I’m currently reading …


Moranthologyby Caitlin Moran

I am no longer blogging at Novel Insights, but that doesn’t mean you can’t follow me on Twitter @Novel_Insights.

I’ll also be guest-posting now and then on Savidge Reads‘ wonderful blog so look out for me yonder!

First Resolution of the Year: Not Blogging!

Well firstly, I’d like to wish everyone a massive Happy New Year!

I personally am very excited about 2013. As with every year, I expect that there will be ups and downs, but I am hopeful that it will be a good one. There will be wedding bells for my fiance and I, and a place of our own! I am also keeping my fingers and toes crossed that there are good times in store for some of my nearest and dearest who have had a tough couple of years.

So, on to the main topic of this post. A farewell to blogging.


Geek alert! I take my New Year’s resolutions seriously. I know that I can set a goal at any time of the year, however I also find that as the year draws to a close, and the holiday provides a bit of extra time for thought and reflection, it is helpful for me to consider what I want to keep and to change in my life.

Over the past few months, I’ve had a recurring hunch that it might be time to give up blogging, so finally last night I sat down and penned the following pros / cons list:

To blog, or not to blog...

Novel Insights has evolved quite a bit since the early, earnest days. I’ve been blogging for four years now. I’ve loved the opportunity to express myself and to learn, and enjoyed developing my thoughts about books that I have read as well as spamming the interweb with various bits of personal waffle – knitting, running, baking – yes blogging has revealed my (not so) secret granny side!

But the past year, Novel Insights has been on a visible wind-down (hence the recent blogging break), partly because I’ve been busy, but perhaps more because if I’m being honest, then I’m just not as motivated as I once was.

I won’t rule out taking up blogging again sometime in the future, but the conclusion that I’ve come to is that it is just not right for me now.

So, I’m drawing a line under it.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite personal literary moments:

  1. Being introduced to some of the more obscure / forgotten authors by Simon of Stuck In a Book. My favourite: The Vet’s Daughter, by Barbara Comyns
  2. Being entirely baffled and frustrated by Kafka, and Calvino which made me feel like something of a philistine! Challenging: The Trial, and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller
  3. Some fabulous book group reads. I loved: Middlesex, Never Let me Go, and How To Be a Woman 
  4. Being seduced by Sensation Novels courtesy of Savidge Reads (who introduced me to blogging in the first place!). The best female villain award goes to: Lydia Gwilt, in Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Thank you to everyone who has read and shared their thoughts on Novel Insights, and warmest wishes for a fantastic 2013.

Over and out…


Novel Insights.

Seasons Greetings

As I’m reading A Christmas Carol, I thought I’d share one of Arthur Rackham’s cheerful illustrations today – Mr and Mrs Fezziwig having fun dancing together.

Wherever you are and whoever you are with, I hope you have a wonderful day!


Mellow Yellow Meyer Lemon Drizzle Cake

Thank you to everyone who posted suggestions on my when life gives you lemons…” post asking what to do with the fruit from my Meyer Lemon tree. The one that really took my fancy was the idea of making a Lemon Drizzle Cake, and I did just that on Sunday.




Cooling on a wire rack after being drenched in a glossy lemony syrup:



Lemony icing sugar is drizzled on top:



Ready to eat!



It was a really delicious and light and fluffy – although more a testament I think to this excellent recipe than my baking. I’d like to think Mary Berry would be proud.

I have a couple of littler lemons ripening still on the tree so I’ll save those for that G&T…

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

5 stars5/5

The Song of Achilles is the first book that I have read in recent months that has really transported me to another world. I was so
wrapped up in the story, that I was thinking about it frequently in between picking up my Kindle.

The Song of Achilles

Bloomsbury, 2012 Kindle Edition, 368 pages – book group choice

That might simply make you question my reading choices, however recently I have read books that were well written, or interesting, but they haven’t inspired as much pleasure in reading as Madeline Miller’s book did. It takes a particular quality of writing to really whisk me away. I can count probably on my fingers those that have. Examples, off the top of my head would be Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Middlesex, The Night Circus and of course Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca or Jamaica Inn.

I loved reading Greek myths as a child and studied classics at school so it would be fair to say that I’m pre-disposed to enjoy this kind of novel. I do believe though, that it is accessible to anyone and might even inspire an interest in mythology in readers who haven’t read stories of this kind. Essentially it is simply a story of love and of war…but mainly of love.

The quality of Madeline Miller’s storytelling is the thing that really stands out for me. She often embellishes and intrigues the reader with fleeting references to other greek heroes, gods and goddesses, but never lets detail get in the way of the flow of the tale. Her descriptions are often lush and sensual, such as Patroclus, watches Achilles eating ripe figs:

“…the dark flesh parting to pink seeds under his teeth. The fruit was perfectly ripe, the juice brimming”.

I cared about her characters – tenacious Briseis, kind Patroclus with his constant but gentle love for Achilles – and enjoyed the sparring between the proud warriors.

I don’t know accurate it is from a scholarly perspective and I know
Miller takes some liberty with the stories (which she freely admits),
but she has obviously taken care to really research before elaborating
on the original tales. Just like in The Red Tent, the author has taken a
fleeting piece of the original and then expanded it, adding her own
creative flourish – you could say, in Homeric style.

A wonderful novel, and an absolute pleasure to read.

Chasing Bawa and Savidge Reads and Farmlanebooks also loved this novel if you want to find out what they thought!

When life gives you lemons…

It’s been pretty busy the last couple of weeks what with the new job, so I thought I’d pop by quickly to share a picture of my lovely Meyer Lemon tree (actually my fiancé’s but I take care of it!) which is looking splendid. It’s the first time I’ve ever really grown, or kept something growing successfully.

Anyone got any good ideas about what I should do with the first fruit of my labours? So far gin and tonic or pancakes with lemon and sugar is all I have come up with..!



Happy Birthday Bram Stoker

Oooh. What a fabulous design on Google today.

If you haven’t read it, then Dracula is available for free for download on Kindle.

Happy Birthday Mr Stoker – 165 years today – a mere infant in Vampire years…

Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan

4 stars


If you are a fan of Ian McEwan’s writing then Sweet Tooth shouldn’t disappoint.

Jonathan Cape, 2012 edition, 336 pages – gift

Set in the early 1970s in the shadow of the Cold War and IRA violence, the story follows Sylvia Frome, an attractive and bright young woman as she muddles her way through Cambridge university and then after a brief affair with an older man, tries to find her feet in the secret service. At a time when women were considered most usefully employed as paper-shufflers or secretaries Sylvia’s expectations are fairly low until she becomes involved in a special mission to seed literature with appropriate political undertones into public consciousness.

Sylvia is a likeable character – passionate about reading and knowledge. She has a quality about her which Spark’s Miss Brodie might call ‘instinctive’. She doesn’t always seem to know what path she is treading but makes the best of what is given to her. She doesn’t pass as a true ‘heroine’ because she isn’t quite formidable or solid enough – the reason for this lies at the end of the novel.

I admit that I was thrown a bit by what I expected from the novel (from the premise and early part of the story). I would recommend that you don’t pick this up thinking ‘ooh Ian McEwan does female James Bond!’ Sweet Tooth is really much more a book about character development, the feeling of a certain era and literature, with the spying element being more of a vehicle for this. Have I confused you enough with that explanation?

The pace of the novel is fairly leisurely and McEwan – skilled writer as he is – uses language to create sounds, scents and to pull the reader into his character’s memories. I marked the page for this short but lovely sentence;

“It became one of those childhood paradise places burnished by nostalgia”.

I found it fascinating to read about how the government tried to influence people’s political views through literature, especially in light of some of the recent discussions I’ve heard since the Olympics about China’s use of “Soft Power” to increase it’s national profile worldwide.

It is worth mentioning that critics of Sweet Tooth, would probably say that it doesn’t really go anywhere concrete, and some readers may feel tricked by McEwan. It won’t be for everyone (especially if you are  looking for a thriller) but I really enjoyed this, perhaps because I rather like to be led down unexpected paths when I’m reading.

An enjoyable and surprising read for me, and thanks Simon for giving me a copy for my birthday – his review is here.

Have you read or would you like to read Sweet Tooth?

In the post…

A exciting week is ahead for me as today was my first day in my new job (lovely people and fab office – good start!). I’ve still got a pretty serious commute so plenty of time for reading (currently I’m totally absorbed in The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller) and possibly blogging as I have a nice light laptop courtesy of work.

So it’s just a quick post today to share some lovely arrivals in the post:

Firstly, I was delighted to receive a lovely new edition of The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov and The Intelligent Woman’s Guide: To Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, by George Bernard Shaw (both Alma Classics) – I’m hoping that The… Guide is one that I can just dip into rather than read cover to cover as I do normally prefer novels, however I do also love George Bernard Shaw. Also a copy of My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante which looks dauntingly chunky but interesting.


I’m very excited about my tickets to Sleeping Beauty. I’ve seen a couple of other Matthew Bourne’s adaptations courtesy of Mr Savidge Reads and really enjoyed them. Plus it’s just the thing for the Christmas season.


Finally, the DVD of Jane Eyre, arrived from Love Film so that’ll be one to curl up with at the end of my busy week 🙂

Has anyone read or seen any of my new arrivals?

And here are the books I read while I was away…

Over the past few months I guess I maybe haven’t read as much as I usually would. I’m not sure if that was just being very busy doing other things, or a bit of reading-fatigue.

I do think I felt less motivated to read as my head was so full of ‘to-dos’ and, as you may have gathered from my previous post on blogging principles it had started to feel a bit like a chore. Participants of Riverside Readers will also recognise that the selection below are almost exclusively book group choices. When you’re on a slow-reading run, reading a monthly book group choice can mean you don’t get to read much else but thankfully our members made some good choices.


Wide Sargasso Sea was my choice for Riverside Readers, a dark and moving tale which imagines the background and once vibrant personality of Antoinette Cosway a character Rhys plucks from Jane Eyre. Rhys’ sparing prose and darkly vivid descriptions of post-colonial Jamaica kept me spellbound. One that I would like to re-read.

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus will always bring me fond memories, as I was reading it during my holiday to Prague where I became engaged to be married. It was such a delight to read about the magical world of the circus and it’s also a romantic story on many levels. Unusually for a book I’m enjoying, I found myself wanting to read it slowly so that I could savour it. One of the things that I loved was how the circus popped up all around the world (including Prague) so I could enjoy the descriptions of all the places that I have been. I also loved the imaginative characters.

Sweet Tooth is the last book I put down. A certain Savidge Reads gave me a copy about a month ago – we are both big fans of McEwan. I was a little uncertain about how much I would enjoy it as his last book Solar (review here) was was well written and topical but I wasn’t blown away with it as I was with other novels like Atonement or Enduring Love. In the end, it was that perfect combination of being both enjoyable to read and clever too. I also enjoyed reading from the point of view of Serena and the secret service plot-line although the storyline turned out a little differently than I thought it might – in a good way.

Worth checking out;

I also enjoyed Charlotte Rogan’s debut The Lifeboat which uses the plot device of  a stranded lifeboat to examine human behaviour in a claustrophobic and life-threatening situation. For me it read like a very well written television series – it was gripping but ultimately accounts of human behaviour under pressure such as Golding’s Lord of the Flies or Shute’s On The Beach (review here) disturbed me much more deeply.

God’s Own Country was excellent and also very dark. In the wild setting of the North Yorkshire countryside we meet local Sam Marsdyke who strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young girl who has just moved to the area with her family. Raisin keeps the reader in an ambiguous haze as to Sam’s mindset – is he just a naive country bumpkin or are his motives more sinister?

The House of Sleep is the first novel that I’ve read by Jonathan Coe and one that I very much enjoyed. Featuring an insomniac and a narcoleptic who have a tormented relationship as well as a slightly evil doctor who studies sleeping habits it is an original and involving story. I found the narrative at the start of the book which jumps between different time periods a little confusing, but the way that the plot develops towards the end is very satisfying.

Fifty Shades of Grey. Well a friend gave me a copy of this though I’m not ashamed to admit that I was intrigued to read it. Long story short – a bit racy (oh I sound like a maiden aunt don’t I?!) but not that racy in the scheme of things (you’re wondering what else I’ve been reading now…). Not a literary feat, but not as terrible as I had been led to expect. Am I intrigued to find out what’s next for Christian and Ana…? Erm… kinda. Will I get prioritise reading Darker and Freed… probably not.

The Rough Guide to WeddingsThe wonderful Claire (of Paperback Reader) who comes along to Riverside Readers book group with me, and is going through her own big life-stage moment doing her new house up, gave me this one. I’m not going to lie – I at first thought “Ooh that’s absolutely lovely but I don’t need this, I am not after all BRIDEZILLA!”. Well you know what. I do need it and it is great. I started reading it on the tube home and I’ve read it cover to cover and referred back to it at least ten times already. It is also the most un-bridezilla wedding book as it is very practical and encourages you to think carefully about how nuts you want to go. Or maybe it is a bit bridezilla but I just can’t tell now because I’ve already transformed!

Patrick Gale’s A Perfectly Good Manis one of those that I really enjoyed reading at the time but now can’t really remember much about except that I enjoyed it. I remember it being quite clever and prompting a good book group discussion but main threads… gone!

The rest;

Jasper Kent’s Twelve was Sakura’s choice for book group. I was really quite excited about this as the synopsis sounded thrilling – a vampire novel set in the Napoleonic wars in Russia. I was expecting a romp. It was a bit long and drawn out and not quite romp-ish enough. The main character was also really annoying and the female characters were totally unexciting. Overall quite entertaining but I wouldn’t read the next one unless I was on holiday, it was on the hotel bookshelf and I’d run out of books.

The Terrible Privacy Of Maxwell Sim by Jonathan Coe was quite good but paled in comparison to The House of Sleep as mentioned above. It follows a some poor bloke whose life is falling apart as he goes on a mission to sell a prototype toothbrush to the furthest corners of the UK which involved going a long way out into the middle of nowhere and going slightly batty talking to his Sat Nav. Nice Novel Insights was thinking ‘poor old Maxwell Sim’ and nasty Novel Insights was thinking ‘oh sort it out!’

The Curfew (Vintage Contemporaries)by Jesse Ball was the choice of one of our lovely book group members Armen. I look forward to Armen’s choices because he always picks something I wouldn’t have heard of and often from a far-off land. This one just didn’t do it for me though. Maybe it was just a bit ‘too Kafka’ for me and you know I don’t always like that

I hope you enjoyed that whistle-stop tour of the books I’ve been reading and maybe saw one or two you are interested in.

What books have you read in the last six months that really stood out as favourites?