This is the first of Christopher Milne’s series of autobiographical books about his childhood and beyond. It is well known, of course, that his relationship with Winnie-the-Pooh was a love–hate one. This book sets out some of the reasons for this. Milne feels that both his father and some of his works were misunderstood and he sets the record, at least partially, straight. An engaging read, easy to digest and yet interesting enough to keep the pages turning, the book is shot through with an emotional depth that stayed with me after I’d closed the pages. Mind you, I didn’t get past the quote right at the start before I was welling up:
So they went off together. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.
Gets me every time.
I love Arthurian tales and I love Tolkien so what could possibly go wrong? Absolutely nothing. It’s a fragment, sadly; he got distracted with some book called The Lord of the Rings, or something like that, and he never finished it. A great pity. But there’s enough of the poem (oh yes, did I mention that it’s a poem? Using the Old English alliterative metre?) to get a good sense of its tone and majesty. Loved it.
It’s all about the cider. Well, actually, that’s not altogether true, although cider does feature quite prominently! The first of the Merrily Watkins series, this novel asks some serious questions about how the church should handle issues of a supernatural nature. Merrily is the new vicar grappling with the hostility in the village – towards her, towards fellow villagers, towards progress… She’s an appealing figure, flawed and exhausted, a struggling single mum and servant of God. The novel is a good mix of reality and other-worldliness. Oh, and did I mention the cider?
‘A collection of fanciful, satirical and surprising parodies … and pastiches …’ says the cover. And it is. Some of my favourites include Dan Brown visiting a cash dispenser and the Brontës placing lonely hearts ads. It’s a lot of fun in a nice small book.
I was drawn to this book by the title, which is taken from one of my favourite plays, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, in which Peter says that he does not fear death because to die would be ‘an awfully big adventure.’ The story revolves around Stella, a young trainee taken on at a Liverpool theatre which is staging, among other productions – yes, you guessed it! – Peter Pan. One review on the cover states that this is ‘Vintage bittersweet Bainbridge’. Bittersweet is certainly a good description. Bainbridge does not spare the punches; her work is gritty and often brutal. She’s razor-sharp. There is humour, but don’t look for any happy endings. A very interesting insight into life in a rep theatre in the 1950s.
Another long, hot summer of sitting in the garden reading lots of lovely books. Well, the bit about the books is right, anyway. Shame about the weather...
Spectacles: a memoir by Sue Perkins
What can I say? If you like Sue Perkins you’ll love this book. It’s filled with her characteristic wit and sparkling observations, but it’s heartfelt and honest too, sometimes achingly so.
Conclave by Robert Harris
An absolutely fascinating insight into what might go on during the world’s most secretive elective process. I enjoyed reading it but confess (no pun intended) to feeling a little disappointed by the ending. Things aren’t quite what they seem (I don’t think I’m giving anything away there) but the outcome just wasn’t shocking enough to make the build-up worthwhile.
Release by Patrick Ness
I fell in love with A Monster Calls and so when Release was, well, released I rushed off to grab a copy. I must admit that I didn’t feel quite the same way about it, but it’s a thought-provoking and refreshingly honest story about a young boy struggling with the emotional turmoil of relationships past and present.
Prudence by Jilly Cooper
When Jilly Cooper released her most recent novel, I realised that I had never read one of her books. So I decided to read one of her older books and see whether that would trigger a desire to embark on the Rupert Campbell-Black books. I enjoyed Prudence, one of Cooper’s short novels, as a holiday read. Generally the characters – nice and nasty – get what they deserve. Will I rush to read more? Probably not. But neither will I dismiss the idea of further reading until I’ve tried one of her longer novels, for which she is better known.
The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent
Translated from the original French, this is a lovely, gentle (and quick) read about a man whose work life causes him so much distress that he reads aloud to his fellow commuters every day to escape what awaits him. When he finds out that he’s not the only one who feels like that, it seems that there’s finally something to battle on for.
Keep the Midnight Out by Alex Gray
Set mainly on the lovely Isle of Mull, this crime novel links two dead bodies, found twenty years apart. Will the two senior investigating officers be able to overcome the tension between them in order to see the link? Some nice characters and plenty of red herrings!
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
A beautifully written story about a group of very different people whose lives become interwoven. Perry creates a marvellous sense of creeping menace in her book. Oh, and the front cover is a joy!
This mysterious novella is highly charged and seriously – but deliciously – chilling. I’m glad I didn’t read this alone on a dark winter night! Exploring ideas about how technology might interact with the human soul, and whether events and emotions might be transmitted down a bloodline, this book both elevates and shudders at the connections we humans can’t even begin to comprehend. I repeat: seriously chilling!
Set on Morecambe Bay, this novel evokes brilliantly the sense of mystery and compulsion that encapsulates the sands which stretch out across the vastness of the bay; you can gaze out across the bay, knowing that countless lives have been lost – in many cases those of local people caught out despite their knowledge of the tides and quicksand – and still feel an unexplained desire to stride out on to the sands where the light dazzles and disorientates. ‘Unmappable and treacherous’ writes Ashworth of the bay – or is it of the volatile stranger who appears in the lives of the Clifford family at their most desperate hour, to whom they are drawn despite the increasingly obvious dangers? Raising so many more questions than it answers, as a truly great novel should, Fell is thought-provoking, unsettling, haunting – but ultimately hopeful. A stunning novel.
Like Fell by Jenn Ashworth, this novel is set on the Lancashire coast, less than an hour from my home. There’s a brooding sense of menace from the outset and there’s little to redeem the unending bleakness and isolation of an area seemingly forgotten by the world. Says the protagonist, ‘I often thought there was too much time there. That the place was sick with it. Haunted by it. Time didn’t leak away as it should. There was nowhere for it to go and no modernity to hurry it along.’ The horrors that unfold in the darkness and decay of the Loney have stayed with me in the days since I closed the book for the last time. Chilling.
Mickey Donnelly is about to go up to secondary school. He’s a bright boy living in Belfast during the Troubles. Paul McVeigh constructs a voice for Mickey that is really quite extraordinary. I laughed with him, I ached with him and I cheered for him. It felt as though I was standing right next to him. It’s been some time since I’ve felt such an emotional link with a protagonist. And just when I thought I’d figured out where the plot was going, it went somewhere so much better, with layers of subtle and complex humanity pouring out of the final chapters. A cracking read. Highly recommended.
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