment of the trilogy.

Story Spotting Weekend in Cornwall

Fowey Hall Hotel image from Tripadvisor

My boyfriend and I have just returned from a long weekend in Cornwall staying at Fowey Hall Hotel which Toad Hall in Wind in The Willows is said to be based on. The hotel is really pretty and a great place to stay, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It doesn’t overtly show off its Wind in The Willows connection, but there are subtle touches if you keep an eye out (room names, toads in the drawing-room, breakfast menus decorated with motor cars filled with woodland creatures…) I was delighted that our room was called Ratty.


Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn Courtyard

On our way home today we went past The Jamaica Inn of Daphne Du Maurier fame. I am a massive fan of Daphne Du Maurier, and kind of see her books as the natural progression for any Bronte fan, so it was really interesting interesting to see the Inn that inspired the novel, but the inside was really disappointing. As most of the trade is probably going to be from tourists who want to see the Inn made famous by the book, I guess you don’t have to do very much to keep them coming, though the website is really slick and it runs as a hotel so I had quite high hopes for the Inn itself. The food was school canteen horrible and the lack of atmosphere was made worse by some cartoonish waxworks in the smugglers’ bar, a noisy fridge, fruit machines, radio 1 blaring and bored teenage staff loudly gossiping about their Saturday nights while ignoring the customers. A bit of a let down, which was so disappointing considering how brilliant it could be with just a little bit of effort.

Daphne Du Maurier Desk

Daphne Du Maurier’s Writing Desk

Fortunately, the Smuggler’s Museum at The Jamaica Inn was quite interesting and the lady working on the entrance desk was lovely. I got to see Daphne Du Maurier’s desk which was a bonus, but if you go, I would almost be tempted to skip the inn itself until they can do proper catering and just take a picnic to eat outside. Though if you want to be authentic, you should skip food altogether and wander around the moors in driving winter rain.

Quote me on that… people who sneer at fiction

pleasure in a good novel Austen

Picture courtesy of ShutterHack on Flickr

Facebook is pretty annoying, but when you take out the equation the big, worse-than-annoying stuff you see (racism, homophobia, etc.) by unfriending people, one of the most annoying things I’ve ever seen was someone who wrote in their favourite books section: “I don’t read fiction, I prefer to spend my time on things which actually have some relevance in the world.”

I had to count to ten. And breathe deeply. And swore anyway.

It really annoys me when people just dismiss books as being trivial. They aren’t. This is why books are still banned and still get burned. People are scared of the ideas they contain because they have meaning and power. But you’ve no doubt heard this all before so I will leave you with an appropriate put down from Jane Austen, which you must deliver in your best impersonation of Downton Abbey’s Lady Grantham the next time you see someone utter something so dismissive.

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey