Tag Archives: The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Read Yet

Even those of us who read a lot (cough, me) don’t always get enough time to read everything we want. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day, and so many other pesky things that need doing, like work and sleep and eating, occasionally, and sometimes – if we’re brave enough – venturing outside and dealing with people who aren’t, you know, written on a page, but actually literally made of flesh and blood and bones and stuff.

Life can be tough for the bookworms among us. Reality very rarely stacks up against the worlds of fiction, for one, and people – charming as they are – don’t speak in the gorgeous curlicued turns of phrase one finds in books, and when you look at a tree in the real world, there aren’t spools of rich descriptive language hanging off its branches like clothes-tags, making it real and believable. You’ve just got to use your eyes, instead, which is boring. But that’s why we always go back to books, I suppose; they continue to allure and beguile, and there are so many stories still to be told and experienced. It does scare me that there are so many stories in the world, and I only have one brain which is already overcrowded, and I’ll never read them all. But there are a few books which I simply can’t believe I haven’t made time for yet.

And it’s a Tuesday. This is a Top Ten Tuesday post – check out the Broke and the Bookish for more. And it’s time to come clean.

The Top Ten Most Talked-About Books Which I Have Not Yet Read (to my eternal shame)

Emma Carroll, The Girl Who Walked on Air

I have read (and loved, and reviewed) Emma Carroll‘s gorgeous debut novel Frost Hollow Hall, and I have been meaning to get around to her other books ever since. She’s now on her third, if not her fourth, published book (eek!) and so I’d better get my act together. If only she’d stop being so darned talented and prolific, that is.

Samantha Shannon, The Bone Season/The Mime Order

Anybody with half a brain, or any sort of eye on the bookish world, has heard of the phenomenon that is Samantha Shannon. Her six-book deal at the age of twenty made literary hearts flutter and created a huge buzz around her work (which must, on reflection, have been quite a weight of pressure), but I have yet to visit her alternate London, peopled with clairvoyants and magic. The first two books in the series have since been published to huge acclaim, and I really should catch up, shouldn’t I?

V.E. (Victoria) Schwab, Vicious

Victoria Schwab is great fun on Twitter, and one of the most hard-working authors out there today. She seems to have a new book out every other week, which is at once an inspiration and also rather scary. There are several of her works which appeal to me, but I think Vicious is the one I would enjoy the most, being as it is about a pair of college roommates who begin to do experiments on the idea of ‘extraordinary’ abilities – and who then end up turning into superheroes (or supervillains, perhaps). It sounds like a brilliant read. Also, it looks like this:

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

*incoherent squeaking*

Paula Hawkins,

The Girl on the Train I truly love it when debut novels take off into the stratosphere like this one has. It’s a multi-million copy bestseller all over the world, and it has been optioned for film (and I’m sure it will be excellent when it eventually finds its way to the screen). A thriller, about which I know very little – mainly because I do want to read it and I don’t want to spoil it for myself – I know it involves a girl, a train, and what she sees from her carriage window. But that’s all. Don’t none of y’all give away the ending on me.

Zoe Marriott, The rest of The Name of the Blade trilogy

I read and reviewed the first in this trilogy (The Night Itself), concluding my review with the prediction that I would hardly be able to wait for the second book to be published. Well, yes. I have certainly remembered this series, and it’s one I really want to finish, but I still haven’t managed it. I don’t have an excuse, besides time and money. I feel bad enough about it; you don’t have to add to my burden by looking at me like that, thank you very much.

Allan Boroughs, Ironheart (and sequel, Bloodstone)

Argh! And this one! When it was newly published, I thought ‘Oh, my goodness. A book about a young girl embarking on a dangerous quest to the very north of the world? *flail* This book has me written all over it!’ And, in truth, Ironheart is a book I know I would adore. But, for whatever reason, it’s sort of hard to find. I went looking for it, and/or its sequel Bloodstone, last week in a massive bookshop and even the bookseller – that same knowledgeable lady I’ve spoken of before on this here selfsame blog, she who knows all and sees all in children’s and YA publishing – hadn’t heard ot it. So, I gloated for a bit that I’d introduced her to a book she hadn’t come across already, and she promptly ordered in some stock. Next time I’m passing through I’ll pick it up. (And I can’t wait).

Philip Reeve, A Darkling Plain

I’ve just finished Infernal Devices, the third book in the Predator Cities series (jaw-droppingly awesome) and now I can’t wait for the final instalment. Mobile cities which move around on tracks eating one another, airships, reanimated zombie warriors, ruthless killers, pirates, brigands, battles, bravery, unscrupulousness in all corners… Wow. This series is a triumph.

Emer O’Toole, Girls Will be Girls

This is one I’ve picked up and put down a few times when I’ve seen it in bookshops, mainly because the price was a bit prohibitive when it was first published – but I really, really want to read it. A polemic, an academic study, a riveting look at gender roles and why (and how) we play them, this is a book I not only want to read, but one which I know I need to read. I feel everyone needs to read a book like this one. I’m saving my pennies.

Moira Fowley-Doyle, The Accident Season

Apologies to the author for being unable to add the trema to the ‘i’ in her first name (blame WordPress, or perhaps my own ineptitude!), as well as for not having read her book yet. In my defence, it’s only barely been published – if it were Bambi, it’d still be doing the whole ‘trying to walk on the frozen pond’ thing. But it sounds fab, and here’s why: it’s about a family which seems cursed to suffer accidents (some serious) every October, for no explicable reason, and their struggle to break free, I can’t wait to get my brain around it.

Tatum Flynn, The D’Evil Diaries

This is truly shocking. A book with a cover like this:

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

about a twelve-year-old useless younger son of Hell who gets mixed up with a girl who accidentally fed her nasty uncle to a lion before becoming embroiled in a mystery which could upend the reality of the underworld itself, and I haven’t read it? I have no excuse. I can but throw myself on the mercy of the reading gods and hope for forgiveness, in this life or the next.

And there you have it. Ten of the books I’m really looking forward to reading, but which I haven’t quite managed to get to yet. Of course, with every passing week this pile is added to, and I’ll never catch up. But it’ll be fun to try.

Happy Tuesday! What’s on your TBR pile these days?

Ten Authors I Would Love to Meet

Yes, yes. All right. The more astute among you might have realised that today’s blog post is, basically, a Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted as usual by The Broke and the Bookish – and, it being Wednesday, I have a cheek to even consider using it. But I’m throwing the rulebook out the window again, mainly because I can (and also because it’s fun).

So. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

I write a lot on here about authors I love, and so I’m really going to try to talk about people today who are not only new (ish), but also writery people I really want to meet. I’ve also realised that I’ve actually met (or been in rooms with, at the very least) several members of my literary firmament already – Neil Gaiman, Jeanette Winterson and John Connolly spring to mind – so they won’t feature here. This made me feel quite lucky, but also a bit peeved that I had to knock three stellar writers off my list.

In any case, here we go. In no particular order, here are ten authors I’d love to meet, and maybe – who knows? – it’ll happen one day.

Erin Morgenstern

Image: wordandfilm.com

Image: wordandfilm.com

I read (and loved) Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus the second it was published, as is evidenced by the fact that I own it in trade paperback. It’s a gorgeous, imaginative romp through a landscape full of well-drawn and beautifully described characters and settings, flavoured with plenty of magical realism and oodles of ethereal romance. It’s a wonderful book, and for months after its publication I had friends from all over the world recommending it to me in gushing, breathy tones; I was always very glad (and perhaps even a little smug) to tell them I’d read it already. So, I’d love to meet Ms Morgenstern, simply to tell her three things: I love her book, I love her surname, and I’m impatiently waiting for her to write another novel.

Jim Butcher

Mr Butcher writes (among other things) the funny Dresden Files series of novels about Harry Dresden, the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, which I’ve been following for some years now. I don’t have the complete series, but it’s something I keep meaning to rectify, as the stories are compelling, scary when they need to be and hilarious most of the time, and Harry is an excellent character (if, perhaps, a little too invested in the physical attributes of the women around him – but that’s meat for another post). I love the fact that there’s a kick-ass female cop (Karrin Murphy) as well as a scary-as-all-hell Fairy Queen (Mab) who provides more than enough in the line of ‘fierce adversary’, and together they almost make up for Dresden’s occasional lecherous thoughts about other people of the lady persuasion. Plus, I love Mouse, Harry’s otherworldly guard dog, and Bob, the wisecracking skull, and just – everything about this series. It’s fun, sure, but it’s clever fun. I think Jim Butcher would be an excellent person to hang out with for a while, so he’s on the list.

Celine Kiernan

Celine Kiernan is an Irish author of some renown (and not a little talent) who I talk to occasionally on Twitter. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that our paths will cross someday, but until they do, she’ll go on here. I adore her Moorehawke Trilogy, and her wonderful Into the Grey is one of the best children’s novels (in fact, just novel novels) I’ve ever read. So, if I do ever get to meet her, it’ll be basically me babbling about how insanely talented she is before slinking off in a cloud of embarrassment. (But not before getting her to sign all my copies of her books, of course).

Her new novel, 'Resonance', which I don't have yet. But, rest assured, I will before too long. Image: celinekiernan.wordpress.com

Her new novel, ‘Resonance’, which I don’t have yet. But, rest assured, I will before too long.
Image: celinekiernan.wordpress.com

O.R. Melling

O.R. (or Orla) Melling is an Irish-Canadian writer whose work, particularly The Singing Stone, a novel about Celtic mythology, the Tuatha de Danaan, and the mystical power of stone circles made a huge impression on me as a kid. I’m not sure whether Melling is still writing, but simply because her work has stayed with me for over twenty years, I’d love to meet her and thank her for all she’s done for me as a writer and a reader.

Kristin Cashore

Cashore’s Graceling series is one I love, and I follow her blog for its sheer wit, intelligence and broad scope. She seems like an interesting and clever person, as well as an extremely talented author, and I’d love to meet her simply to learn more about how to live a life of elegant simplicity. At least, this is the impression I get from her writing; perhaps the reality is somewhat different! She has created some of the best female characters I’ve ever read, and I’d love to talk to her about how she wrote them, where they came from, and where she’s going next.

Stephen King

So, yeah. A weird one, this. I have a mixed relationship with Stephen King’s work, insofar as I think he’s a genius 85% of the time, but every novel I’ve read by him (with the exception of The Stand, which is a perfect work of art) has lacked something – usually, a coherent conclusion. I’m working through his Dark Tower series at the minute (or trying to, at least), and I think there’s nobody to match him in terms of characterisation, dialogue and description – he writes so well, you live the story he’s telling. But I will never, ever forgive him for the ending to Under the Dome. Just, no. I’d love to meet him to ask him what the heck that was about.

Yes. This was my face after finishing Under the Dome, too. Image: huffingtonpost.com

Yes. This was my face after finishing Under the Dome, too.
Image: huffingtonpost.com

Frances Hardinge

So, I know I bang on about Frances Hardinge a lot here. But she has to be on this list. I want to know how one person can be so imaginative, and yet so cool and individual and, more than anything else, where on earth she gets her hats from. I also really want to read her newest book, The Lie Tree, and this is basically a plug for it, so yes. I’m going now.

Catherine Webb (or, whichever pen-name this author is going by at the current time)

No matter what she’s calling herself, I would love to meet a woman who was first published as a teenager, who writes books of astonishing accomplishment, and whose brain, frankly, appears to be staggeringly impressive, simply to ask ‘how is it all done? Mirrors? String? Alchemy?‘ There must be a secret, somewhere.

Philip Pullman

Just to thank him for Lyra Silvertongue, basically. Probably through veils of grateful tears. I’m sure he gets this a lot.

William Goldman

Because The Princess Bride has defined my life. No joke. For wit, wordplay, linguistic and narrative trickery and sheer storytelling brilliance alone – not to mention an awesome cast of memorable characters, some of the best dialogue ever written and an imaginative scope which has rarely been equalled. And that’s just the novel. The movie’s even better. I’d love to shake William Goldman’s hand (and then never, ever wash again).

And yes, it's a kissing book. But I don't even mind that! Image: hellogiggles.com

And yes, it’s a kissing book. But I don’t even mind that!
Image: hellogiggles.com

So, there’s my weird and eclectic list. (It’s not all that weird or eclectic, really, but humour me). Fancy giving it a go yourself? Do let me know if you do; I’d love to see how my choices stack up against yours!

Top Ten *cof*day – Favourite Literary Heroines

The Broke and the Bookish, as you may know, host a fantastic meme every week called Top Ten Tuesday. Since I no longer regularly post on Tuesdays, this means I don’t really have any right, goshdurnit, to take part in the endeavour.

But this week – this week, I had no choice. They’re asking about my Top Ten Literary Heroines. Come on. I had to get involved in this, even if it’s a day late.

I have so many literary heroines that I had to create a longlist, and then a shortlist, and then a shorter shortlist. I’ve sweated and wept over these choices. I had to invoke criteria, like ‘no two characters written by the same author’ (which was painful, particularly when it came to Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett and Frances Hardinge) and ‘they can’t all be from children’s books’. But, never one to shirk a challenge, I battled my way to a final list of ten.

And here they are, in no particular order of preference – because that, my friends, would’ve pushed my fragile mind right over the edge.

Top Ten Literary Heroines

Coraline Jones from Coraline

Image: coraline.wikia.com

Image: coraline.wikia.com

What, I ask you, is not to love about this character? Clever, brave, adventurous, resolutely ungirly (oh, how I do love an ungirly girl), possessed of a powerful sense of justice and owner of the world’s coolest name, Coraline is a character who wriggled her way into my heart from the first second I met her. I was given a copy of Coraline by a dear friend, many years ago, as a birthday present, back when I wasn’t entirely familiar with Neil Gaiman as an author who wrote for children, and it isn’t overstating anything to say it changed my life. I adore her, and I adore her story, and I love her parents (the non button-eyed ones, at least), and I love the cast of crazy supporting characters who people her world. She rocks.

Lirael of the Clayr from Lirael and Abhorsen

I love pretty much all of the female characters in Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom books, and with good reason. They’re kick-ass (even the ones who don’t fight); none of them are superfluous, or objectified, or belittled because of their gender, or considered to be in any way less capable than the men in their world; they own their own sexualities and are unashamed of their own feelings, and they prove, time and again, that they can meet and exceed any challenge put in their path. Lirael is a great example of all this fabulousness, but she’s also amazing in her own right – a girl who feels she has no role in her world, who is a Daughter of the Clayr but who never awakens into the Clayr’s power as a seer, and who feels for many years like an embarrassment or a mistake, she is forced to find her own path. After struggling to fit in for many years, she eventually learns she has a far greater calling than she ever imagined and a much bigger role in the fate of her world than she or anyone else could have guessed. Also, she gets to use a sword and walk in Death, which is awesome.

Neverfell from A Face Like Glass

Choosing a top heroine from Frances Hardinge’s work was, I admit, a challenge. I could have gone for Triss, or Hathin, or Mosca Mye, but Neverfell was the one who called to me. The heroine of Hardinge’s masterful novel A Face Like Glass, Neverfell is the girl who falls into a vat of cheese in the underground city of Caverna, where nobody can form facial expressions and where everyone must be taught, by an elite group known as Facesmiths, how to arrange their faces to suit a certain, proscribed, set of emotions. Neverfell, however, is not stymied in the face department. Whatever she feels or thinks comes out in her expressions, which makes her incendiary in the world of Caverna, and marks her out as special – or, perhaps, worth getting rid of… Like all Hardinge’s heroines, Neverfell is spunky, sparky, clever, curious, undaunted by danger, possessed of a fierce determination to get to the bottom of whatever’s going on and full of hidden talents which come in handy at unexpected times. Is it any wonder I love her?

Katsa from the Graceling trilogy

Image: movieweb.com

Image: movieweb.com

It’s been far too long since I read these books, and I don’t own them anymore so I can’t just dip in and remind myself how good they are – curses. I will always remember Katsa, though, whose power and grace (not just her Graced power, which makes her a formidable fighter) as well as her compassion, strength and loyalty made her one of the best female characters I’ve ever read. Like the women in Garth Nix’s books, those in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling books are strong, independent, confident and capable, and their badassery is legendary. Katsa is the queen of them all.

Marian McAlpin from The Edible Woman

Another author whose work is chock-full of amazing heroines is Margaret Atwood. I struggled to choose just one, but I went for Marian because I read The Edible Woman at a formative point in my life where the book meant a huge amount to me. The idea of being consumed by expectation, weighed down by a static, predetermined idea of what your life (as a woman) should be, and the effort it takes to fight against the tiny boxes that others try to put you in is, and was, a powerful one. Marian seems at first like a passive, acted-upon woman who bends to gender and social expectation, before turning everything around as the novel reaches its conclusion. I loved her, I loved the book, and I love Atwood. If you haven’t read this one, do.

The Dog Woman from Sexing the Cherry

Another author whose work bristles with fabulous women is Jeanette Winterson, but The Dog Woman will always be my favourite. Large, childless (until the river delivers her a son, whom she loves as tenderly as any mother ever loved a baby of their own body), seen by others as grotesque, without a place in the world besides at the margins, The Dog Woman is nevertheless bountiful, generous, loving and possessed of a spirit so huge it changes the world. I can’t explain how much I love her. I see myself in her, and I see every woman in her, and I see her as my example. She’s a masterful creation.

Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

I surprised myself with this choice. I love so many female characters in the Discworld – Tiffany Aching, her grandmother, Sergeant Angua of the city Watch, all the witches – but I’ve always had a special fondness for Granny Weatherwax, whose common sense and straightforward way of looking at the world appeal to me. Unsentimental (yet deeply loving, despite it all), fiercely intelligent, braver than an army, possessed of knowledge beyond anyone’s understanding, and full of the most profound advice, she’s a character who comes across like a piece of flint until you realise that there’s nobody you’d rather have at your bedside when Death comes calling, or when disease strikes, or when you’re in your direst hour of need. If anyone can help, Granny can. Whether you’ll listen to her advice – now, that’s a different story…

Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials

Choosing Lyra meant I couldn’t have Sally Lockhart, but to be honest it wasn’t all that difficult a decision. Lyra Belacqua is another brave and resourceful and intelligent and stubborn and fiercely loyal character, and so I’m really not surprised by the depth of my affection for her. A girl brave enough to travel to the ends of the earth for her friends, intelligent enough to outsmart the king of the armoured bears, open-minded enough to see beyond appearances, loyal enough to do what’s right no matter what the personal cost to her, she’s straight-up incredible. What a literary achievement she is.

Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle and its sequels

I’m beginning to see a theme here. Courageous, uncaring about appearances, not remotely girly, willing to do anything in the pursuit of knowledge, fiercely loyal, impulsive and unafraid to make mistakes, hard-working, never afraid to love, Sophie Hatter is a fabulous character. Her interplay with the wizard Howl in the books in which they feature is a delight – she is never, not even for a second, anything less than his equal. I love that.

Sophie from Rooftoppers

Ah, yes – another Sophie. Foster-child of Charles Maxim, brave defier of gravity, tireless searcher for her mother, Sophie is a character I love. Now, admittedly, she wouldn’t be half as cool without her incredible guardian by her side, who raises her to be the strong, confident, intellectually curious, prodigiously gifted girl she is, and who encourages her to follow every single dream (even those which are probably impossible), but the fact remains that Sophie, with Charles Maxim by her side, is an awesome and memorable heroine in a wonderful and moving book. (I’m still sighing over Charles Maxim, by the way. Have you read this book yet? If not, you really really should).

So, there you are. The girls and women whittled down from a very long list to form my Top Ten Literary Heroines. I bet I won’t have this post published five seconds before I’m regretting some of my choices and wishing to swap them out for others – but isn’t that a great indication of how many wonderful female characters there are to choose from in the wide world of literature? Yes. Yes it is. Anyway, happy middle-of-the-week to you. May all be well and perfect in your small corner of the earth.



Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Blogging (and Bookish) Confessions

I don’t always take part in Top Ten Tuesday‘s blogging challenges, but when I do, I make ’em good ones. (Follow the link, by the way, to be brought to the Top Ten Tuesday page over on The Broke and the Bookish, which is a veritable feasting hall of delight and inspiration).

And now. Let’s get stuck in.

Image: New Old Stock http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Image: New Old Stock

1. This blog has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion.

Some mornings, I just don’t know what to write about, and every word is hacked from the marrow of my bones. Some mornings I write about stuff that’s personal or painful or sad. Some mornings something I choose to blog about just touches my heart for no real or understandable reason (this happens to me a lot – I’m an easy crier). For loads of reasons, writing this blog can sometimes be an adventure in emotion – and that’s not always a bad thing.

2. I judge books too quickly sometimes – and live to regret it.

I am such a sucker for a gorgeous cover, and I can’t tell you how often a blurb has sucked me right in, only to spit me right back out once I’ve finished the book. Beautiful artwork always gets me on a cover, but what gets me even more is gorgeous typography. I’m a total lettering nerd. The last one I remember which really grabbed me – and made me buy the book before I’d even read the back flap – was The Twistrose Key:

Look at it. I mean... *look!*

Look at it. I mean… *look!*

You may remember that I enjoyed this book, but that it didn’t leave me as breathless with admiration as I’d hoped it would. Books are works of art to me, though, so I never regret owning them. I just sometimes regret reading them. (This isn’t the case with Twistrose, though – I think it’s a good, enjoyable book. With a stonkingly good cover).

3. I regularly – as in, more than once a week – wonder if I overshare on this blog.

Sometimes, I worry that I give out too much personal information here on Clockwatching…, even though – when I think about it logically and calmly – I realise that I don’t, really. I do my best to keep my family out of view, and I always aim to be respectful to others, whether it’s people about whom I’m writing (public figures, for instance) or writers whose books I review, or whatever. I share a lot about myself, perhaps, but I do that in conversation too so it comes naturally. Regularly, though, I do wonder whether I should consign this blog and all who sail in her to the dustbin of history; then, I remember that time will do that for me anyway, so why bother.

4. I dogear books, sometimes. And I write in ’em, particularly if they’re ‘working’ books.

Gah. I hate confessing this.

So yes, yes, all right, I dogear books if there isn’t a bookmark to hand. That doesn’t happen in my house very often, luckily. Sometimes I dogear if there’s a beautiful quote I want to make note of, or something, too. However, I never dogear the following: hardbacks, antiquarian books, library books, books that don’t belong to me, beautifully produced volumes, or books I’d consider ‘expensive’ (i.e. over twenty quid, or so). We’re talking cheap paperbacks here, so don’t lose your reason. And I only write in books if they’re research volumes – when I was studying, for instance, I would use books like text and workbook all together sometimes. Stop judging me.

5. Sometimes, I wonder who I’m blogging for.

It’s not something that keeps me awake at night, brimming over with angst or anything like that, but I do think about it quite a lot. Who reads my words – if anyone? Does it actually matter? If I never blogged again, would anyone care? I guess my answer is, I blog for me. I blog because I enjoy it and because it makes me feel part of a larger cultural conversation, and that’s pretty cool.

6. I have lied about reading certain books that I, in reality, have not read.

Not for a long time, in my defence. But when I was younger and trying so hard to be hip and down with it and cool, I would pretend to have read things like Sartre because I knew enough about him, in general terms, to hold a passionately argued discussion over coffee and/or beer. However, the fact remained that I had not read him. Now, I’m pretty sure nobody else had either, and we were all trying to fool one another.

Good times.

7. I wish I had more blog readers.

Yeah. So there’s this. I read about other bloggers who’ve been writing pretty much as long as I have who’ve managed to gather sixty thousand followers and over a million blog hits and I’m like: what am I doing wrong?

Image: New Old Stock http://nos.twnsnd.co/

Helloooo? Is anybody out here? Image: New Old Stock

The sad fact is, I’m probably not doing anything wrong, as such. Being a successful blogger is a lot like being a successful writer: it’s about timing and luck as much as it is about skill. But then, being a ‘successful blogger’ can be defined as having at least one reader who isn’t your mother, so by that reckoning I’m a blogging megastar. (Thank you, by the way, to everyone who does read me, whether it’s regularly or only once in a while. I appreciate it all).

8. There are so many books I didn’t enjoy that everyone else loved, and I’ve never really been able to admit it.

I still can’t really admit it here. I am loath to name names, but these books include: a beautifully presented work of post-colonial magical realism given to me by a friend for a birthday gift, many years ago; a thumping work of historical fiction which went on to win the Booker Prize; a Kurt Vonnegut-ish, J.G. Ballard-esque tale about exploration and drilling and science which I only made it halfway through before it hit the wall. I feel like a failure. But so it is.

9. I simply cannot keep up with all the blogs I follow.

I love them all, but I get to read about 5% of their content, and I skim a lot. This means I’m doubly appreciative of anyone who takes the time to read my words; I understand that mine is only one tiny voice in a multitude and that there are others who sing far more sweetly than I do. Every so often I set aside an hour and spend it catching up on my blog reading (and then, of course, there are the blogs I’ll always read, no matter what), so I think I do okay, all told. But still. This admission pains me.

10. I do firmly believe that people should be free to read what they want – seriously, I do – but I still hate entire genres of literature with a passion.

Well. Genre, at least. I hate the cappuccino-sipping Louboutin-wearing Dior-scented glitterfests which masquerade as ‘women’s fiction’, the sorts of books which obsess over relationships and the fact that our heroine has to have a man at the end or she’s a total waste of space as a human being. I am not a fan of modern women’s fiction, broadly speaking, and it pains me to see so many books being published about things I consider ephemeral and pointless. I do appreciate they’re very popular and bring a lot of people a lot of enjoyment, and that’s marvellous; all reading is good reading.

But still. How many books about a “clumsy-but-endearing heroine stumbling across the love of her life, losing him during a drunken misunderstanding whereupon he marries another, only to serendipitously meet again in Naples or Venice or somewhere, whereupon their other partners die/fall in love with one another/come out as gay and everyone lives happily ever” after can one person read?

Not judging anyone who loves them. Seriously, not. But they’re just not my type of book.

So, that concludes our session for today, mein lieblings. Care to share your own Top Ten Blogging and/or Bookish Confessions?


Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Almost Put Down (But Didn’t)

Last night, about 2 a.m., our fire alarm started to go bip every thirty seconds. Just out of the blue, you know? Like it was lonely, and wanted to sing itself a little song. Anyway, it dragged the Husband and I out of a sleep which was, until that point, deep as oblivion. There followed nearly an hour of trying to figure out what the heck was wrong and how to fix it without setting off either a) the fire alarm proper or b) the house alarm – which wouldn’t have made us very popular with our neighbours or, indeed, each other.

So, we woke this morning feeling rather worse for wear.

Artist: Charles M. Shulz Image sourced: biblioklept.org

Artist: Charles M. Shulz
Image sourced: biblioklept.org

As a direct result of this (and the fact that all the writing I’ve done over the past twenty-four hours has either been on social media or in preparation for the Date with an Agent event this weekend, which I’ll be attending), today’s blog post is a Top Ten Tuesday, hosted as ever by the fine folks at The Broke and the Bookish.

The theme this week is:

Top Ten Books I Almost Put Down (But Didn’t)

1. The Divergent Trilogy (Veronica Roth)

I wrote a bit about these books on the blog when I read them and I went through the issues I had with them, particularly with book one, Divergent. While the books did improve a bit as they went on, I found the voice (or rather ‘voices’, because there were supposed to be more than one) in book three (Allegiant) to be a challenging read. Some of the illogical bits in the first book did get explained by the end, but I found myself no warmer towards the characters at the end than I was at the beginning. I finished these books because they’d been blockbuster smash hits and I wanted to see if I was missing anything, but also because they were a birthday gift. I feel awful including them in this list because of that fact, but there you have it.

Image: yabookreviewer.wordpress.com

Image: yabookreviewer.wordpress.com

2. The Maze Runner Trilogy (James Dashner)

I don’t want to say too much about these, because I’ll be reviewing them on Saturday. Let’s just say I was challenged to read them, and that was one of the main reasons I didn’t fling them against the nearest wall.

3. Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman)

Well. Isn’t this a surprise? Did you think a Neil Gaiman book would turn up on a list like this? I bet you didn’t.

Image: genreforjapan.com

Image: genreforjapan.com

Now, nobody who reads this blog is unaware of my adoration for Neil Gaiman. However, it is the truth that Anansi Boys was a challenge, and the only reason I finished it was (of course) because it was a Neil Gaiman book. I didn’t like the characters, I think – it’s been almost ten years since I read this book, and I only read it once. Something about the sheer nastiness in the story put me off. I appreciate it’s about a trickster god and, common misperceptions about Loki aside, they’re not generally very nice individuals, but still. I might give Anansi Boys another go in a year or two and see if I’ve grown into it.

4. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (Diana Wynne Jones)

I had never heard of this until one day, while looking up a Diana Wynne Jones book for a customer in the bookshop in which I used to work, I came across it. I read the title out in surprise, and the customer said ‘Oh, haven’t you read that one? Give it a go, it’s great.’ I immediately ordered it for myself (this was the only drawback to working in a bookshop, for my bank balance at least), and when it arrived I was delighted.

Image: books4yourkids.com

Image: books4yourkids.com

However, I began to read it as soon as I got home and – bleh. The humour didn’t grab me, the concept behind the book (a sort of spoof travel guide to a generic ‘Fantasyland’, which pitilessly lampoons the conventions of fantasy writing) left me cold and I found it boring. So, I did put it down – for a while. I came back to it a few months later, though, possibly in a better frame of mind, and read it cover to cover with huge delight.

The customer was right: it is great. I’m glad I gave this one another chance.

5. Red Shift (Alan Garner)

Have I taken leave of my senses, I hear you ask? A book by my all-time literary hero Alan Garner is on a list of books I almost didn’t finish?

Well, yes.

Image: freebooknotes.com

Image: freebooknotes.com

Alan Garner is an immensely intelligent man, and he brings that intelligence to his writing. His books can often be twisty, complex, filled with scientific, cosmological and philosophical ideas. All this is wonderful, of course, and I’m normally all over it. But, somehow, in Red Shift it’s just a little too much for me. I have read this book four times, with difficulty, and I don’t think I’ve ever understood it. It tells a time-slip story where three periods of history are interconnected through a Stone Age axehead, an artifact which is important to all the characters despite the fact that they are separated by hundreds of years. It’s a marvel of imagination and language, and I have been meaning to give it another go. Perhaps I’ve finally grown a big enough brain to finally be able to read it all, start to finish, without stopping.

6. Gold Dust (Geraldine McCaughrean)

I love Geraldine McCaughrean, too. She’s a legend in children’s books. I feel almost like I’m letting off fireworks in a church just by saying that I came within a hair’s breadth of not finishing one of her novels, but I cannot lie. Gold Dust just didn’t work for me. I didn’t enjoy the voice, or the story, or the characters. I’m sorry about it, though, if that helps.

7. The Last Four Things (Paul Hoffman)

I picked up this book because I thought, stupidly, that it would be about ‘the four last things’ – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – of medieval eschatology. It’s not, of course. It’s about a character named Thomas Cale and his induction into a shady secret society whose aim it is to bring the world to an end. I finished it only because I bought it on honeymoon and it has sentimental value; if this wasn’t the case, it’d have ended up in a second-hand shop a long time ago.

8. The Vision of Piers Plowman (William Langland)

Image: hachette.com.au

Image: hachette.com.au

Right, so this is a text I had to read for college; I fought it all the way, though. It’s possibly my least favourite of all the books (technically, it’s a long poem) I had to read for my studies and I freely admit I only finished it because I had to. Having said that, I appreciate it as a masterwork of allegory and symbolism, but holy heck is it hard.

If any of my old students are reading this, disregard the last few sentences. I read this because it’s a work of genius and everything I told you in class about how great it is is completely, one hundred percent true. All right? Good.

9. Tristram Shandy (Laurence Sterne)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a crazy thing. Filled with exaggeration, digression, tangents which ramble on not for pages but for entire volumes, pages which are left blank, taking its sources from all over the place, and some of the most refreshing language of its age, it’s almost like a book that should have been written during the postmodern era. It’s insane. It’s hard to read. But it’s worth the struggle. It dates from the mid-eighteenth century and even the language is a challenge to modern eyes, but I’m glad it’s under my belt.

10. Every Dead Thing (John Connolly)

I am a huge John Connolly fan – now. At the time I first began to read his work, it was almost too much for me; too creepy, too scary, too gory, too everything. A friend recommended him, and so I bought the first four of his Charlie Parker novels, beginning with Every Dead Thing. It took me four attempts to finish it, but after that I was on a roll. I ripped through the rest of Connolly’s work, and I’ve been a religious collector of his books ever since. Genius. But scary.

Image: johnconnollybooks.com

Image: johnconnollybooks.com

So, that’s me. Care to share your own top ten list of books you almost put down – but didn’t?

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Popular Authors I’ve Never Read

This Tuesday’s Top Ten Tuesday meme (hosted, as ever, by the fine folks over at The Broke and the Bookish) is ‘Top Ten Popular Authors I’ve Never Read.’ This one, I have to admit, wasn’t hard to complete. I had a longlist of thirty names, whittled to a shortlist of fifteen, and the following ten are the winners (yay?)  I’m pretty sure everyone will have heard of these authors, and in some cases I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never read their books; in other cases, I’m not at all ashamed. I’ll let you decide which is which.

Also, it’s nice to be on the other side of the longlisting/shortlisting process for once, it must be said.

Will I? Won't I? Hmm.... Image: mcpagal.blogspot.com

Will I? Won’t I? Hmm….
Image: mcpagal.blogspot.com

So. In no particular order, the authors I have not (yet) read are:

Salman Rushdie

Yes – Salman Rushdie, of fatwa fame. I own several of his books, including Midnight’s Children and Haroun and the Sea of Stories, but I’ve never been able to wrap my head around them. I’m not sure if it’s me, or if it’s Salman, but we’ve just never seen eye to eye. Maybe one of these years I’ll try again.


Tom Clancy

Big Bold Stories of Big Bold Men doing Big Bold Things! Yep. Suffice to say, I’ve never been too fond of Tom Clancy or his oeuvre, either. I’ve read a few James Patterson books (Patterson’s sort of Clancy-esque, isn’t he?), and enjoyed those; I’ve also seen several movies based on Tom Clancy books, including ‘Hunt for Red October’, which I was rather partial to. However, I’ve never actually read any of his work. Should I?

Yessh or no! Itssh a ssshimple quessshtion! Image: dailymail.co.uk

Yessh or no! Itssh a ssshimple quessshtion!
Image: dailymail.co.uk

Jeff Kinney

I’m sort of embarrassed to admit this. Jeff Kinney has to be the biggest selling, most famous children’s author of the present moment – his ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books have sold in their millions, and the movie (possibly movies?) based on them have been hugely successful, too. I, however, have never read them. References to the characters or the stories go entirely over my head. I feel like I’m missing out.

Actually, I’m not sure why I’ve never tried a ‘Wimpy Kid’ book. I’m sure they’re hilariously funny, and I’m sure they’re worth reading.

Ach well. There’s time yet.

Greg from 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' Image: fanpop.com

Greg from ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’
Image: fanpop.com

Gillian Flynn

For the last age, you couldn’t move in book circles without hearing either Gillian Flynn’s name mentioned or that of her record-busting book, ‘Gone Girl.’ The premise of the story didn’t really grab me – a woman goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary, and her husband is under suspicion for having murdered her, in case you’ve been living in a cloistered community forever – and then I started coming across reviews which talked about how the book had been badly over-hyped, and wasn’t actually as good as all that. Apparently, the movie version changes the ending completely, which begs the question: was the book’s conclusion not satisfactory? And why?

If anyone’s read this, and would like to let me know whether it’s worth a try, feel free.

Cecelia Ahern

Yeah. Well. I hate the term ‘chick lit.’, but I’m not sure what else to call Cecelia Ahern’s work. From what I’ve read about it, there are elements of magical realism and fairytale to her books, and they are massively popular – and so, fair play to her. However, the sparkly, pinky-purple, twee covers on her novels give me indigestion, frankly, and they’ve never tempted me to open them up. In any case, I have very little interest in books about women ‘discovering themselves’ (i.e. embarking upon a relationship with a man), and negotiating the minefield that is the modern career, or dealing with the horror of not having enough shoes, or whatever it is that chick lit books are about.

When it comes to this genre of literature, I’m with Homer.

Image: globalnerdy.com

Image: globalnerdy.com

George R. R. Martin (technically!)

I know, I know! How can I call myself a self-respecting nerd without having read any of the Game of Thrones books? Argh! I can hardly bear to admit this.

You shall die for your insubordination... Image: rockpaperwatch.com

You shall die for your insubordination…
Image: rockpaperwatch.com

I actually own the second Game of Thrones book, and one of my friends loaned me the first one over a year ago (and, probably, won’t be at all impressed to learn I haven’t read it yet.) In my defence, I have read the first forty pages, but then I stopped. Not because I wasn’t interested, but just – I don’t know. Life happened. I haven’t seen the TV show either, but it’s second on my list of ‘must-buy boxsets’, after Dexter.

I’ll start the books again, I promise. Just let me keep my nerd credentials? Please?

Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare, author of the Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series, superstar author, multi-bestseller, and – as yet – unread by me. I’m not really sure why. I haven’t read Clare, or Holly Black, or Lauren de Stefano, or Richelle Mead, or Yasmine Galenorn, or Melissa de la Cruz, or any number of other YA/urban fiction superstars, and I have no explanation. I have dipped in and out of their books at times, and I’m familiar with the genre, but I can’t say it’s ever set my imagination on fire.

Huh. There you have it, I guess.

Jo Nesbo

Now. I like my Scandinavian crime fiction as much as the next person. I adore Henning Mankell, and I’ve read all the Wallander novels. I love Yrsa Sigurdardottir, the Icelandic crime fiction author. I read The Millennium Trilogy with huge enjoyment. I enjoy the darkness, the clipped style, the isolated protagonists, the descriptions of the weather, the alcoholism, the depression… and, even, I own several Nesbo books. I’ve just never read them.

There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Zadie Smith

Oh, gosh. I am embarrassed by this.

Image: vol1brooklyn.com

Image: vol1brooklyn.com

I have had this immensely talented lady on my ‘to-read’ list for years. Years. I have no valid reason why I’ve never read her. Fear, probably. Fear that I’ll read her books and give up writing because I will never, never be as good as she is.

Yup. That’s it.

And finally…

E. L. James

I really don’t think this one needs any elaboration.

However, you may be interested in Janet Cameron’s very funny Fifty Shades of Failure series of blog posts, wherein she details her attempts to read E. L. James’ work with a straight face, in the interests of serious literary inquiry. You’d be better off reading these than the books themselves, if even a fraction of what I’ve heard about them is true.

Not that I’ve been reading about the books, or keeping tabs on the reviews, or anything.

Image: keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

Image: keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk

So, that’s this week’s Top Ten Tuesday. Have a good one, everybody!

Top Ten Tuesday REWIND – Klaatu Barada Nikto*

There’s this really cool meme I’ve been seeing on all the best blogs (dahling) over the past few weeks, and it’s called Top Ten Tuesday. It’s hosted by the lovely people over at The Broke and the Bookish, and – I’ve got to say – I’ve been wondering about taking part for a while now.

So, in honour of the fact that I took the plunge back into submitting work for publication yesterday (because it’s the ‘being brave enough to submit’, not ‘actually getting the nod’ that counts), I thought perhaps I’d try this other new thing today.

Because, you know me. I love new things.

Image: marottaonmoney.com

Image: marottaonmoney.com


Today is a ‘Top Ten Tuesday Rewind’, which means you have the pick of a long list of Top Ten lists to choose from (the full list is on the Broke and the Bookish website); my choice is number 86 on that list.

Top Ten Books I Would Quickly Save If My House Was Going to Be Abducted by Aliens (or any other natural disaster)

Because aliens are so a natural disaster.

1. Elidor (but only if I can bring all my editions, currently three)

This one should come as zero surprise to anyone who has read this blog, ever.

Image: lwcurrey.com

Image: lwcurrey.com

The book which fed my childhood imagination? The book which gave me my love for medieval stuff? The book which frightened my shivering soul itself almost to the point of insanity – but which had me coming back for more? Yes. A thousand times, yes. I love this book, and so should you.

2. The Earthsea Quartet

Oh, wizard Ged and your wonderful ways! I couldn’t possibly leave you behind. Not even if giant silver humanoid killing machines were smashing through my window. What would I do without the magnificence of Orm-Embar, the calm dignity of Tenar, the terror of the Dry Land? No. I would bring my Earthsea Quartet, and I would try to smuggle in ‘Tales from Earthsea’ and ‘The Other Wind’, too.

Dash it all. I’d just clear off my entire Ursula Le Guin shelf, and have done with it.

image: aadenianink.com

image: aadenianink.com

3. Six Middle English Romances, ed. Maldwyn Mills

Image: bookdepository.co.uk

Image: bookdepository.co.uk

I don’t have a reason for this beyond the following: I am a huge giant nerd; I love Middle English, particularly these six texts, and I can’t imagine not having them to hand; I would want to save them from the huge squid-like aliens with their giant fangs and scant regard for human culture; most importantly, they rock. Seriously.

4. Lords and Ladies

Terry Pratchett has written a lot of books. I would, of course, want to save them all if something with far too many legs was attempting to rip off my head, but I think I would save this one as a representative volume. Mainly, it’s because ‘Lords and Ladies’ is my favourite of the Discworld books, but it’s also because my current edition was a gift from my husband. So, you know. Kudos.

5. The Dark is Rising Sequence

Aha. I see you are on to me. ‘What’s all this, then? Saving trilogies and quadrilogies and that? You’re cheating!‘ Well, yes. Yes, I am. But the ‘Dark is Rising’ books are all in one volume, so therefore it counts as one book. Stuff it, aliens.

image: yp.smp.com

image: yp.smp.com

This book is far too excellent. I couldn’t allow it to fall into the hands of an alien civilisation, possibly because they’d eat it and spit it out and that would be that. So, it’s coming.

6. The Little Prince

I have four editions of this. Two in English, one in French and one in Irish. I’m bringing ’em all.

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

What would be the point of surviving an alien attack, I ask you, if I leave behind a book which teaches me about the love of a little boy and his flower, or the loneliness of a fox, or the fact that every desert has an oasis at its heart, or how laughter amid the stars sounds like little bells, or what a boa constrictor who has swallowed an elephant looks like? Non. This book is precious. It’s coming.

7. Perrault’s Complete Fairy Tales, ed. Christopher Betts/Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales/Alan Garner’s Collected Folk Tales/Grimm Tales, ed. Philip Pullman

This speaks for itself, I feel. Yes, they are four separate books but come on. How can you save Perrault without Grimm? How can you leave behind Garner’s British folktale treasury? How can you expect me to walk out the door Angela Carter-less? It’s not happening.

image: goodreads.com

image: goodreads.com

This isn’t just about saving my favourite books (even though these are all my favourite books); it’s about saving human culture from the ravening maw of destruction. These books are, collectively, a brilliant gem of human culture. Truth. (Also, they’re pretty.)

8. Neverwhere and/or American Gods

I’m beginning to get the feeling that I’ll be eaten like an oversized, screaming hors d’oeuvre by these alien overlords. I’ll be too busy dithering at my bookshelves to bother about running away. Perhaps I should prepare a grab-bag of necessities, just in case?

Image: list.co.uk

Image: list.co.uk

I cannot choose between ‘American Gods’ and ‘Neverwhere.’ I can’t! Could you?

Then, of course, there’s the graphic novel adaptation of ‘Neverwhere’ (as illustrated handsomely above), which I also love, and then – horrors! – there’s my ‘Sandman’ collection, which I could hardly bear to leave behind… curse you, Neil Gaiman, for being so talented. You, and you alone, will be responsible for my being chewed up by aliens.

9. What Katy Did/What Katy Did Next

Susan Coolidge’s masterpieces kept me company all through my childhood. I owned a beautiful hardback edition of these two books, all in one volume, which – now that I think about it – I haven’t seen for a while.

I was fascinated by Katy and ‘all the little Carrs’, and the lemonade they used to make and the swing outside their house and the descriptions of their area and Katy’s utter gawkiness and… all of it. Just all of it. I loved these stories as a little girl, and so they’re coming.

I just hope I find my copy of the book before the aliens get here.

10. Whatever Jeanette Winterson I can get my hands on before the killer death-rays start blowing the roof off my house

Yeah. So, I have a problem with Jeanette Winterson, too. Do I save ‘Oranges are Not the Only Fruit’? How can I save that and not save ‘Why Be Normal When You Could Be Happy’? And then, how can I ask myself to live the rest of my (probably, rather short) life without ever casting my eyes upon ‘Sexing the Cherry’ again? I don’t feel life would be worth living without ‘The Passion.’

And that’s before we get anywhere near her children’s books.

Image: harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

Image: harlequinteaset.wordpress.com

I think what we can all take from this exercise is that if aliens do arrive on my fair isle, I shall not survive. However, at least I shall die happy, in the company of my books, and that is more than I deserve.

Happy Tuesday to you.

*Psst! Did you see what I did there?