Tag Archives: Colm Toibin

Three Irish Books You Should All Read & Three Books I Want To

Today is St Patrick’s Day and I thought it would be a nice idea to share some Irish books that I have loved with you all. Initially I thought this was going to be easy, after all I am a huge fan of Irish books. Well, while in my head this is true I discovered (whilst researching for next week’s episode of The Readers) that I haven’t read as many Irish novels or authors as I thought I had. It is weird when our brains do this isn’t it? Anyway, I decided I would share three books by Irish authors I have loved and also address this unknown-until-now imbalance by sharing three books by Irish authors I really want to read. First up my top three favourites, links to full reviews in the titles…

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing – Eimear McBride

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I found A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing a book that confused, then compelled and finally confronted me. Not just because of the subject matter but also because it made me rethink the way I read. The abstract sentences and initially rather confusing style start to form a very clear, if quite dark, picture. You just need to reset your brain and allow it to do the work, or working in a different way. This is of course the point of prose after all, it shouldn’t always be spelt out just so and I hugely admire (and thank) Eimear McBride for writing such an original and startling book which will reward intrepid readers out there greatly. Tip – read it out loud to yourself. I am very excited about seeing the play in two weeks with my pal, and colleague Jane, should be something quite special. You can hear Eimear talking about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

I am not going to hold back I loved ‘Brooklyn’. I thought Toibin’s style of prose and narrative was simple and beautiful. I was totally and utterly engaged throughout the whole book. I liked and believed in all the characters and I loved the subtle simple plot. In fact ‘subtle and simple’ are possibly the perfect two words to sum this book up for me. Yet at the same time it’s quite an epic novel and one that covers a huge amount in fewer than 250 pages. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book. Sadly I have yet to get Colm Toibin on You Wrote The Book, but one day, one day. I should also add I absolutely LOVED the film too, which is unusual for me, it was one of my movies of 2015.

The Good Son – Paul McVeigh

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Whilst many novels of the Troubles would make them the main focus and give you them in all their rawest and most shocking detail, I think McVeigh gives you something far more clever and intricate. A young lad growing up at the time Mickey does would, as Mickey is, be used to it and so it is not the be all and end all of his thoughts. This of course leads us into a false sense of security so when things like the night time raids or the murder and bombing in the street happen it gives us all the more of a sense of shock, some of these parts of the novel are really harrowing reading. Yet often more striking are the random smaller moments in which we are reminded the streets the kids are playing in are territory of war, I found these truly chilling. I also found the novel incredibly hopeful, funny and is probably the book I would recommend to anyone wanting to dip their toe in Irish waters fiction wise if they have not already. You can hear Paul talking about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

And now onto the three Irish books which I am most looking forward to, shamefully I have stolen their blurbs from Waterstones (who as I now blog for I am sure won’t mind, as they nicked them off the backs of the books anyway. They are…

The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien

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When a wanted war criminal from the Balkans, masquerading as a faith healer, settles in a small west coast Irish village, the community are in thrall. One woman, Fidelma McBride, falls under his spell and in this astonishing novel, Edna O’Brien charts the consequences of that fatal attraction. The Little Red Chairs is a story about love, the artifice of evil, and the terrible necessity of accountability in our shattered, damaged world. A narrative which dares to travel deep into the darkness has produced a book of enormous emotional intelligence and courage. Written with a fierce lyricism and sensibility, The Little Red Chairs dares to suggest there is a way back to redemption and hope when great evil is done.

Beatlebone – Kevin Barry

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He will spend three days alone on his island. That is all that he asks …John is so many miles from love now and home. This is the story of his strangest trip. John owns a tiny island off the west coast of Ireland. Maybe it is there that he can at last outrun the shadows of his past. The tale of a wild journey into the world and a wild journey within, Beatlebone is a mystery box of a novel. It’s a portrait of an artist at a time of creative strife. It is most of all a sad and beautiful comedy from one of the most gifted stylists now at work.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Sara Baume

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You find me on a Tuesday, on my Tuesday trip to town. A note sellotaped to the inside of the jumble-shop window: Compassionate & Tolerant Owner. A person without pets & without children under four. A misfit man finds a misfit dog. Ray, aged fifty-seven, ‘too old for starting over, too young for giving up’, and one eye, a vicious little bugger, smaller than expected, a good ratter. Both are accustomed to being alone, unloved, outcast – but they quickly find in each other a strange companionship of sorts. As spring turns to summer, their relationship grows and intensifies, until a savage act forces them to abandon the precarious life they’d established, and take to the road. Spill Simmer Falter Wither is a wholly different kind of love story: a devastating portrait of loneliness, loss and friendship, and of the scars that are more than skin-deep.

So there are my picks both for you to read, if you haven’t, and me to read in the months ahead. If you have read any of these do please let me know your thoughts. I would also love to hear what your favourite Irish novels and/or novelists are that you would recommend I, or anyone reading this, give a whirl.

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Double Delights (And End of Year Thank You Giveaway)

As it is unusual that anyone buys me books as Christmas presents, because understandably they think that I have probably read it or have it within reach, and so to make up for this I treat myself to a book or four two to compensate. Well imagine my surprise when after I ordered myself the treat of Anthony Marra’s collection of short stories The Tsar of Love and Techno (which has been out in the US for a few months but isn’t out until August 2016 and I couldn’t wait after loving A Constellation of Vital Phenomena so much) and then a parcel from America turned up in the post, which I had no idea was coming, and I opened it to discover… A signed copy of that very book, which then was followed by the one I ordered on Tuesday!

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So I thought as a lovely person has done such a lovely thing and I like to think I am a lovely person (most of the time) I would give one of you a copy as a thank you for being lovely folk who pop by, leave comments, have a chat on Twitter etc. Then I thought why not go one step further. You see after the shelve sorting I not only discovered all the books I meant to read this year, I also discovered all the books that I had doubled up copies of, so I thought I would give those away too. So joining a copy of Anthony’s The Tsar of Love and Techno are the following…

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  • Nora Webster – Colm Toibin
  • Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier
  • The Well – Catherine Chanter
  • How To Be Both – Ali Smith
  • The Room – Jonas Karlsson

Yes, I think that is a decent thank you for popping by, commenting or lurking and lingering, ha! Oh and it is open worldwide as you lovely lot visit from all over the place! So what do you have to do to win these treats? Well as The Tsar of Love and Techno is a book that was out in 2015 and will be out in 2016 (which sounds bonkers doesn’t it?) I would like to know which book was your favourite read of 2015 AND which book you are most looking forward to in 2016? You have until the clock strikes midnight  in the UK and 2016 officially begins, then I will announce the winner in this post (which will be updated, so keep your eyes peeled) sometime on the 1st of January 2016! Good luck, and thank you again for being a lovely bookish bunch.

Update: Very belatedly, because of being a bit busy, I have finally pulled a draw for the winner from the 47 eligable responses and the winner is…

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Who is Frances Evangelista (@nonsuchbook), congratulations! I have dropped you an email and will be winging that pile of books out to you next week, hoorah! Commiserations to everyone else, though there will be many more giveaways in 2016 I am sure.

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Brooklyn (The Movie)

I am not a big film buff. I love a good movie (and often quite a few bad ones) don’t get me wrong, however reviewing isn’t my forte, just watching them and then simply summing them up with ‘ooh I loved it’, ‘ooh it had its moments’ or ‘ooh wasn’t that a load of old bobbins’. So it might seem bonkers then for me to mention on this blog, which is after all for books, that I think if you don’t all book tickets to see Brooklyn, adapted from Colm Toibin’s novel of the same name, as soon as you can then you are fools. And I should know because I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening last night…

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When I read Brooklyn (back in 2009 so do forgive me if it seems a churlish review, I have refused to re-read it) I fell head over heels in love with it as a novel. Usually this means that when I see an adaptation is coming out at the cinema I do an inward rolling of the eyes and think ‘not on your nelly’, however when I saw that it was being shown early as part of the Liverpool Irish Festival at the Fact Cinema (which I have always wanted to go to) it seemed too good a trip out to miss. I have to admit though up until the popcorn was in my hand and I was sat in front of the opening titles, I was really nervous. It was, to me at least, an almost perfect movie.

I won’t give the plot away but the film, or indeed the novel, are set around the tale of Eilis Lacey. Born into a poor family who have lost their father and breadwinner her sister Rose has found one of the scarce jobs in her town but for a better chance at life Rose has organised her sister Eilis to go to Brooklyn where many young women are making a life for themselves and even managing to send money back home to help there. We then follow Eilis as she leaves home, has to settle into a whole new way of life all whilst becoming a woman. Then, for reasons I shall not give away, we watch as Eilis has to chose between her old home and her new ‘almost’ home after struggling to belong. Well, for the first time in a long time I was greeted with a film that was as close to the book, both in story, character and most importantly atmosphere, as well as what I had envisioned in my head. I loved every minute.

Firstly the acting is marvellous. Saoirse Ronan as Eilis is just superb, as she goes from an innocent, slightly giddy and occasionally cheeky to a homesick vulnerable wreck and then onto a more confident women with some very difficult decisions, she inhabits the role wonderfully, and what is wonderful is how she plays Eilis when she becomes slightly unlikeable which I found wonderful. I also thought Emory Cohen was wonderful as the loveable love interest ‘Tony’ and their relationship was spot on, even if he was slightly cuter and more clean shaven than the Tony I had in my head – but that says more about me than anything. The supporting cast were also wonderful. Julie Walters as Madge Kehoe, the Irish housekeeper in Brooklyn was, as always, wonderful and stole almost every scene she was in, though without the wonderfully played roles of the other girls there (by all the women who played them) they might not have been so funny, I could have watched and entire TV series around the dinner scenes set there. Jim Broadbent was very good as Father Flood,  though I don’t think it taxed him much it didn’t matter because it was Jim Broadbent and he is just good stuff always. Huge kudos should go to Eilis’ sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) and mother (Jane Brennan) as well as the marvellously awful Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan) whose subtelty and intensity in all their parts was wonderful.

And it doesn’t end there, even though I am now in danger of making this sound like an Oscar’s speech, I thought the director, costume designer and sets and settings all need a huge round of applause as 1950’s Brooklyn and Ireland both came to life fully formed with these characters in front of my eyes, the locations becoming the two biggest characters in the whole movie really. Finally, Nick Hornby (yes, him) has done an amazing job of adapting it all to create the whole plot behind it and seems to have seen all the wonderful things that I love in Toibin’s writing (the intricacy of the small moments, the sadness, the joy and the laugh out loud – no one instantly thinks ‘Toibin, he’s a funny one’ but he is and Hornby sees it, those dinner scenes and small snatches in conversations) and magnifies them slightly highlighting them and just making it all a joy to watch. So go see it.

I have now come away with a huge reinvigorated love of the cinema and have already booked tickets for Spectre on Tuesday and might have to see if anyone wants to see Suffragette this weekend in the interim. I am also going to go and dust of some Toibin as I think that is who I shall be reading next, though I also want to read Patricia Highsmith’s Carol before that comes out at the cinema in a few weeks.

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Man Booker Prize 2015 Longlist Predictions…

Sorry I couldn’t come up with a more snazzy title than that this morning but having just spent a good hour or two going through my bookshelves, both of the books I have read this year and the ones I have yet to (which made me have a moment of weeping from the shame), so my brain is slightly frazzled. The reason I was doing this exercise was to see which books I thought would make it onto the Man Booker Longlist tomorrow, always a fun game which many people have joined in with already. I must say, before I reveal the list, there is no way on earth I think I am a) anywhere near right b) in a position where I feel I should be c) am not sure I want to be anywhere near right as I like the surprise of new to me books. How can any of us, unless we are one of the judges or the administration team, have a clue? I have just gone on books I have read and loved and books that I really want to read that I can see as being ‘Booker’ books, whatever that is – let’s not open up that can of worms! So here goes…

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A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
All Involved – Ryan Gattis
The Good Son – Paul McVeigh
Girl At War – Sara Novic
A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James
TheWallcreeper – Nell Zink

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I Saw A Man – Owen Sheers
At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison
The Wolf Border – Sarah Hall
The Well – Catherine Chanter
Tender – Belinda McKeon
Us Conductors – Sean Michaels

Note, I am missing one and that is because I don’t have it. I think The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma could also be on the list, it is one I am very eager to read at some point. Now you may be thinking ‘hang on a minute sunshine whatabout x, y or z’ well these lists are tricky and you can only go with your gut but I did have another 11 that I could have had on that list which at the moment I purged I thought could go either way…

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Yes, I know those are a pile of nine books but I cannot find my copy of The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan and Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins is on a very high shelf (yes those shelves in the picture above go on up very very very high) and I couldn’t reach it without getting chairs involved and all sorts. I loved A God in Ruins but I wonder if the clever sneaky very subtle twist will be a marmite effect as I know lots of people who (because clearly they have hearts made from coal surrounded by ice, ha) were left slightly unmoved by it. Anyway, any of the above and aforementioned, if not pictured, I would like to see on the list very much indeed. Though as I have mentioned part of the joy of it is the surprise that may await us.

Would I have a tantrum if any of these weren’t on the list? Possibly with A Little Life, which might be one of my books of a lifetime, and All Involved because I think Gattis has written a fascinating insight into gang culture which puts you on a roller-coaster from start to finish (unputdownable would be the cliche I would use if I could, oh… I have) and is crafted and characterised beautifully, and A God In Ruins will ruin you, if you have a normal person’s heart – hehehe. Annoyingly I have only reviewed the Atkinson as the other two will be on You Wrote The Book in due course so am holding off till then. Oh, I am rambling, let us wrap up. What I can say is that I am very excited about tomorrows list and will be awaiting it with much interest.

If you would like to see more guesses there are some at A Case For Books, A Life in Books, Farm Lane Books and over at Neil D. A. Stewart’s blog. Oh and if you want a whole different list you can vote on then check out the Not The Booker Longlist 2015 too. Now over to you, what do you think of the books I have chosen (have you read any?) and which books are you hoping will make the list and why? Let me know if you have had a go at predicting tomorrows list.

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Now We Are Six!!!!!!

“Happy Birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy blogging birthday dear Savidge Reads, happy birthday to me…” Imagine that sung in my most beautiful of singing voices! Yes, today Savidge Reads is officially six years old though weirdly it feels older than that. It was six years to this very day that I first put my tentative toes (or tapping fingers) into the blogosphere and wrote a review, of sorts though I am quite embarrassed by it now, of Susan Hill’s ‘The Various Haunts of Men’. More dreadful reviews/bookish thoughts followed, most of which I have since deleted because they were mortifying, and no one read it for ages and ages. And now here were are…

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To actually celebrate a blog birthday seemed rather a bonkers idea in years past, however this year with all that has gone on (and, without blowing my own trumpet, the fact that the blog went to number one here) The Beard decided we should celebrate it and has only gone and made me the blog-birthday cake above – any excuse for us to eat cake – and also bought me two new books. This was made all the more special as they came with the Books Are My Bag bag after a little jaunt out yesterday to Linghams. Anyway the books are ‘Coco Chanel; The Life and the Legend’ by Justine Picardie (which I was so sure I had in hardback but couldn’t find the other day) and ‘New Ways To Kill Your Mother’ by Colm Toibin (the title of which I love) which is some literary history and criticism all rolled into one I believe. Both non-fiction too as now I am six I really feel I should be challenging myself more.

I am also going to have a little mini bookish party of my own later today as I finally settle down to read (in big fat gulps) my current bookish obsession ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. But before that we are off on a Famous Five like adventure to a lighthouse. I am hoping for a picnic with some of that cake with lashings of ginger beer or pink lemonade once we get there.

Anyway, a big thanks to those of you who have joined in the fun here at Savidge Reads over the last few years and all the lovely bookish banter and the like, it has been bloody lovely. Here’s to the next six…

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Other People’s Bookshelves #9; David Dean

As Thursday rolls round again it’s time to take a nosey look through someone else’s shelves and this week we are joined by book cover illustrator, and commenter extraordinaire on this blog, David Dean. David is an illustrator, mainly of children’s books (you can see some of his work here, my sister Mim loved ‘Dead Man’s Cove’) which means he can combine his two passions – books and painting – and get paid for it, which, he says “seems to me to be pretty ideal. Getting to go off and play in authors’ worlds all day is just the best job”. He lives with his two cats, Button and Ptolemy, to the east of Manchester, in the foothills of the Pennines where he loves to go walking. Book-wise he reads mainly contemporary fiction, though lately he is trying to read older books. He has a particular fondness for Canadian literature and is slowly starting to explore Australian fiction too. So let’s have a look through his shelves and find out more…

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I used to keep everything on my shelves, read and unread, but I ran out of shelf space a few years ago and now all my shelves are double-stacked. So behind what you can see in the photos there is essentially the same number of books again. The books hidden behind are ones I haven’t read and don’t immediately plan to read (though I have recently been having fun by rooting around in there amongst books I’d half forgotten to select my next read), but there are also quite a few back there which I have read but which I maybe didn’t like all that much but don’t want to get rid of. Typically this will be because they’re by an author I otherwise like – as an example ‘The Testament of Mary’ by Colm Toibin went straight to the back, whilst ‘Brooklyn’ is still on display. As for ‘one in, one out’ – ha! I wish I could be that tough, but I really struggle to part with books. The number of times I’ve put books in a charity bag only to wish I still had them years later.

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Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Alphabetically (for fiction anyway) – I can never understand people who don’t alphabetise books and CDs. And then each author’s books are organised by publication date. I have all my fiction books in one room, though my Folio Society editions are in boxes rather than out on the shelves – cloth bindings (especially if they’re faux Victorian looking) seem wrong to my eye when put next to modern dust jackets. And then in what I laughingly refer to as my ‘studio’ (in reality the box room) I have all my art and design and travel books. These are not filed in any particular order, just by the most efficient way to get as many on to the shelves as possible, a system that drives me mad, but needs must I’m afraid.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

Goodness, I don’t know. I’ve always read but I wouldn’t say I was an avid reader as a child (I read comics more than books) and I spent my pocket money on toys rather than books. Books we got from the mobile library. I remember having and reading copies of Roald Dahl and Alan Garner, but I think my Mum probably bought those for me. I didn’t become a big buyer of books until I was about 13 and I started reading Star Trek novels, of which I must have had well over a hundred. But I suppose with my own money it might have been this from 1985. It doesn’t reside on my shelves but I think it might be in my Mum & Dad’s loft somewhere.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Guilty pleasures? Not really. Most of the books on my shelves are contemporary literary fiction and boringly respectable. I do have a full set of Dan Dare books (reprinting the original stories from the Eagle of the 50s and 60s), some collected editions of the Transformers comics I loved as a kid, a few graphic novels, but nothing I’d be embarrassed by.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I think most would be replaceable, and there are other things I’d save first in the event of a fire. I’d perhaps save my copy of ‘King of the World: The Padshahnama’, a very nice art book on the paintings produced for the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan. The pictures have been a huge influence on my own painting so it has been an important books to me.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I don’t think I ever borrowed anything from my parents’ shelves. Their tastes didn’t really appeal to me at that age, though me and my Mum now regularly lend each other books. I do remember looking through a couple of my Mum’s for the rude bits!

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I pretty much just buy what I want to read, and far more than I ever actually COULD read!

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

A handful bought this week: Olivia Manning’s ‘The Rain Forest’ (I want to read her two trilogies, but thought a single novel might give me an idea if I like her writing before embarking on a huge tome); Alyson Hagy’s ‘Ghosts of Wyoming’, Dylan Nice’s ‘Other Kinds’ and David McGlynn’s ‘The End of the Straight and Narrow’ (I’ve grown to love short stories over the past year and a lot of my favourites have been by American authors) and Lucy Wood’s ‘Diving Belles’ because Simon has raved about it so often on his blog!

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Yes, lots! My wish list on Amazon currently contains 327 books and my wish list on Book Depository runs to 15 pages.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

That I read too much?

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A big thank you to David for letting me grill him. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of David’s responses and/or any of the books he mentioned?

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Books By The Bedside #4

It’s time for me to do a little sharing of what I am reading, and of course ask you all to do the same, with my latest ‘Books by the Bedside’ post. I have to admit after my break away and the utter lack of reading while I was there I did come back and have a small period of readers block. That seems to have cleared now thankfully and I am back on reading form. Phew!

One of the books that got me out of a funk, and I am still dipping in and out of, was ‘Adrian Mole From Minor to Major’ which is a collection of the first three volumes of his diaries (‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾’, ‘The Growing Pains of Adrian Albert Mole’ and ‘True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole’) written by Susan Townsend. I was look at books that would get younger people reading, to deliver a presentation for that job I didn’t get sadly, and so dug these out for a re-read. Well, I have been in hysterics! I forgot how funny, and how rude, they are and it is amazing that they haven’t aged, despite the fact they were 30 years old this year they read quite currently.

The second book was also one that I picked up to dip into while I had the small reading block. Nancy Mitford’s essays ‘A Talent to Annoy’ was a book I spotted last week in the library, the perfect place to wander when you have no idea what to read, and almost whooped with joy when I spotted as it is really hard to get hold of. They are perfect quick sharp reads for when you only have five minutes spare and her dry and wry humour just gets me every time.

I am also currently reading two other books. This is very unlike me but let me explain. I have been reading a very advance copy of Colm Toibin’s ‘The Testament of Mary’ which, as I am not religious, is taking me a lot longer than I expected as I keep having to go and Google all the references, like the story of Lazarus, that I know little of. Now when I was getting my head around all this I had a book sort, not ridding myself of any just manoeuvring them around, and I picked up ‘The Age of Miracles’ by Karen Thompson Walker and read the first page… two hours later I was still reading, utterly hooked, and have now almost finished it but as I don’t want it to end I am back to Colm. Do any of you do that?

I then have two books that I am really keen to get to once these lovely reads are all over. I have not read one of Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler novels in quite a while, the sixth comes out soon and I suddenly realised I was only on the third. ‘The Shadows in the Street’ was a purchase at an independent bookshop I will be writing about very soon. I weirdly had the fifth in this series but not the fourth and though they stand alone I am a stickler for reading in order.

Last, but certainly not least, is ‘Bringing Up The Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel. Now I admit I did say I was going to resist reading this until at least Christmas because I was so sick of hearing about it, then it was long listed for this year’s Man Booker, the hype went up and suddenly I was desperate to read it. I think it the fault of Anne Boleyn, I am fascinated by her and so that is the major pull. Oh and the fact that I loved ‘Wolf Hall’ of course.

So that is what is on my reading horizon, what is on yours?

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