Category Archives: Book Thoughts

A little blog break…

If you’re a regular visitor to Novel Insights then you might have noticed that I have gone a little quiet. I thought it rather rude not to pop a little note up to say that I have decided I’m having a blogging break. I’ve been a bit frazzled with work and as a result haven’t felt much like making my poor little brain work to write reviews in my spare time. I’ve also been enjoying being ‘just a reader’ for a bit if you know what I mean… 🙂

Bear with… and hopefully I’ll be back in action in a while. In the meantime check out my blogroll for other lovely bloggers to keep you up to date with bookish news.

Savidge Reads’ star appearance…

I promise that there will actually be some reviews appearing soon on Novel Insights (later today in fact) but I couldn’t not post about Simon of Savidge Reads’ brief but nonetheless proper, actual appearance  on Sunday 4th’s The TV Book Club. I’ve just had a chance to see it by streaming on 4OD catch-up and you can too until the start of April by following this link.

And here he is looking all bookish and serious with a copy of Girl Reading.

*Squeal of excitement*

A book-lover’s nightmare

I was gossiping the other day with an Aussie colleague who also works in the UK and he told me a horror story about what he discovered when he went back to sort out some of his belongings back in Australia.

Quelle horreur!!!

And no – it’s not because one of them is a book about calculus (although that personally disturbs me ;)) – my poor friend had gone home to find that his books had been breakfasted on by termites.

On another bookish note, I’ve never before seen these large multi-books in the UK – does anyone know, are these quite usual in Oz??

A little while ago, dear Savidge Reads had his own book related disaster – have you had any similar bookish tragedies?

Blog v Run

Today I am mostly luxuriating in Sunday’s wonderful Sunday-ness by lounging around in my pyjama, drinking cups of tea and taking the day slowly.

Anticipating the hours stretching ahead of me, I ponder the options. The only two ‘useful’ things on my possible to-do list are to finally type up some reviews of the books that I’ve read recently (work pressures and general busyness have lead to a kind of blogger’s-block due to a sort of allergy to the internet anywhere outside of the office that I seem to have developed), or alternatively get my bottom off the sofa and go for a run.

Newcastle Tyne Bridge, North East, UK

Image of my hometown courtesy of my talented OH - http://www.ajsh.co.uk

This year I’ve entered the UK Bupa Great North Run. Something I’ve always thought I should get around to doing as a) my preferred form of exercise is running, b) because I wanted to support a charity that is important to me c) I grew up in the North East so the idea of a running challenge that culminated in the final few steps to glory being over the Tyne Bridge was kind of appealing.

As I did do a little run yesterday and the event is not until September,  today I think I want to give a little bit of love to Novel Insights and enjoy catching up with other blogs and bookish things. To be fair sitting on the sofa while typing with a cuppa is infinitely less taxing too!

Tea and Books

Score 1-0 to blogging.

What are you up to this weekend – getting active or taking it slowly? Have you taken part in any charity runs?

My Waterstone’s Eleven Picks

The three hour return train journey from visiting family in Newcastle, in addition to providing scenic views, always feels like such a peaceful stretch of precious time in which to read, muse, and to pen my thoughts about what I have been reading.

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Today I have with me a copy of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, but before immersing myself in her magical world I wanted to share my thoughts on the Waterstone’s Eleven list, announce Thursday before last at their now annual event at the flagship Picadilly branch. The Eleven books chosen, all debut authors tipped to shine this year were;

The Panopticon – Jenny Fagan
Absolution – Patrick Flanery
Shelter – Frances Greenslade
The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach
The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey
The Unlikely Pilgramage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
The Land of Decoration – Grace McCleen
Signs of Life – Anna Raverat
The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan
The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker
Care of Wooden Floors – Will Wiles

It was a pleasure to read the extract book and to dip into such a variety of ideas and styles of writing. I’m being quite strict and narrowing my favourites to the following three books:

In Absolution by Patrick Flanery, biographer Sam Leroux is researching world renowned author Clare Wald who is writing a new book, set to confront her experiences in Apartheid-era South Africa. What immediately struck me in the extract that I read was the intense and uncomfortable feeling of intimacy between the author and her biographer. Wald is evasive and it seems as if she has something unpleasant to conceal, yet I felt that her ego would potentially lead to her letting something slip to the tactful but determined Leroux. I’m intrigued by both the headstrong personality of Clare and her mysterious past.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan opens with a flashback into the memory of Grace Sachs a woman on trial. Trapped on a Lifeboat leaving a sinking ship each of the passengers respond in their own way to the set of circumstances they are confronted with, but the safety of the whole group relies on life or death decisions which are often cruelly pragmatic. I was left wanting to know why Grace was on trial and was she culpable, while suspecting that the answer to the question might be in shades of grey.

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen stood out to me because it instantly struck me as original. McCleen’s subject is a little girl completely absorbed in her own world. Her father is a strict Christian and her mother absent because she has passed away. Judith has created an entire landscape in her bedroom made out of boxes and yoghurt pots and endless bric-a-brac where she escapes to when she is safe inside her own home. We meet her as she is readying herself with an encounter with the school bully and McCleen brilliantly communicates the anxieties and particular perspective of this child as she prepares herself.

Other titles were very promising too – I was on tenterhooks reading the first chapter of The Snow Child as a woman makes her way across a deadly ice-covered ravine, and I was drawn in by the authors engaging voice in Care of Wooden Floors, which leads me to wonder how much you can really tell just from a first chapter of a book. I expect to see some of these titles popping up in blogs and reviews so I’ll be looking forward to seeing what people make of the full novels.

Do any of the above books appeal to you? Do you find that you read many debut authors?

Debut authors to look out for in 2012 – Waterstones Eleven

Last year I was invited along to the first Waterstones Eleven. The event is designed to highlight some of the best in debut fiction for the year ahead. Last year’s picks were really very good – at least, they were pretty well predicted because I kept spotting positive reviews of choices and quite a few ended up on shortlists or even won awards (Pigeon English, The Tiger’s Wife, When God Was a Rabbit). I’m a little annoyed at myself that I didn’t get around to reading any of them but I often do feel guilty buying new books when I have such a huge TBR. Perhaps this year I will get a copy of Sophie Hardach’s book The Registrar’s Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages that I enjoyed the extract from so much.

Well this year the line up certainly looks interesting. Admittedly this year I was a little less sociable and instead of stalking new Authors was content to scoff a few canapés and chat to the lovely Reading Matters who came along with me. However, I DID snaffle a copy of the book that contains extracts from all the recommended books so will be posting my thoughts once I have read it.

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If you can’t wait for my sum-up post you can find out the chosen authors at the Waterstones site and even read extracts for yourself here.

Did you read any of last year’s debut author picks?

Novel Insights’ Top 12 Books – 2011

I am savouring my last day off work today and feeling a little bit smug to be sat indoors out of the rain with nothing more taxing to do than mull over my favourite books of the past year. Actually, I say it’s not taxing but I started by trying to pick five books, then changed it to ten, and then bumped it up to twelve – whoops! Well that is one for every month – a perfectly good excuse in my opinion. Here they are:

How To Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

5 stars 5/5

“…challenges all the stupid things that women are told (and tell themselves) with a big bucketful of humour…” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

5 stars 5/5

“…an important book and one that I think is up there with some of the best dystopian novels.” Read full review.

Never Let Me Go

In Love & Trouble, by Alice Walker

5 stars 5/5

“…each time I picked up Alice Walker’s collection of short stories, I felt as if time was suspended and I was transported completely to heat of the Southern America… The richness and vitality of Walker’s writing makes this book an utter pleasure to read.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

5 stars 5/5

“The stories sound barmy, and there is a heavy dose of the surreal, but at their heart Petrushevskaya’s tales  are real human experiences of grief, love and loss.” Read full review.

Through the Wall, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Purls of Wisdom, by Jenny Lord

5 stars 5/5

“…a book that I know I will refer to time and time again. I love the informal writing style because it feels just as if a friend is teaching you…” (AKA the book to blame for my knitting obsession in 2011!) Read full review.

Purls of Wisdom: The Book of Knitting

Mr Chartwell, by Rebecca Hunt

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I struggle to think of many other books that convey what is a very serious message with so much originality and seemingly so effortlessly.” Read full review.

Mary Anne, by Daphne du Maurier

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…a book, packed with with witty lines, and a richly described period setting which creates the backdrop for the story of a fascinating protagonist based on du Maurier’s own great-great-grandmother.” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing, by Val McDermid

4.5 stars4.5/5

“I think that I might have found a new favourite crime writer to add to my list!” Read full review.

The Mermaids Singing

A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis

4 stars4/5

“Of course, this is a sad book to read, but also so beautifully and eloquently written… In an odd way, I believe that this little book could be comforting at a time of loss, if only because of how openly the author shares his experience.” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertész

4 stars4/5

“… a novel that will stay with me, because it is unique in the way that it addresses the experience of concentration camps. The writing is deceptively simple, and peppered with imaginative ideas…” Read full review.

Fateless, by Imre Kertesz

Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb

4 stars4/5

“…has the qualities that I associate with a real classic… A rich and many-layered story.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson

4.5 stars4.5/5

“…smartly plotted, written compellingly and the premise is well-executed.” Read full review.

Before I go to Sleep

A retrospective look at Novel Insights tells me that in 2011 I read a total of 43 books which is a whole 30% lower than last year’s count of 62. I don’t get too hung up about the number of books that I read because I don’t like to over-organise or analyse the things I do for pleasure and for this reason I don’t really make reading resolutions.

That said, I do think that my reading and blogging can be seen as a bit of a barometer of how I’m feeling. While sometimes I read less because I’ve been occupied with nice, fun stuff (including quite a lot of knitting this year!) I have felt quite busy over the past few months and it is one of my resolutions to find a better balance between work and my leisure time.

Well that’s my little bit of naval-gazing over and done with! How was your 2011? Do you have any reading resolutions? What books really stood out for you this year?