Sunday, 22 October 2017

Fear and Reading in London

It's that time of year where autumn leaves are losing their crunch and we're moving into the soggy, mulchy, grey/black of winter. Suddenly, the seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness hands over to something more depressing and more sinister. Death, ghosts, magic and frost is definitely in the air.

Halloween of course looms at the end of the month, the day when the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is pierced by those that dwell on the other side. You can tell I've been reading...

I have never got into horror as a genre because I give my self nightmares don't see the point in gratuitous fear. But a few years ago I set my self a challenge that for Halloween I would be reading something fitting for the season. This year I am reading The Woman in Black, and it is early days in the book. It's not too bad yet, though I fear something bad may happen to Spider. Don't tell me anything.

The point is I have loved almost all the books I have read so far, but still do not make an effort to make horror/thriller/gothic books part of my everyday diet. People like what they like, and while I think everyone should branch out occasionally, to get a taste of something different and change habits and ruts in their reading, there is nothing wrong with having a favourite or least favourite genre.

Telling ghost stories is an old tradition of celebrating the success of the harvest and buckling up for a long winter. A mindful preparation for the darkness in the world that is coming for us... Telling us to stay close to bonfires and family during the coming months and to treasure them. It is also a fun party game at Halloween to tell a tactile ghost story.

Have fun everyone! Whhooooooohhooo

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Reading List for Halloween

This year I am reading The Woman in Black for Halloween. Since I started this blog I have made sure to read a gothic/scary novel during October to terrify my self as much as possible. Every year I have to think about what to read and so I've decided to put together a reading list to refer to.

I don't usually read horror or scary books, because I am a wimp. I always choose this time of year to make an exception and change my reading habits.

Frankenstein. Read my review of Frankenstein here.
The Monk

Mrs Poe
Heartshaped box
Seven Gothic tales
The Turn of the Screw
The Printer's Devils Court
Poe's short stories

Bonus Podcast. 
I can't listen to this podcast at Halloween or late at night because it is too spooky so if you want chills, down load an episode of LORE.

If anyone has any suggestions of other, perhaps more modern, books to read for Halloween please recommend them to me on twitter @storiesinbooks or in the comments below.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

August Reviews

Bumper crop of reviews this month, I've really got the itch back for reading in bed, that plus a long weekend!

Station Eleven
Emily St.John Mandel
Knopf 2014 Kindle
Amazon Gift Voucher

I have never been a fan of post-apocalyptic stories in books or in films, and have a serious fear of Zombies. When I heard that this book was based on a theoretical pandemic that resets the world to ground zero, I was sceptical. First off, this is a fairly short book and an easy read. Although Mandel jumps around in time a fair amount it is delicately handled and not confusing at all.
the story follows a handful of characters that are all connected to an actor who died of a heart attack on the night that the pandemic broke. How they all fit together is not immediately obvious and the hints and teasing story lines kept me reading into the night. The dangers of developing a new society with new laws and systems without infrastructure or government is very well thought out and the dangers of a new world are certainly very real. It is exciting and thought provoking and interesting and definitely something that I will be recommending to everyone.

Joanne Harris
Penguin 1999 Paperback
Charity Shop

I would rank Joanne Harris among one of my favourite authors. However, I have only read one other book by her: Blackberry Wine. But once again I was enchanted by the writing and the story of Chocolat. There is something comforting and fecund about her writing. food and nature play a huge role in her descriptions which wraps the reader in a cloak of feel-good-ness.
It's literary and beautiful and just a touch on the flowery side it's lovely. It is by no means a 'serious' book, there's no awful story line of tragedy, rape or paedophilia which everything seems to have now. But the story is captivating with interesting and complex characters with solid character arcs and gentle plot twists.
I had the benefit of having seen the film and it is interesting how much MORE I enjoyed the book while able to read it in the narrators soft french lilt. I enjoyed reading this and ripped through it. It's beautiful.

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Penguin 2017 Kindle
Amazon Gift Voucher

Tied winner this month. I read this for a feminist book club at work. But it was also recommended to me by several people. The idea is that one day women discover a power with in them, similar to the electricity of an electric eel. And what they do with that power is explored.
What I found brilliant about this book is that EVERY element of society is explored and with the idea that women hold power rather than men. There is an interesting exploration of sexual power being used for rape or between consenting partners.politics and newly forming nations, rioting and the media. It's incredible.
For anyone who thinks it's too scifi for them, it doesn't feel like science fiction at all. It's a tiny concept. Women have a physical power that they did not have before and everything changes. The world is the same and there it nothing else to suspend your imagination over.
It was an incredible way to get the reader thinking about the structure of society and the arguments that people have regarding the hierarchy of the genders.

Tipping the Velvet
Sarah Waters
Riverheadbooks 2000 Kindle
Amazon Gift Voucher

Recommended by several people and a book that turns up on LGBTQ recommended reading lists. I've read Fingersmith by Sarah Waters before and loved it, so I don't know what I expected but it was definitely more lewd than I was expecting and a step on from Fingersmith. Although I enjoyed reading it, I would have reservations about recommending this to other people. I think it's the prude in me. On the other hand maybe everyone should be confronting their feelings about sexual relationships and sexuality.
But it started beautifully, the writing is glorious throughout, describing Nancy's home life in Kent and her simple cares. Falling in love and heading to London for a host of adventures was exciting to read about and definitely a page turner. I was very interested in the attitudes of society and people of the time, as portrayed in the book. There was an odd mix of terror of being discovered and quiet acceptance from other people of your choices. It's a interesting story and does not go the way that you think it will at all, which is typical Sarah Waters.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

One Word. One Week. One Writer

Last month I mentioned as one of my favourite ways to get myself writing. It reminded me that I had not visited the website for a few years and I've decided to give my self a writing challenge. Every day for 1 week I will write for 60 seconds from a prompt on Oneword and publish the results here! I have recently discovered they only update the website every OTHER day, but I have still done 6!

The gray metal nose of the barrel swung towards him as if sniffing him out of the darkness. Twin holes gleamed with oil. The barn door seemed to creek endlessly as it hung heavily on its hinges. The muscles in his legs jumped and strained along with the sound as he crouched low in the cab of the tractor.

Hakuna Matata or is it the other one?
Beatles hair cuts and barbershop voices in the jungle.
The 'what do you want to do?' conundrum,
that's what friends are for.

Hacking desperately on the tube, and turning away to choke as quietly as possible (impossible) into a sleeve, the girl looked exhausted. She gave a weak smile to a friend as she tried to draw a full breath. Her thumb popped the lid of a water bottle, but before she could raise it to her lips the cough was back.

The man was built from wood and wicker, standing, legs spread in the desert. Ready to burn in the darkness, under endless stars. He is everyone, leaving ash and dust on the winds and hardly a mark on the earth.

The bar of chocolate lay beside her right wrist, unopened. Rebecca imagined that the smell of the peppermint fondant in its milk chocolate shell escaping its vacuum seal. Her mouth watered as she pounded out the words. Another 50 and a bite of the bar would be her prize.

Something in me cracked when we ended things and I feel everything deeply. There's something unlocked in my heart, you taught me how to feel and then broke me. Kintsugi. With a new love, I am mended with gold.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Reading Time

Have you ever felt that there is not enough time? I feel like I am squeezing everything I can into a few daylight hours and craving more and more rest time. One of the reasons I love reading as a hobby is that it is a luxury in time. I have to find those minutes and hours in the day to dedicate to reading and nothing else. It serves the same purpose as meditation for me, turning my brain off and worrying about nothing over my lunch hour and my commute, even though I know I should be doing those little chores like getting shoes re-heeled or going to the bank.

I think people find it difficult to find the time to read because it feels like a decadent activity, suddenly reading becomes wasted time in a busy life. We know that it is not healthy to be so stressed and rushing to the next thing. It is healthy to devote time to doing nothing. Finding time to squeeze in some reading can make me feel so much better about my week. 

If reading is not something that you enjoy then of course, why waste time doing something that you do not enjoy. Luxury should not be arduous or a chore. Everyone has a way to switch off: playing video games, running, exercise, meditation, cooking. This time is where you're not brooding over a problem or on your way somewhere or socialising. This empty beautiful time is so good for our mental health and it is easy to forget how good it makes you feel. Opening a book is like buying time away from my seemingly endless to do list and clearing my mind to disappear into another world. 

If you've slipped out of your reading habits because you "don't have time" I urge you readers to find that time again. In my darkest days I could not read, my depression had taken away my enjoyment of reading, and when I came back to it after turning a corner for the better, the relief and help I got from picking up a book again was so much better than any meditation app. Don't waste time by NOT reading, and make time for that mental luxury. Enjoy. 

"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." - Bertrand Russell

Thursday, 31 August 2017

July 2017 Reviews

The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood
1985 Kindle
Amazon gift voucher

When I was given a gift voucher for my birthday and told I had to spend it on books, there was little problem choosing what I would go for. Unlike most people, I have no issue with TV or Film adaptations of novels. Although I would probably prefer to read the book first, if I see the film and then get around to the book, I don't feel the same outrage or bile about it either way. I had just finished watching all ten of the MGM studio production of The Handmaid's Tale, starring Elizabeth Moss, and was ready to see what the original ideas were on paper.

My kindle copy started with a foreword from Atwood herself after the series had aired, and while I found it really interesting to hear her musings on her own work and the adaptation, and although I had already seen the show, there were a number of spoilers in it! Anyway, I read swiftly on and was quickly immersed in the story.

It is gripping and overwhelming which is why I have put it on a list of books I would read again. I feel like I was washed with horror of the society and I need to steel myself and read it again soon with a closer reading. No wonder it is studied in schools.

The Muse
Jesse Burton
Picador 2016 Kindle
Amazon gift voucher

A vast improvement on The Miniaturist but gaining less traction than her first book, The Muse explores the history of a mysterious painting. With two timelines running alongside each other, when the painting was made in 30s Spain and the discovery in the present day 60s London the fate of the painting and its artist is slowly revealed. The best thing about The Miniaturist is that it was a well written page turner of a book and The Muse has the same quality.

Where The Miniaturist fell down was two many story lines, too many plot twists, and a hint of magical realism that ended up not being magical at all, which was very disappointing. The Muse felt a little stunted in terms of imagination in this respect, while the Miniaturist felt like an incredible story that in the end got wound up too simply, The Muse was stripped down and in the end too quite a predictable turn although there was one twist in the tale.

Although the marketing doesn't really reflect this, I think The Muse is the more readable text but it lacks the flair and imagination that The Miniaturist had. Burton could explore the wilder side of her story lines but tie them up as neatly as The Muse.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Beat Writer's Block

We all struggle with writer's block sometimes. Be it when writing job applications, an important email, or even a text to a friend, all of this writing can be difficult. I enjoy writing, but am very critical of my self, which is why sometimes I need these tricks to help me take the first step on the road to writing something, be it poetry or prose.

Here are some writing tips that I use for when I need a nudge:

Oneword - the website that gives you a single word to write on for 60 seconds. It's just the pick me up that you need to be inspired to write. I've got little paragraphs here and there that are slotted into a story that came from one word first.

Stream of consciousness writing can also be helpful, set a timer for 15 minutes and start to write. the struggle is always starting, but once you start it will come even if you start with: I don't know what to write right now. There is a website that simulates this called write or die, which is a fun way to stimulate yourself.

Find a headline and make up your own story. Local papers and red tops usually have headlines that have minimal information and a pun to work with.

Make a story board. My trouble is often when I start I just start from the middle of a scene I've had an idea from and I struggle to then piece together the plot and B characters around this idea. So I've also found that when I start to build that kind of thing first, I often get excited about one thread of the story I'm following and will end up writing that scene.

Try NaNoWriMo. If deadlines and structure are your thing, it's nearly time to join thousands of writers who use National Novel Writing Month (November) to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It's a great way to get a first draft of a book if you work well to that pressure or think you need it!

Of course, my number one recommendation to get inspired is to read something beautiful. The best thing is to revisit something you love that will remind you why you love to read and to write. Poetry works well for me, but might be a favourite novel that you pick up.