Monday, 2 July 2018

Hearing Problems

Next week I’m going to start reviewing some audio books that I’ve listened to, starting with the BBC’s adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels. But before then does anyone have a novel that they have fallen in love because they heard it rather than read it? I had an unfortunate experience with Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens when I was younger because I tried to listen to it when I was ill and kept falling asleep. And now it is the one novel by Dickens that I can never remember the plot of!

Monday, 25 June 2018

Books and Migraine

On the arm of the sofa has a lot of books on it. It’s always looked this way because there are so many books out there that I want to read that I can’t help but pick up new ones before I’ve finished what I’m actually reading. And so it takes me longer to get through books, but I’m like a kid in a sweet shop – what am I supposed to do.

No self-control when it comes to books is only part of the problem. The other regular on the arm of the sofa is my migraine medication, Sumatriptan. As I’m writing this things are not too bad, I nearly made it to two weeks without a migraine. But last autumn as I was averaging 15 a month. And that can seriously get in the way of reading.

Having that many migraines is no fun. Ever. But what makes the pain worse is that you can do nothing productive. Even when the migraine has pretty much moved on there’s still the hours of lying there while your body tells you that it wasn’t just your head that was fighting the battle, it was all of you. Sometimes you wonder if energy will ever come back. But it does.

For me this all started when I was 17 so I’ve got my migraine routine nailed down now. The first sign for me is that my concentration goes. So from the very beginning of this there’s no chance of curling up with a book. As soon as I feel my concentration evaporate I know what’s coming and it’s reach for the nearest pain killer, or if it’s too late for that (sometimes I don’t notice the signs) it’s straight for the Sumatriptan.

If I’m lucky I head straight for a darkened room and to bed. But if I’m working then it’s take a deep breath, and push on through.

The first thing that comes back online is my brain. I am never more productive as I am straight afterwards. I might be exhausted but I want to be up and doing. And that’s when I get frustrated. Because I can’t just bounce back and achieve all that I want to. But in the last six months I’ve discovered something that helps me feel like I’m doing something but without me having to move. Amazon’s Audible. It’s brilliant – I can read without having to use my eyes.

Over the next few weeks I’ll try and post about what I’ve been listening to as well as reading, and maybe some sneaky migraine cheats I’ve discovered too.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Best Places to Read

Right now I’m listening to wind and the rain on the window and it’s making me remember one of my favourite reading spots. It was more of a one off reading spot, but it was one of the wettest days I’ve ever seen, and we had driven out to the moors above Haworth – true Bronte country and decided that it wasn’t worth getting out of the car. So we sat there for a couple of hours and read. I was reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s A Dark Night’s Work at the time, which is a collection of her short stories that are well worth a read. Listening to rain lashing down on the roof of the car, and the gloomy grey clouds rolling over the moors – what better reading place could there be?

Monday, 11 June 2018


Rather than zooming ahead this week with my reading I've been accosted by hayfever, or some sort of cold, and so have been snuffling my way through. But I was still thinking - and this is what I was thinking about:

If you could go back in time, with antibiotics or whatever else you needed to save their lives, which author's life would you prolong, in the hope that they would write more works?

For me it would be going back and saving Anne Bronte.

Comment below and let me know.

Monday, 4 June 2018

My Ambitious List

It’s almost half way through and already I’m disappointed that I’ve not read more. But there’s still six months to cram a load of reading in and this is the list of books I want to get through:

Follow Me Back – Nicci Cloke

Thirteen Guests – J Jefferson Farjeon

The World According to G – Geraint Thomas

Death in the Tunnel – Miles Burton

A Dark Night’s Work – Elizabeth Gaskell

Hamlet from Globe to Globe – Dominic Dromgoole

Echoes – Laura Tisdall

The Lie Tree – Francis Hardinge

One of us is Lying – Karen McManus
Racing Through the Dark – David Millar

29 Seconds – T M Logan

Friend Request – Laura Marshall

I also want to reread the Hunger Games Trilogy – thinking I might be a bit over ambitious!

Monday, 28 May 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Kenilworth, Sir Walter Scott

At last Kenilworth came to an end. And never before have I felt so cheated by the end of a book. You could argue that I only have myself to blame for my disappointment, given that I am aware of what happened historically with Robert Dudley and his wife, but in my defence, I thought that as Scott had rewritten so much of the history in this book and turned it into fiction, he might have done the same with the ending. Particularly as he puts his reader through agony to get there.

I can’t really write about this book properly without spoiling the ending, so if you are planning on reading this and don’t want to know how it ends you need to skip the next couple of paragraphs.

The real history is that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester is married to Amy Robsart. But he spends much of his life hoping to marry Queen Elizabeth I. Amy Robsart mysteriously dies and there’s suspicion that she was murdered so that Dudley can marry the Queen.

In Sir Walter Scott’s version Dudley has secretly married Amy Robsart and is trying to keep it secret from the Queen so that he can get more power etc. But he is frustrated that his secret marriage means that he won’t be able to marry the Queen. Dudley’s servant, Varney, is trying to help Dudley rise in favour with the Queen, and tries to smooth the way by getting rid of Amy. And so the book ends the same way as history did, with Amy’s death. But as reader’s we go through so much angst because Dudley can’t make up his mind and the other characters inadvertently make things worse, so that by the end the least Scott could have done would be to let us have a happy ending.

I wasn’t far through the book when I realised that the best way to deal with all the angst was to work out what was the worst possible decision a character could make, and then try to guess how long it would be before it happened. Because it did happen. Most of the time. 

But I also learned some really valuable life lessons along the way:

Get married secretly and run away from your friends and family.
It’s not really described how Dudley convinced Amy to marry him but she ended up leaving her father and the man she was engaged to, Tressilian (who was a bit of a wet lettuce), behind with no idea where she was. Also it made her father really ill, because he was a nice man who happened to love his daughter. Great idea.

2       It’s ok to live hidden away with a creepy guy and his daughter as long as your husband has promised that one day you will live with him as a countess.
Yep. Amy lives with some random guy and his daughter, who behave more like jailors, while Dudley keeps his position at court. Oh and she can’t get in touch with her sick father. Who does that?

3    When you can’t take it any more run off with a complete stranger who only days before had pretended to be a salesman so that he could talk to you.
In fairness she did think she was about to be murdered and she didn’t really have a lot of options. But still. Thankfully as readers we know that this one is alright, even if he does act a bit suspiciously.  

4    If it looks like the Queen is about to find out about your wife just pretend that actually she married your servant. 
Again in fairness if you think you might be executed you’re probably going to say, or as in this case, go along with whatever lie comes along first that might save your skin. But really how did Dudley think it would help matters later on when it comes out that not only as he secretly married but he has also lied to the Queen?

5    Fight and try to kill the person who would help you if you only talked to him.
So yes, you might think you’ve got it all worked out and you need to kill this person, but surely it is always better to speak first and then stab with sword?

As you can probably tell I think that this is a very silly book. But don’t be put off, if you want a laugh and would enjoy some angst and drama, then please go for it. And let me know which character you like the best.

Monday, 21 May 2018

The book about valuable homes for our canine friends

Kenilworth is not going well. It’s not helped by the fact that I keep finding other things to do/read rather than read it. My dad refers to it as my book about valuable homes for our canine friends. All that I can say is that I am making a list of all the important lessons I am learning from this book. How any of the characters have made it this far in their lives is beyond me, and I’m confident that none of them will have the sense to make it to the end. Maybe one will, but definitely not the rest of them.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Pre-Order Joy

Last week was brightened for me by the arrival of a book I had on pre-order. And what really made it sweet was that I had only found out about its existence by accident the week before, and it was on a subject that I’ve been meaning to read up on for a long time. So what was the book I hear you ask – well it was none other than The French Revolution by Stephen Clarke. It might not sound that exciting but Stephen Clarke is the author of 1000 Years of Annoying the French. Sound better now? If you’ve never read it I highly recommend it because Clarke is excellent at making history funny. Which is why I’m hoping that reading The French Revolution will make reading up on that period of history easier to swallow. Oh and I’ve always wanted to find out more about the French Revolution since I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

And no I haven’t finished Kenilworth yet.

Monday, 7 May 2018


The book that I am desperately trying to get through is Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott. I’ve made it to roughly the half way point and I’m still not sure who I’m supposed to be rooting for. In fact I think I may be inadvertently rooting for the wrong character. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have some idea of what you want to happen by now. Also I’ve only just worked out why it’s called Kenilworth. All I can say is that the second half better make all this hard work worth it. But it’s a beautiful weekend for sitting in the sun with a book!

Monday, 30 April 2018

What makes you cry?

I’m struggling to get through the book I’m reading so I decided to take a break and read something else. Bit of a mistake because I went from a book where I couldn’t really get behind any of the characters to something where I really could, and nearly ended up in tears. Which got me thinking about books that make me cry – and having thought about it for a while I concluded that there aren’t many that have achieved that. Books that have achieved this are The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (his new book Bridge of Clay is out later this year!) and also Selected Letters of Charlotte Bronte by Margaret Smith. The latter because after reading it for so long I felt that I had come to know Charlotte Bronte a little bit through her letters, so I was genuinely distressed when the last letter was from her husband to a friend to say that she had died. So when my housemate asked why I was crying I had to confess that it was because Charlotte Bronte was dead. It was a weird moment but we got through it.

Anyway what books have made you cry and why? Or have any brought you to tears because they are so bad?

Monday, 23 April 2018

Libraries and Gladstone

I may not have finished a book in time for this week but my excuse is a good one. I’ve been just outside Chester exploring Gladstone’s library. It’s the kind of place you dream of reading in – a library full of old books from floor to ceiling. Which is what I did for a little while. And next week I will tell you about what I read. In the meantime you should check out the library’s website in case you need to go exploring too.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Endless Night, Agatha Christie

Endless Night is the last Christie I’m going to read for a while, but it’s definitely my favourite so far. There’s no Poirot or Marple, or any detective at all, just a narrative of how the murder happened. In my opinion the ending wasn’t as strong as it could have been. I would have liked so see the murderer made more of, but they just seem to crumble, somehow it just didn’t seem to fit.

The story is told through the narration of Michael Rogers, who is a working class guy who meets a rich heiress, Ellie. They get married and Michael’s friend Rudolph Santonix, an architectural genius, builds them a house on Gypsy’s Acre.

There are so many ominous things that happen in this story. Santonix says some very telling things to Michael though out the story. He might be a brilliant architect but he is dying, although I was never overly sure of what it was that he was ill with. When he does eventually die his final words to Michael seemingly mean nothing, but Michael puts a meaning to them later on when he sees a ghost.

If you’re not a fan of ghosts and stuff that’s spooky I would leave this one alone.

Gypsy’s Acre is the crux of the story. The local folklore is that the land belonged to some gypsies, who were forced to move off the land, which didn’t make them very happy, so they put a curse on the land. Esther Lee is the local gypsy, and she keeps popping up warning Ellie of the curse and lots of strange and frightening things happen that all attributed to Esther. It all comes to a head when Ellie dies and then all the threads of the story come together.

The title comes from William Blake’s poem Auguries of Innocence, which I attempted to read but didn’t get very far with. What really interested me was the dedication, which is to Nora Pritchard and says that it was from Nora Pritchard that Agatha Christie first heard the legend of Gypsy’s Acre. Which gets me thinking – what is the original legend of Gypsy’s Acre. I’ve asked google and Wikipedia tells me who Nora Pritchard is but that’s it. So if you know what the legend is, let this curious one know.

Not sure what I’m going to do now that I’ve overdosed on crime fiction for over a year. I do have Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran if I start to have withdrawal symptoms.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Sofa Spotlight - The Glory of the Cross, Tim Chester

It isn’t Lent anymore but here’s what I read for Lent this year. It’s a devotional for Lent that goes through parts of the book of John. (A detail I failed to read on the front cover and wondered why all the readings were coming from John and no other Gospel). 

I didn’t read it alone – I read it with a friend and then we met and talked about what we read – or messaged about it. I’m not a huge reader of devotionals so I wasn’t sure I would make it through, but I surprised myself and stuck with it.

The first thing that I learnt was that there are a lot more weeks in Lent than I realised. Each week of Lent has a different section and each section starts on the Sunday. You read a big chunk of John and then the rest of the week is spent looking at little bits of what you read on the Sunday. By big chunk I mean part of a chapter – but some of the chapters in John are quite long.

I also played around with what time of day I was reading this. At the start I was reading it last thing at night – but on Sunday nights when you have to read more I found I wasn’t taking it in as well. The problem with first thing in the morning is that there’s a rush to get ready for work and so by the end I was reading it on my lunch break – when I was properly awake and didn’t have to be anywhere.

One of the reasons I’m not so keen on devotionals is if you miss a day you have to play catch up. Probably the fear of catch up is what kept me reading and on top of it. I did miss a few days though but that was ok – during the week the readings are short enough to catch up but not feel like you’re rushing to get through it for the sake of it. The other thing that probably stopped me giving up was reading it with someone. There was no way I was going to show up with nothing to say so I had better get on and read it.

I would definitely recommend it though – and maybe don’t even wait for next Lent to start it. It was nice to read parts of John and see a different take on them. For me the biggest surprise came right at the end on Easter Sunday with the start of John 20. There was something there that I hadn’t noticed before (you need to read it and get to the end if you want to know what it was) and because I was taking my time over it I got to not only notice but think deep about it too.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott

It’s taken me about three months to get through Ivanhoe. Partly because it is fairly long (my penguin edition is around 500 pages) but also parts of it require quite a bit of concentration.

Anyways it’s a story about Ivanhoe – a knight who has come back from the crusades, but at first no one knows who he is. Which, as you keep reading, becomes a bit of a theme in this book. There’s quite a few characters who keep their true identity hidden at first. Although often you can see through it straight away. But back to Ivanhoe. He wants to marry Rowena who he has known from childhood. The problem is his father does not want Ivanhoe to marry Rowena because Rowena is a Saxon princess and he wants her to marry Athelstane, heir to the Saxon throne, so that they can put a Saxon back on the throne of England. So Ivanhoe ends up getting banished because he won’t stop wanting to marry Rowena.

Which is the Saxon part of the story.

The Norman part is about Richard the Lion Heart and Prince John and also Robin Hood. So basically the whole story is about who should be King of England.

The whole thing about Saxons and Normans made the start of the book a bit hard to get through. But at the start you meet two of the best characters, Gurth and Wamba, who are both at the bottom of the food chain but are brilliant and probably braver than some of the knights. Gurth – another one who hides his identity for part of the story – runs off to follow Ivanhoe and although later gets in trouble for it ends up saving the lives of Ivanhoe’s father. And Wamba isn’t far behind him when it comes to heroic rescues.

Along with Gurth and Wamba you have some characters that are supposed to be serious but come off as hilarious. Brian de Bois-Guilbert needs to make up his mind about whether he is good or bad, and ultimately about what he wants. Athelstane, probably not meant to be serious, but all he is about is food and drinking and at first I wasn’t a fan of him, but he comes good in the end.

Robin Hood also features, but not as much as I thought he would. While everyone else is charging around on their horses he is keeping an eye on things and making sure he is always handy with his bow and arrows when needed.

Oh and Ivanhoe spends most of the book wounded and out of action. Yet makes at least two people fall in love with him.

For all that I did enjoy reading it. Scott makes you love or hate the characters he creates and the story is exciting. I just wouldn’t take his novel as historical fact or anything like it.

Monday, 26 March 2018

This post was going to be...

...about Ivanhoe. But I'm ten pages from the end and I can't stay awake any longer to finish it, let alone string a sensible sentence together about what it's like.

So next Monday will be Ivanhoe... I hope.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Quiet, Susan Cain

I feel like I was very late to read this book – well actually that’s probably the story of my life, but anyway every time I told someone I was reading this they would say “oh yeah I’ve  read that.” Often this was followed with a “it’s really good.” Which I was discovering. It’s taken me nearly a year if not longer to read it so now I’m really late. So if, like me, you’re late on this too here’s what it’s about.

First off it’s a book about introverts. And this introvert likes to read – so perfect – it’s like reading a book about what I’m like. Kind of. There’s a lot of science to get through – or enjoy if that’s what you like. For me I didn’t understand all of it, but the parts that I did understand made a lot of sense. What resonated the most were the parts that talked about how introverts interact with extroverts. Which in my world is as little as possible. But that’s starting to change.

There were quite a few moments when reading this that I thought – yeah I totally do that. And when you tie that in with the science suddenly I was thinking that maybe my need to be alone isn’t as anti-social as I first thought. Curling up with a book and shutting out the world for a bit is ok. Also the fact that I have no problem standing up and speaking to a room full of people but then have major problems spending time with more than four or five people at a time, is no longer a mystery to me.

If you’re in any way interested in the human mind and how it works then this is a good book to read. I find it fascinating, but my interest has mainly been about how the brain processes and deals with language – seriously it’s amazing. This is dealing with a different part of the brain to the parts that I’ve studied in the past, but it’s been no less enjoyable.

There’s more to this book than just science – so it’s worth working through it if science puts you off. I enjoyed the sections on history – how being an extrovert became what everyone wanted to be and thought you should be – and also the sections on how different cultures have different ideas on whether being an extrovert or an introvert is better. Towards the end there’s stuff on how introverts can navigate the world and thrive. I guess for me the danger is that I will hide behind an introvert label and use it as an excuse not to make an effort with people when I really don’t feel like it.

I finished the book with lots to think about – which is a sign of a good book right?

Oh and did I say that the cover looks great? Because it does.

Monday, 12 March 2018


I’m nine books into my year – books being the best way to measure time of course and I feel that it is time to take a deep breath and order popcorn and ice cream and get ready to settle in for the next chapter.

In the next three weeks I’m hoping to finish these three books:
Ivanhoe ­– Walter Scott
Quiet – Susan Cain
Endless Night ­­– Agatha Christie

If you’ve read any of them comment below and let me know what you thought of them. I’ve loved all of them so far, but the biggest surprise was Ivanhoe. From the way it started I really didn’t think I would get on with it but it’s brilliant – so wonderfully melodramatic.

Endless Night is the last Agatha Christie I will be reading for a while and it is fast becoming my favourite. I read half of it in one sitting. And I’ve been glaring at everyone who has tried to talk to me while I’ve been reading it – yes it’s one of those.

It’s taken me nearly a year to read Quiet not because I don’t like but just because it was on my books to take my time over pile. Most people who I’ve talked to about this have already read it, so I’m late to the party but if you haven’t read this book and you’re an introvert, stop reading this blog and go buy it. If you want a little taste of what it’s like follow the link.

As well as reading I’ve also been busy writing with SallyMiller – maybe one day I will be able to measure time by how many writing projects I’ve finished. But for now I will just stick to measuring it by books. Anyone else measure time like this?

Monday, 5 March 2018

Sofa Spotlight - The Crooked House, Agatha Christie

It’s been a cold couple of days and if you’re done playing in the snow (if you still have any) then this is the book for you. I’m getting close to the end of my Agatha Christie trail, having said goodbye to Miss Marple and Poirot. The Crooked House doesn’t feature either detective and the story is told by the son of the Commissioner investigating the case. He just so happens to be wanting to become engaged to the granddaughter of the victim.

I’ve been reading this for a while – in fact I started it before Christmas. I was only half way through when it was on TV and so I couldn’t watch it because I didn’t want to spoil the ending for myself. So over the last couple of months in various coffee shops and many trains I’ve been trying to get to the end of it so I can find out what happened. It was most intriguing and what was even more pleasing was that I worked out who the murderer was.

The victim is an old man who lives in a bizarre house – both in architecture and also in who lives there. He has a young wife who falls immediately under suspicion. Joining her under that suspicion is the tutor of the two children, and it’s fairly obvious that they more than like each other. But then there is the rest of the family – his two sons from a previous marriage and their children. And also a sister in law. And of course in true murder mystery style they all have motives.

One of my favourite characters was the child, Josephine, who tells our main character, Charles, that she is investigating the murder because the police are stupid. She predicts that a second murder is coming and is correct. But really the best character was Edith de Haviland – she is a no nonsense kind of person who I think sees more clearly than the rest what is going on.

In my mind what makes this novel different to the Marple and Poirot mysteries is that you become invested in the relationship between Charles and Sophia. If they can’t solve the case then Sophia won’t marry Charles. But then there’s also the thought that what if Sophia is the guilty one. It’s an element that isn’t in the other novels and it makes for more interesting reading.

As endings go I was surprised at how satisfying it was. I’m not a huge fan of characters taking the law into their own hands but somehow it worked in this. It’s the kind of ending that makes you shudder with relief.

I’ve only got one more Agatha Christie to read this time round – and I’m hoping to read it a bit of a quicker speed than this one. I have a couple of long train journeys coming up and there’s really only one way to entertain myself – read a good book.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Elephants Can Remember, Agatha Christie

For some reason I read the title of this book as Elephants Can’t Remember so I was confused for quite some time before it dawned on me. Anyway the reason why that is important is that this is about a murder/suicide that happened a long time in the past. It takes both Poirot and Ariadne Oliver going around asking people what they remembered from a particular time.

I liked Ariadne Oliver, who is a crime writer, better in this book than I have in other ones. I much prefer Hastings but she did alright in this one. I’m guessing that she is meant to be a bit like Agatha Christie from a couple of things she says about not liking the detective she has created in her novels.

So the problem that they are trying to solve is what happened to General Ravenscroft and his wife. They were both found dead with a revolver between them that had both their finger prints on it. So who killed who? Was it double suicide or murder/suicide? Because it happened such long time the pair have to deal with some fairly old witnesses, who thankfully remember things that help them work it out. These witnesses are referred to as the elephants and there are four of them. Two of them were working in the Ravenscroft household at one time.

The reason this whole thing comes up is that Ariadne Oliver is the godmother of the Ravenscroft’s child, Celia. Celia is engaged to Desmond Burton-Cox and it is Desmond’s mother who wants to know what happened to Celia’s parents. Mrs Burton-Cox is one of those characters you’re not supposed to like, and Poirot finds out what is really behind her not wanting her son to marry Celia.

I liked the book but it’s not as good as other novels by Agatha Christie. From what I can tell it was one of the last novels that she wrote and maybe that’s why it doesn’t have the same kind of punch that the others did. I think it had mixed reviews when it first came out as well.

If you’ve never read a novel by Agatha Christie or one of the Poirot stories this might not be the place to start. There are definitely better places. But if you love the characters then it’s a good one to pick up. I’m sad that Captain Hastings doesn’t make it but I know he is in Final Curtain so that kind of makes it alright. Also might have enjoyed this more if I hadn’t got myself confused by the title! I suppose it would have been a very different book if the elephants couldn’t remember what had happened!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Sofa Spotlight - A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D A Carson

This was a book that I never wanted to read because the cover was so naff and I didn’t understand the title. I know that you shouldn’t judge a book by a cover, but we all do it. Particularly now when there are so many good covers out there for books. So there really is no excuse for bad covers. But once I looked into it and worked out what it was about I discovered that it was a book well worth reading.

First of all it is about prayer. Which was on the cover – I just didn’t look hard enough to see it when I glanced at it, so me missing out on this book for so long was my own fault. Carson goes through some of Paul’s prayers in his letters to see what how Paul prayed and the kind of things that he prayed for and about. Each chapter is about a different one of the prayers or a different aspect of them and how we can use them to shape our own prayer lives.

This quickly became one of the few books that I’ve underlined parts of. I have a strong aversion to writing in books so it’s rare that I do, but in this case I did because I want to revisit it in the future and build on what I’ve learnt this time around. I didn’t break the rule enough to write notes though – I’m not a big note taker.

I would recommend this book if prayer is something that you struggle with. It’s one of the things I hate the most and part of the reason for that is not knowing where to start. This book not only helps you find that start but it also helps you to build the framework for building a prayer life. Even if you do know what you’re doing when it comes to prayer I would still recommend it because there’s always something you can learn from Paul’s letters.

Having never read anything by Don Carson before I think I’ve found another writer that I like. He’s very readable and in no way do you end up feeling like he’s setting the bar too high when it comes to prayer.

So my advice is don’t be put off by the cover and give it a read. Take your time with it and get the most out of it. And if you don’t write in books either, be brave, take up a pen (or a pencil if the permanency of ink is too much for you) and underline something. Or just make notes in a notebook – that works too. Either make sure you read this. And if you find a version with a  better cover let me know.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Eldorado, Baroness Orczy

Chronologically there are four books between this one and I Will Repay. I don’t intend to read them anytime soon but I have managed to find one of them, Lord Tony’s Wife. It’s finding them that is the problem because there are only a few of them that seem to be available. The rest I’ve been searching for in second hand bookshops.

This one was written in 1913 and features the Scarlet Pimpernel launch an attempt to rescue the Dauphin who is still a child and being brought up to hate his parents. Along with him to Paris he brings Marguerite’s brother Armand, and gives him strict instructions not to talk to anyone he knows. Not only does Armand not listen to this he also falls in love with someone and is so infatuated that he betrays the Pimpernel.

I don’t know that I’ve ever met a more infuriating character than Armand. Not only do you end up marvelling at how the Pimpernel will extract himself from what seems to be an inescapable situation, but also that he doesn’t murder Armand at the first opportunity. But the Scarlet Pimpernel is a noble chap.

There’s a couple of characters in this that I hadn’t met previously, Heron and De Batz. De Batz is half good, half bad. He too wants to rescue the Dauphin but he doesn’t like the Scarlet Pimpernel and is really the one behind the betrayal. Chauvelin is in this though and you have to love Chauvelin. He is an awful villain – suffering a bit because of how many times the Scarlet Pimpernel has outwitted him and in need of capturing him in order to get back into favour. As always the Scarlet Pimpernel makes the most of mocking him in his true English style.

Marguerite is also back, and you get to see how her relationship with Sir Percy has developed, which I felt was missing in I Will Repay. There’s so much stuff going on with the characters though that the rescue of the Dauphin takes a back seat in terms of narrative and by the end of the book I’m not sure I was invested in whether or not he was rescued. I was completely absorbed in working out if the Scarlet Pimpernel would make it out alive.

You could happily read this as a standalone novel. But I would recommend venturing into the whole series. Like I say that will involve tracking down some second hand copies here and there but I think that can only add to the reading experience. These are not hard to read stories. The plot drives them on at a fast pace so it’s not something you will get bogged down in.  

Monday, 5 February 2018

Sofa Spotlight - 23 Days in July, John Wilcockson

I wanted to read this book for a couple of reasons. The shortest is that it is about the 2004 Tour de France and, as I didn’t really start watching the Tour until 2010, I thought it would be fun to read about one of the races that I didn’t see.

My second reason is that it was the year that Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour de France and so it was written before all the hype around when he admitted to doping so he didn’t actually win those races. If you check out the Wikipedia articles for the Tour de France races that Armstrong won you see his name scratched out.

Even though it’s been nearly six years since Armstrong confessed to cheating there’s still a lot of stuff in the news surrounding the sport about doping. I’m not sure what I believe when it comes to what is reported. Last year it was Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Cyclists I both like, so there is a big part of me that is hoping that it was all innocent. But I think the problem is no one knows what to believe anymore. When I watch it I want to believe that what I am seeing is real but I don’t think there’s any way of knowing and I hope that one day that gets cleared up.

But in this book none of that is being talked about because it just hadn’t happened yet. The Festina affair had happened but that was in 1998. And there is some mention of the allegations being made against Armstrong. On the whole though there wasn’t as much talk about it as there is now.

Each chapter of the book takes you through a different stage of the Tour and its events and post- race analysis. For me it was as exciting as watching the race on TV. The pace of the book was just as fast and dramatic. I think even if you don’t know the cycling world you would enjoy this book because there’s enough information given to give you the picture but not so much that it becomes dull. And if you love the sport and reading then this is the perfect combination.

Up against Armstrong are Jan Ullrich from Germany and also Tyler Hamilton from the USA, who sadly crashes out. Neither of them are names that I recognise but it was fun trying to spot riders that are still in the sport, or were in it when I started following it.

What comes across is how tough a race it is. I don’t think you have to be a cyclist to feel a bit of the agony that the riders go through climbing the mountains. Wilcockson makes this a brilliant read and I think it’s worth reading to see what the sport was like in the Armstrong years. But if reading isn’t your thing and you don’t really know what happened with Lance Armstrong then The Programe or The Armstrong Lie are worth a watch.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Sofa Spotlight - Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis

I took my time reading this. It’s worth taking it slow and letting the truths sink in. To give you some background, this book didn’t start out as a book. C. S. Lewis gave a series of talks on the BBC during the Second World War and after being turned into pamphlets or shorter books, the talks became this book in 1952.

It’s called Mere Christianity because Lewis was trying to give the basics, or common ground, of what Christianity is all about. It wasn’t his intention to describe the details of every aspect or what each denomination believes. He has an excellent way of describing it in the book, which reminds you that this is the man who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia.

Maybe it’s because I loved Narnia so much that I was curious to read some of Lewis’ non-fiction. All I can say is I wasn’t disappointed.

My recommendation is that you do what I did and read it with someone. What I found is that you find things of value that the other missed and so, in a sense, you get to enjoy this book twice.

For me it was towards the end of the book that I enjoyed the most. He talks about sin and why even when we ask God to help us not sin in a particular way He doesn’t seem to answer that prayer. The reason Lewis gives for this is that by not answering that prayer straight away God is teaching us to come back to Him and be dependent on Him rather than doing things in our own strength. Lewis writes it better than me but that’s roughly what he is saying. It was good for me to hear as I like to do things by myself and last year was a year of learning that I cannot be self-sufficient no matter how much I may want to be.

This is also the book of the famous mad, bad or God quote. Which I didn’t realise until I fell over it. But I was very excited to see it in its original context.

If you’ve never read C. S. Lewis I would say this is a good place to start to get to know his books. His tone is very similar to what I imagine a grandfather would sound like, I never knew either of my grandfathers so I am just guessing. But his style is engaging and gentle. One of those writers who cares for his readers and wants them to take to heart the message of Christianity.

For me I will be looking at reading more of his non-fiction, but I also want to attempt to read his sci-fi novels and maybe revisit The Chronicles of Narnia, not to mention The Screwtape Letters, which I heard he didn’t enjoy writing all that much. I love C. S. Lewis and I’m glad that I found this book, even though I did sort of need someone else to convince me to read it. 

Monday, 22 January 2018

Sofa Spotlight - 206 Bones, Kathy Reichs

Writing this it has dawned on me that I read a lot of crime fiction. Probably that was already obvious to you. I was going to say that this one was less creepy than last week’s 13 Minutes but I think it is equally creepy just in a different way.

This time the creepiness comes in a more passive aggressive, stalkerish kind of way. The novel opens with Dr Temperance Brennen finding herself imprisoned in a dark, very enclosed space. And no memory of how she got there. The rest of the book switches between the present with Brennen trying to work out how to escape and her memories of what has happened before she got into her present predicament.

Those flashbacks are about a case involving the murders of two elderly women that are potentially linked to another murder Brennen had been working on. The team she has been working with had their own troubles, the head of department is off sick, and there’s a newbie who seems to cause trouble. And someone has made an anonymous phone call questioning her competency. There are plenty of suspects for the attack on Brennen, including her neighbour who isn’t overly keen on her cat.

For me this is the second time I’ve read this book and it will be one that I keep because of what it started. It was given to me by someone who had read it and it was planning to give it to a charity shop. I read it, liked it and passed it to a friend. Who got addicted to the series and started reading more. We then discovered the TV series and that has brought a lot of laughs and happiness into our lives. All because someone decided to give me a book rather than take it to a charity shop. Moral of the story – offer your friends your books first, you don’t know what you might start. (Just in case you're worried for the charity shops - I then spent quite some time scouring them to find the whole series so I feel like I made up for their initial loss.)

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bones series and you like crime drama then you are missing out. This book is the twelfth in the series, but I read it as a standalone and it was great. If you are coming to book series from the TV show there are differences that you will pick up straight away. The characters are not the same, there’s no Booth, and in this one, I’m not sure about the others, there’s a fair bit of dialogue in French. Not having a great knowledge of French I just skipped over those bits and I don’t feel like I lost anything for it. I had the same issue with War and Peace. Maybe I should work on improving my French this year. Some of the description can also get quite technical, which having watched the show I feel like I handled better this time round.

All in all it’s a good read. One of those where you need to keep reading to find out what happens and it doesn’t matter if you don’t eat or sleep for a few days while you do that. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Sofa Spotlight - 13 Minutes, Sarah Pinborough

This one is so good you feel like you need to be able to read it in 13 minutes just because you need to know what happened. It was one of the best YA books of 2016 and it’s not hard to see why.

The story follows 17 year old Tasha as she is pulled out of the river by a man walking his dog. She’s been dead for 13 minutes and she has no memory of what happened to her before she ended up in the river. Into the mix are Tasha’s best friends, Hayley and Jenny, who seem to have become secretive since the incident, and also Becca, Tasha’s best friend from year 7, who Tasha and Hayley ditched for Jenny.

If you remember anything from high school then this book will definitely resonate. It’s so true to life, well a more sinister side to life, but the characters live in a world that we know is real. Painfully real. Teenage girls are intense and this takes it to a whole new level.

You get different points of view along the way, sometimes it’s Tasha’s sometimes Becca’s. There’s text conversations or diary entries along with the narrative and the blend works so well. Neither medium is overdone – it’s that perfect balance between not giving too much away and making the reader want more. You see the relationship between Hayley and Jenny through their texts, but you only get enough information to make you wonder what happened all the more.

Becca takes on the task of trying to work out what happened, but there are so many twists that you have to stop trying to work it out and just enjoy the story. Or at least I did. It’s rare that a book can make me feel sick, but Pinborough ramps up the tension so much that you can almost feel what is going to happen next. It’s like watching a train wreck whilst being glad that you’re just the reader and safely disconnected.

Even though this is an extreme outcome of high school politics – not many teenagers resort to murder to sort things out, it is scarily believable. It’s not a huge step away from what actually goes on. There’s something intensely creepy about children that murder though. This book is talking about the upper end of childhood, but at 17 you’re not properly an adult yet and you shouldn’t be working out and then carrying through a murder. I know that happens in real life but it just seems more horrible than adult murder. Maybe because often it’s more psychopathic? In my exploration of crime fiction the stories that have spooked me the most are the ones that involved a child murderer. I remember watching an episode of Midsomer Murders where that happened and I couldn’t watch any more episodes for a while afterwards.

If you’re planning to read this maybe clear your diary for a while. You will want to read it quickly. It only took me a couple of sittings to get through it. It’s unbelievably compelling. 

Monday, 8 January 2018

Sofa Spotlight - I will Repay, Baroness Orczy

So this is the second Scarlet Pimpernel story that Baroness Orczy wrote, although I think she later wrote another novel that fits in the time between this and the first novel. This one follows the story of Paul Deroulede who, before the French Revolution, gets into a duel with a young Vicomte de Marny and ends up killing the Vicomte. It’s obvious that the Vicomte really only has himself to blame for his death. Nevertheless the Vicomte’s father demands revenge and makes his teenage daughter, Juliette, take an oath to spend her life finding a way to ruin Deroulede.

Oaths like that never end well and the rest of the novel follows Juliette as it takes her on various twists and turns trying to accomplish it. It’s predictable and melodramatic but a lot of fun. The Scarlet Pimpernel doesn’t feature as much, but he is of course there at the end to mop up the mess that Juliette and Deroulede get themselves into.

In fact as I’ve been reading through these novels the fun thing to do is work out what elaborate way the Scarlet Pimpernel will come up with to get his friends and himself out of danger. Because they are always dramatic and nearly always involve some elaborate disguise!

But as tense as the story gets there is a comfort in the predictability. You can enjoy the drama safe in the knowledge that the Scarlet Pimpernel is out there and will save the day.

As sequels go this is a good one. My only issue is that in the first novel you got to know the character of the Scarlet Pimpernel and Marguerite and their dynamic but in this you hardly see that at all. Which left me feeling a bit short changed because their characters had been so well developed. But on the other hand it gives the characters of Deroulede and Juliette space to be developed in their own right.

In these novels the issues of the French Revolution are not really touched on. The Republic is cast as a stereotypical tyrant to be defeated by a gallant hero. Dickens did much better at describing the plight of the French peasants before the revolution in A Tale of Two Cities. But unlike Dickens, Baroness Orczy’s purpose isn’t to comment on the social history of the time but to provide good fast moving drama. Which Dickens also achieves but in a different way. (A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favourite novels of all time and if you haven’t read it before you should make this the year that you do).

My advice if you need a bit of fun escapism this January is to pick this book up (and read it – just picking it up isn’t going to do much for you). Its eye-rolling predictableness embedded in good adventure might just be what you need on a dark winters night. It’s very visual – much better than a film and you can tell that she first wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel for the stage.

Monday, 1 January 2018

It's a Whole New Year

Happy New Year!
Welcome back to my blog, which has been dormant for most of last year. 2017 was a bizarre and busy year that didn’t leave a lot of time for reading or blog writing. For the last few months I’ve hardly picked up a book at all, which I’m sure you will know, is not like me. Since my late teens I’ve struggled with frequent migraines but last September they increased like nothing I’ve had before.

Since then there haven’t been many days where I’ve been headache free. One of the annoying things about that is that I haven’t been up for much reading. I haven’t had the concentration for it. But happily for me they have started to decrease over Christmas and so book reading is back on my list of things to do for 2018.

As is this blog.

One thing that I started last year was to focus more on writing fiction with my good friend Sally. In my reading famine I’ve had the privilege of reading her work, which I hope she will one day share with the world. She has a blog of her own and I highly recommend you travel down this link and have a look;

If you’ve been reading this blog in previous years you will know that I’ve not got on well with poetry. Well, some things change and although I’m still not claiming to be a fan there have been some poems that I’ve fallen in love with in 2017.

Maybe it’s a concentration thing but I’ve needed stuff that’s short. More than ever I’ve been able to remember short phrases or ideas. I might have struggled to read words, but there’s been nothing wrong with my imagination, and I’ve sustained my need for story by using concepts from those poems as a launch into creating worlds inside my head. And it’s not just been poems, sometimes I’ve heard people say phrases that are so poetic that I’ve stored them away to use them as story titles later on.

Charlotte Bronte’s poems written after the deaths of her sisters, Emily and Anne are new discoveries for me and maybe this year the poetry of the Bronte sisters is something that I will explore. I’ve also rediscovered a poem by Robert Frost that I haven’t revisited since I studied it at A-level. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening was one of the first poems that I understood and loved. You should look all three of them up sometime; the two by Charlotte Bronte are On the Death of Emily Bronte and On the Death of Anne Bronte. But maybe have something light hearted to read afterwards – it’s a heavy way to start the year.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll let you know what I was reading last year up until the point I crashed out. After that the possibilities are endless. There are so many books I want to read this year.

So let me know what you’ve been reading while I’ve been gone. What are your recommendations? What did I miss?