Tag Archives: reading

The Skylight by Louise Candlish for Quick Reads 2021

Simone has a secret.

She likes to stand at her bathroom window and spy on the perfect couple downstairs, living their perfect lives through their skylight. She knows what they eat for breakfast, who they have over for dinner, all the minute details of their lives.

Which seems harmless until voyeuristic Simone realises that her partner, Josh, is having an affair with downstairs neighbour Alina whenever her husband is away on business, and decides to teach her a lesson….

Happy 15th Anniversary to Quick Reads from The Reading Agency! I was gifted a copy of The Skylight by Louise Candlish as a promotion of this scheme but have ordered the remaining titles from Waterstones because I think it’s such an wonderful idea. One in six adults in the UK finds reading difficult, and quick reads is designed to support these readers by offering inspiring books for emergent readers who have fallen out of the reading habit.

Every year, a new selection of quick reads across a range of genres is published, and for every title sold until July 31st 2021, the Reading Agency donates a title to help support adult readers. Each title only costs £1 so for the cost of a standard paperback, you could net six new books while donating the same number to those who need them most. This year’s selection of titles includes:

The Baby is Mine by Oyinkan Braithwaite

The Skylight by Louise Candlish

Saving the Day by Katie Fforde

Wish You Were Dead by Peter James

How to Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

The Motive by Khurrum Rahman

The Quick Reads books are chosen with the intention of inspiring less confident adult readers, but the writing is still of an excellent quality, with stories that pack a punch in short novella form. I’d argue that they aren’t just great for adults seeking to improve their literacy but anyone who finds themselves pushed for time to read – I know these would have been a life line for me when my daughters were tiny, and the small format means that they’re light and easy to carry around in a handbag or changing bag.

How to Make a Bookish Penguin Gift Tag

If you’re friends with a bookworm, the chances are they are a massive penguin fan and will have a collection of vintage penguin books (guilty) or some kind of penguin lifestyle item hanging around their house.

What better way to jazz up a book that you’ve bought them for Christmas than this handmade bookish penguin gift tag which doubles up as a unique bookmark that can be enjoyed long after the rest of the wrapping has gone?

To make a bookish penguin gift tag you will need:

  • Pencil
  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Old book page
  • Cardboard (I used white watercolour paper and gold card)
  • Black paint
  • Fine paintbrush
  • Glue
  • Decorative twine or ribbon

How to make a bookish penguin gift tag:

  1. Sketch out your penguin onto a piece of plain paper. When you’re happy with the design, turn your paper over and shade heavily with a graphite pencil. Hold this over your book page and pressing heavily on the paper, draw over the penguin so that the image transfers like the one below.

2. Using black paint and a fine brush, carefully go over your pencil lines then fill in the black parts of the penguin on the book page.

3. When your penguin has dried, cut out an oval of paper which fits around the penguin and trace the shape around your penguin to give it a good border. Cut this shape out and stick it onto a white card background.

4. Cut around the oval to create a white border and then stick the bordered oval onto another shade of card of your choice. I chose gold to make it feel Christmassy. Once these have dried, make a small hole in the top of the card and thread with decorative twine or ribbon to allow you to use it as a tag or as a bookmark.

 

The Best Book Subscription Boxes

If you’ve dipped even your little toe in the murky waters of social media recently, I’ll bet that you’ve seen an advert for some kind of subscription service. From make up to meat, surprises to sanitary towels (no, really) it seems that there’s a subscription box for almost everything, though until recently a monthly box for book lovers has been a pipe dream for those in the UK.

But no more! There are now a wide range of book subscription services for bookworms in the UK, so you don’t have to pay a huge postage fee to enjoy a monthly book box from across the pond. And, dare I say it, it seems to me that UK bookworms actually have a more grown up selection of book subscription packages to choose from?

I’ve selflessly gone out of my way to test a few of these (best month ever) and am able to give you a round-up of the best book subscription boxes the UK has to offer. Curated by small teams of imaginative, talented and hardworking bookworms, they really are all fantastic:

Bookishly

bookishly subscription unboxing review

If you’ve ever had wall art envy for an amazing framed literary quote, you’ve probably come across a print from Bookishly. They’ve recently branched out from creating word art with Vintage books and have created a book club that sends out a monthly package containing a vintage book, a luxury tea sample from Jenier World of Tea and a curated item of stationery. If you know a bookworm who loves to curl up with an old book and a cup of tea before writing a thank you note on beautiful stationery, then the Bookishly book subscription is the gift for them. Or you, if you fit that description.

 

Illumicrate

illumicrate subscription unboxing review

Curated by Daphne at Winged Reviews, Illumicrate is the new heavyweight on the book subscription box market and it really packs a punch. Filled with items that match the Illumicrate ethos of “fun, beautiful and geeky” this larger subscription box is released monthly. The perfect gift for a reader who is passionate about their contemporary and young adult literature, the former teacher in me also thinks it would be the perfect way to lure a reluctant reader into exploring literary worlds.

 

Owl and Bear Gift Company

owl and bear gift company book subscription review

If you’re looking for a special gift for a loved one but don’t necessarily share their literary tastes, the Owl and Bear Gift Company Book Subscription service can help you out. Specialists in genre book subscriptions, they have a package to tickle every bookworm’s fancy whether they are young or old, or if their passion is for horror, thrillers or romance. If you’re not even sure exactly what kind of books your intended recipient prefers, they can still help you out with their bespoke subscription service which builds a package based on the recipient’s favourite authors.

 

The Willoughby Book Club

willoughby book club subscription review unboxing

Founded by Adam and Chloe Pollard in 2012, The Willoughby Book Club provides a personalised book subscription service with some really clever package options. Not only do they provide a Contemporary and Classic packages for those who want to hone their reading in a particular direction, they also provide hobby subscription packages for cooks, gardeners and natural historians. The Willoughby package I like the sound of most is, sadly, not for me… The Couples Book Club package which sends out two copies of the same novel so that you can read it together and discuss it. My boyfriend may make wonderful cups of tea and buy me the books I am embarrassed to be seen with in bookshops, but a reader he is not! Still, I think it would make a great gift to share with a close friend and it really is a genius idea.

Quote me on that… a half-finished book

A half-read book is a half-finished love affair

Image based on an original by Jain Basil Aliyas under the terms of Creative Commons license.

I loved Frobischer’s character in David Mitchell’s The Cloud Atlas. Everything about his characterization was perfect but I loved the “A half-read book is a half-finished love affair” line. I think it’s something every reader can relate to. Unless the book was by James Joyce, in which case it was almost certainly a dead-end relationship and you’re better off without it….

I will try reading Joyce’s books again one day. But I will need the world’s biggest cup of tea and a huge plate of biscuits to hand.

1000 novels that everyone must read?

A friend sent me a link to this reading list on The Guardian billed as “1000 books that everyone must read a definitive list” telling me that it made her miserable  because she hadn’t even heard of most of them. Granted that these lists are supposed (I suppose) to be a little aspirational, but it does make you wonder who decides what should be included on these lists. The Guardian’s Review team and a panel of expert judges apparently.

It’s not really an Everyman’s List, and it’s interesting to see that a lot of the “100 Best Books” titles seem to have been left off in favour of a disproportionate amount of the Amises, Perec and Smollet. Which instantly gives you the impression that the panel weren’t looking at populist fiction.

I’m beginning to fear that a lot of these lists are designed to allow a select set of individuals to preen their intellectual plumage rather than offer suggestions for great reads for the rest of us.

Reading Glasses

Reading GlassesI dream of having eyesight good enough to forget my glasses, but really liked this idea that I saw when we went for Sunday dinner in a local pub called The Greyhound recently. Patrons who forget their reading glasses can borrow a pair from the bowl to allow them to enjoy their book/paper while they enjoy their drink or wait for their meal. Perfect!

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

 

Christmas Book Haul

I’m sure (ahem) that you’ve been waiting in a state of frenzied anticipation to see what books my family and friends got me for Christmas. I’ve finally managed to get my lazy bum in gear and dig out the camera to share the book love… ta da!

How lucky am I?

How lucky am I?

A definite fairytale theme going on. I’m looking forward to reading them all.

Monkeys with Typewriters- Scarlett Thomas

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you may have found me banging on about my girl crush on Scarlett Thomas. I had a brief wobble over Our Tragic Universe but, after reading Monkeys with Typewriters, I am fully back on board with declaring her a genius. I started reading towards the tail  end of October and  37 pages in (when I learned that The Matrix is a retelling of Plato’s Cave) I decided that I couldn’t even think of attempting NaNoWriMo without finishing the book.

If you’re a writing enthusiast, reading enthusiast or have a crush on Scarlett Thomas, then I recommend you read it too.

Though by night Thomas is a pretty clever author who writes really interesting books, by day she is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Kent University and I have to say, her teaching experience really comes across in the text. Not only does she pitch her tone really well for the novice writer- engaging, encouraging and constructive, but she includes a lot of practical advice that I hadn’t read in any other books which profess to help you write better. And I have to say, I’ve read quite extensively in this area- from text books for Open University writing courses to books aimed at a general readership in the trade market, I have dipped into a lot of books attempting to inhabit this niche. I can honestly say, to use a £50 pound cliché (you’ll have to read the book) that Thomas’ blows them out of the water.

Where most books will focus on picking a subject and target readership or describing a banana in a truly novel way, Thomas’ book gets down to the nitty gritty of why some plots work and some plots just don’t. Though the latter half of the book does examine sentence level writing, characterisation and the writing process, the first half of the book is entirely devoted to narrative- exploring structure, cause and effect, basic plots and narrative styles showing how well constructive stories get the reader’s attention and poorly constructed stories lose both their interest and sympathy. What I especially liked about this was how clearly this was explained and how carefully it was illustrated through the examples chosen. I never felt that I was being patronised, Thomas’ tone may be friendly, but the book is well grounded in grown up land with references to Aristotle, Chekhov, Propp and Stanislavski. I found the discussion of Stanislavski’s system especially interesting, as I’ve always thought that his methods were only really of relevance in theatre studies and the dramatic arts, but really it makes total sense that understanding what he says about finding the emotional truth would equally apply to a writer… It all sounds very simple, but that’s the genius of this book. It helps you understand and makes you see where you haven’t exactly been going wrong, but haven’t excelled yourself either.

I’ve been reading sections aloud to my friends and family for a while now. I also impressed my colleagues when we were talking about Plato’s Cave and I was able to explain how The Matrix is basically the same story.

If you do want to read an alternative view, I follow The Guardian on Twitter, and a pretty wanky review from Leo Benedictus (no, I hadn’t heard of him either)popped up in my twitter feed shortly before I started the book. In it, the reviewer questions who the book is for (well, novice writers… anyone wanting to improve their writing or starting writing for the first time with little formal training…)and questions what he’ll get from it. But as he is a published author (I sometimes wonder if super snipey reviews are there to promote one’s own work rather than discuss that of others…) I hardly think he’s the target market. Either way, I think he’s totally missed the point.

I would have recommended this to my A-level students when teaching, and I wish I had read it when I was doing my OU course. It is certainly something that I will continue to refer to whenever I dabble with writing again.

If you read this book and fancy joining me in my appreciation of Ms Thomas, I recommend you also check out PopCo (it actually got me interested in maths) and The End of Mr Y.

Author Natasha Mostert talks about her Favourite Book

The task of choosing a favourite book is daunting because there are so many books I love and look to for inspiration. But Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea is the novel I reach for whenever I feel my prose turning stale and predictable. It is the most haunting story written in the most beautiful language. There are two sentences in this book, which to me sums up the appeal of the novel: “It was a beautiful place – wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness. And it kept its secret.” Every time I finish reading this book, I feel as though I have visited a magic place that will continue to enchant me no matter how many times I visit, even as it stays wholly mysterious.

Rhys’s novel functions as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I read Jane Eyre many years before Sargasso Sea and even then the “mad woman in the attic” fascinated me. In Sargasso Sea the destructive lunatic in Bronte’s novel is revealed as the beautiful, vulnerable and yes — mentally fragile — Antoinette Cosway, who descends into madness as her relationship with Mr. Rochester disintegrates. It is a book that deals with themes of racial inequality, displacement and the toxic attraction between one man and the woman he desires, even as he is repelled by the very sensuality of her nature, which captivated him in the first place. A stunning read.

Visit Natasha at her website (which has one of the coolest front pages I’ve seen in a long time) or on her Facebook page. I’ve said it before, but if you’re interested in reading supernatural fiction with a grown up edge, a good starting point is Natasha’s Season of the Witch. I’m also looking forward to reading Dark Prayer.