Tag Archives: Matt Haig

Other People’s Bookshelves #63 – Jackie Law

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are down in Wiltshire, a county I lived in for about 7 or 8 years of my childhood, to join the lovely Jackie Law who keeps the blog Never Imitate, which I highly recommend you give a read. Before we have a nose around her shelves lets all get some lovely afternoon tea that Jackie has laid on for us and find out more about her…

I always struggle to know how to answer when someone asks me about myself. I am a wife of twenty-three years, a mother to three teenagers, a back garden hen keeper and a writer. These are the roles I consider important, but I earn my money as a director of a small IT consultancy. I do all my work from home. I was born and grew up in Belfast during The Troubles, leaving when I graduated from university with a degree in computer science. I moved to rural Wiltshire and have been here ever since. I adore the county with its beautiful, rolling countryside and easy access to cities such as Bath, Bristol and even London, although it is rare for me to travel further than my legs can carry me. I write on my blog about books and life but most of my posts are now reviews. Occasionally I will create short fiction pieces, the quality of which has helped me appreciate the talent of authors. I spend a lot of my time reading and very little on housework. Both my home and myself epitomise shabby chic.

Bookshelves

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?

Unless I really dislike a book I want to have a copy on my shelves. I will sometimes buy a second copy of a book that has been borrowed and not returned despite knowing that I am unlikely to read it again. I tell myself this is because I wish to offer my children the opportunity to enjoy these fabulous stories, but in all honesty I am doing it for me. I wish to be surrounded by books. Like photographs, they bring back memories. I remember why I chose that book or who gave it to me, and the way I felt when I read it. My reaction to a book is a reflection of the experiences I was having at the time.

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?

My fiction books are ordered alphabetically by author. I have separate shelves for non fiction books which I arrange by subject matter. I have a few shelves for young children’s book although I culled this collection a number of years ago, something that I now regret. I loved reading to my children and wish I had held on to more of the books we shared. I rarely give books away unless I have multiple copies. My TBR pile (the books I buy) is crammed onto two shelves, double packed. I probably have about a year’s worth of reading there. The books I have committed to review are on top of my piano in piles ordered by publication date. My family tell me off if those piles get too high.

Some of the TBR mountain

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

I can’t remember which book I first bought. My father, who is also an avid reader, was always happy to buy me books and I read just about every title available in our local library. I do still have a number of my childhood books: ‘Teddy Robinson’, ‘The Adventures of Gallldora’; but many of my old books fell apart when I gave them to my children. I bought new copies of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories as I couldn’t bear not to have copies of those. I regret giving away my original ‘Famous Five’ collection we did a clear out of my children’s books.

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?

I have an eclectic book collection but keep them all on my shelves. Having said that, I’m not sure that I choose to read books that would be thought of as embarrassing. I dislike formulaic ‘best sellers’ including romances. I have been known to stop reading a book when the writing veered into descriptions of anything even slightly racy as it makes me inwardly cringe. I cannot comprehend the whole ‘Grey’ phenomena, but hold to the view that reading books is good and everyone should be free to enjoy whatever they choose without criticism.

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 have a small, slim book of Kipling’s verse published in 1931 which belonged to my father. I value it for the association, the memory of the man who gifted me my love of books. If there were a fire though I would save the teddy bears who also sit on my shelves. Books can be replaced, their value to me is the story more than the physical object. As someone who eschews ebooks and who relishes being surrounded by physical books this view may seem contrary but I have few possessions that I value for more than the service they provide. I do not need to own the original book to be reminded of the way I felt when I first read it which is why I replace books that disappear.

Kipling verse

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?

The first book that I wanted to read from my father’s shelves was ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I read it when I was fourteen and went on to read every book that Tolkien wrote. When I left home I took my father’s copy with me and each of my children read it. My younger son reread it so many times that it fell apart. I now have a replacement copy.My mother rarely read books but talked of enjoying ‘David Copperfield’ when she was younger. I picked it up with great expectations (I read that one as well) but was disappointed. I have never been able to understand the appeal of Dickens but still hold on to the books. I used to look at my father’s Penguin Classics collection and wonder if I would ever manage to read such weighty tomes. Again, when I left home I took them with me. I have read most of these over the years but still have some Homer, Ovid and Plato on my TBR pile. I am grateful for my father’s tolerance in allowing me to take his books. Years later he admitted that he bought replacement copies after I left.

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?

These days I mostly buy a book if I wish to read it whereas in the past I would have borrowed many from libraries. Occasionally I will remember a book and go to my shelves to reread a particular passage. I feel irritated if I cannot find it there. I like to own all of the books that I have enjoyed.

Teddy and Penguin Classics

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

I read several books a week so my collection is constantly growing. As I write this, the last book that I shelved as read was a children’s novel, ‘Deep Water’ by Lu Hersey. The last book added to the pile on my piano was ‘Pretty Is’ by Maggie Mitchell which I am very much looking forward to reading. My most recent purchase for myself was ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Stanley Kubrick.

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

This is a long list! ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig; ‘The Good Son’ by Paul McVeigh; ‘Bitter Sixteen’ by Stefan Mohamed; ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce; ‘The Gospel of Loki’ by Joanne Harris; ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho; ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis; ‘Malcolm Orange Disappears’ by Jan Carson.  There are more but I should probably stop…

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

I hope that they would be unable to pigeon hole me. I would like them to be inspired to talk to me about my collection, perhaps even ask for recommendations. Other than reading, there is little that I enjoy more than discussing books.

Books to review

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A huge thanks to Jackie for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can find her on Twitter here. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the 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 Jackie’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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‘Literary Fiction’ as a Genre…

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was bored of hearing people slating Hilary Mantel for winning lots of awards of late. This last week or so I have been feeling the same about the wave of back biting about the term ‘literary fiction’ which seems to have suddenly reared its ugly head again. Why is it that the term ‘literary fiction’ seems to divide people so much? And why does there seem to be a new phase of almost snobbery about book snobbery? Let me explain…

Ever since the year that the Man Booker was hauled over the coals for daring to say that its judges were looking for ‘readability’, and indeed so incensed were people they started a new ‘Literary’ prize, there seems to have been an ongoing debate about ‘literary fiction’. The latest debate I have been directly involved in was with Gavin of GavReads this week on The Readers. Now Gav knows me and my reading tastes quite well and yet a Twitter conversation and comment he through my way had rather, admittedly in a wry way, annoyed me – in fact I may have even raised an eyebrow, which takes some doing.

Gavin had been watching a conversation with Lloyd Shepherd and Joanne Harris after Lloyd had retweeted a piece from Salon.com and quoted “Let’s face it: Literary fiction is f**king boring. It really is. It’s a genre as replete with clichés as any.” To this Joanne Harris had said “Or we could just stop using the term “literary” altogether and start actually *enjoying* books instead of obsessing over genre” and “Too many folk are using the term “literary” to mean “wholly unencumbered by plot”. Gavin had then said that this is what he had been saying to me and that literary books are really books ‘of just 30 pages of popping to the shops’. Now I disagree with quite a few things here.

Firstly I don’t think literary fiction is f**king boring… overall. Some of it can be, in fact I can think of several books I have read over the years that were dull as dish water or were duller because an editor hadn’t stepped in as the author was super famous and so should be allowed to do whatever they liked, apparently. Some of it can go completely over my head and I think ‘oo-er what’s going on here, this is a bit too clever for me’. Isn’t that the same with every genre though, some crime novels might be a little bit too easy to solve or too gory for all readers, some sci-fi novels might just seem one step too farfetched, that’s just taste and the great tapestry of literature. No? Like all genres, it’s a mixed bag.

This of course begs the question; is ‘literary fiction’ now a genre? Something Matt Haig has discussed recently, though possibly more controversially I think. Personally I think it has become a genre but I don’t think that is through any fault of its own. With genres being invented (partly to sell books but also to signpost them for new readers, who we shouldn’t forget just because we might think we are well read) like New Adult etc on top of commercial fiction, crime fiction, science fiction, translated fiction (yes this has become a genre too, I think), young adult fiction etc I don’t think it has had much choice.

I will admit that I don’t like the fact some reviewers/publishers/press/authors use the term to smash it over the heads of many that they have written/read/reviewed ‘an epic masterpiece about the human condition that spans many generations’, some crime does this superbly after all what can test the human condition more than a murder or being involved in one. I digress, you know the drill though – using the term to preen themselves and make themselves feel clever not realising they are alienating readers by the bucket load. It is a tightrope to walk though. Joanne Harris mentions the idea of literary fiction meaning ‘books being unencumbered by plot’, now I like Joanne but I disagree that this should be a bad thing – I completely agree about enjoyment – not all books have to be encumbered by plot.

Just because, as Gav might put it, a book is in the head of one character walking to the shops yet thinking about their impending divorce and what lead to it doesn’t make it boring or lesser because the characters aren’t all singing and dancing of the page and instead an insular, possibly sparse, novel on human nature evolves without any obvious twists and turns and plot. Both have their merits to me personally, I like reading about people of all walks of life and from all backgrounds and places be their stories small or on some mammoth scale.

I have to say though that for me my idea of the perfect ‘literary fiction’ has all of these things, beautiful prose, brooding atmospheres, cracking characters and a good story be it on an epic or more insular scale – the most important thing to me is, cliché alert ‘the voice’ and just getting lost in it regardless of the genre/label/pigeon hole people try and pop it in or it naturally falls in. I don’t like ‘literary fiction’ being used as a weapon to make people feel stupid if they don’t get it or for making people sound like snobs if they do. Am I alone in this?

So what are your thoughts on the whole idea of ‘literary fiction’ as a genre? Also, as a little favour and a gauntlet that Gav has thrown down for next weeks podcast, can you think of some titles considered ‘literary fiction’ that have corking characters and a stonking plot and any books unencumbered in plot that were complete page turners? I would love some lists of both of those, pretty please.

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To Be A Cat – Matt Haig

I don’t read young adult fiction as a rule, I wouldn’t say I am sneery towards it, I just always worry I will be much harder on a young adult book as an adult reader which would be unfair as I am not its intended market. That is why I used to get The Bookboy and The Girl Who Reads Too Much to review them for me. However a mixture of my Gran being ill, and the visiting and mind consumption that has taken up, along with the arrival of Oscar into the household led me to picking up ‘To Be A Cat’ by Matt Haig, an author whose adult books I have been meaning to read for a while.

Bodley Head Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by Shane at Nottingham Waterstones

I really don’t want to spoil this read by giving too much away about it, or indeed letting the cat out of the bag (sorry couldn’t help it), yet with a title like ‘To Be A Cat’ you might have figured out where the heart of this story might lie. That said Matt Haig does produce a book that has more layers than the initial one that almost hits you around the head, though the actual transmogrification doesn’t happen until 60ish pages in, sorry I have got ahead of myself…

Barney Willow is a rather unhappy boy. His parents have divorced, since which his father has disappeared (literally vanished) and his mother is trying so hard to be busy she has become ‘a blur’, he is bullied at school by both children like Gavin Needle and also teachers including the particularly evil and malicious head teacher Miss Whipmire. Apart from his best friend Rissa he really doesn’t like his life, it would be much easier if he was a dog, like his King Spaniel Guster maybe, or even a cat? Sometimes though you have to be careful what you wish for and the consequences that it might bring don’t you?

I really, really enjoyed this book, and I have to admit that I was initially a little dubious. Haven’t we all read books about a bullied child before? Would this book be original? It really is. I liked Barney as a character from the start he is immediately likeable, I ended up empathising with him as a bullied child (as I was myself for a time) and taking a real dislike to Miss Whipmire (who was my favourite character for being so evil, alongside Guster who when we hear his inner voice is a hilarious character/dog) and Gavin. As the book went on I also fully hoped Barney would get the happy ending he so deserved, without spoiling anything I can say that Haig gives us a very interesting ending you might not expect, I’ll say no more.

For me what really made the book was its sense of fun and the humour. Matt Haig gives the book a narrative from the author and does this in a really wonderful way by interrupting the story now and again, and indeed from the start, in a way that mixes witty asides that will instil the giggles in a child and the possible adult reading the book aloud whilst also having the edge of it being an oral narrative of ‘are you sitting comfortably’ which all children universally, along with most adults (I read ‘Redemption in Indigo’ by Karen Lord before this which does the same for adults, review next week), enjoy as it instantly pulls you in from the start. I was sold…

“Here is a secret I shouldn’t really tell you, but I will because I just can’t help it. It’s too big. Too good. Okay, sit down, get ready, brace yourself, have some emergency chocolate handy. Squeeze a big cushion. Here it is:  
 Cats are magic.”

I really have no criticism of the book to be honest with you, well apart from the cover which isn’t as good as the one on the proof copy I had which is illustrated below with another avid reader, yes fo course cats can read, tut.

Oscar makes it look so hard ‘To Be A Cat’

If you aren’t a big fan of young adult fiction then I would say give ‘To Be A Cat’ a whirl for the humour and that sense of being told a story when you were a child, and the fact that it is just a really good fun read. If you know the joys/terrors etc of reading to kids regularly then read them this, they will love it. It’s also a book that, without being moralistic, is a great book for younger or older people about accepting ones lot in life and the skin that you are in, without ever being patronising or twee. Mind you if you don’t like cats then maybe it’s not for you to be fair. That said I should warn you tomorrow’s post will be a very catty one (in the feline sense, not the vitriol type) though if you don’t like cats then I doubt you will have gotten this far.

I definitely want to get on and read Matt Haig’s adult fiction now. I am hoping it is this much fun, have any of you tried it? I have ‘The Possession of Mr Cave’ and ‘The Radleys’ to read, would you recommend either/both of them?

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Books on the Bedside & the Great British Book Off…

This morning I woke up, stretched, wiped the sleep out of my eyes and as I looked to my left was greeted by a bedside table covered with books. It suddenly gave me some inspiration for a new random feature for the blog, but as (if you are like me) you are a fan of a bit of book porn I took a picture of the mass of fictional worlds I am in or have ahead of me, apologies it’s a little grainy it was early…

I was looking at them and realised in a weird way this almost like a snapshot of the inner workings of my bookish mind. You have three books I am reading (yes I have taken up multi reading, more on this unusual turn of events soon) currently; ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ by Marieke Hardy and ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ by Sarah Hall – these naturally need to be close to hand as I am a dreadful sleeper at the mo and so they are the perfect company in the middle of the night.

The rest of the books are those on my periphery reading vision. I won’t explain all the reasons for all iof them now in fear of boring you (the Agatha Christie, Truman Capote and Dan Rhodes have all just been pulled out mount BR as I have been graving some friendly fiction faces, Elizabeth Jolley as an Australian Literature Month possible read) but I will give you a slight over view to explain what I mean. Sophie Hannah’s ‘Kind of Cruel’ proof has just arrived so it’s time to finally read ‘Lasting Damage’ as I like to read in order.  The same with the proof of Matt Haig’s new YA novel ‘To Be A Cat’ which one of the events guys at Waterstones sent me after I discussed YA the other day, so I pulled out ‘The Radleys’ –which I wish I had the hardcover of, so much darker. ‘Disputed Land’ by Tim Pears was on hand for a mention on this weeks recording of the Readers which has been postponed and Elizabeth Haynes and ‘Into The Darkest Corner’ has been lingering since the last recording of the Readers when we discussed the TV Book Club vs. Richard and Judy.

This might not interest you at all but I thought I would test the waters because it could become a future feature instead of my incoming book posts which I have decided to dump. I thought it might give people a small book porn fix whilst also showing you all the books new, old and in-between on my reading horizon, a bit like being even more in my reading head. What do you think?

Also I want to do something with the title ‘The Great British Book Off’ before someone else pinches it (this could already have happened 0f course) as this also popped into my head this morning, but I am stuck on what it could be. Might need more mulling though, what do you say?

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The TV Book Club Summer Reads 2011

I realised I haven’t mentioned either the Richard and Judy Summer Reads or the TV Book Clubs summer selections. I did comment on Jackie of Farmlanebooks post about them saying if they had merged the two then it would be an ideal selection of books for me. Then a mystery parcel arrived…

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I admit I was hoping it was a huge contract offering me the opportunity of a lifetime to host a new tv show all about books, well it wasn’t but it was a bit if a book delight…

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Well… My initial reaction, on thinking ‘well I am going to have to read them all now aren’t I?’, was ‘phew, I’ve read two’. I loved Emma Henderson’s and, erm, really didn’t love Jennifer Egan’s. I’m wondering if that will be my reaction to the selection as a whole, maybe a 50/50 divide?

I’m excited by Matt Haig, unsure if starting with Camilla Lackbergs fifth book in a series is a good idea even though I’ve been wanting to read her a while, and am intrigued by Michelle Lovric because of the title ‘The Book of Human Skin’.

I can’t decide if Deborah Lawrenson’s book ‘The Lantern’, which they are discussing tomorrow (as it only came out this week they must think the audience has nothing to do but read swiftly), sounds very much like a retelling of ‘Rebecca’ which I think will either delight me or make me really cross! We will see. The other two I know little about, well apart from that the cover of Kristin Hannah’s looks nice, and the Lehane cover doesn’t compel me to read it at all. But I’ll try them all!

What are your thoughts on the selection? Would you have liked any other books featured? What about the R&J selection? Oh and keep your eyes peeled for another Summer Reading club that I will be announcing very soon, am bit overexcited!

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Latest Incomings

Now before you all baulk at how many books have arrived you might want to pop and see an explanation of how such a backlog developed, there could actually be more that have simply vanished. The latter part of that sentence doesn’t bear thinking about. So here are what delights (though I took out quite a few cricket and celeb books – again see above post for my thoughts on those) have arrived in the last month, I have even organised them into two groups for you…

The Hardbacks and larger books…

  • Dom Casmurro – Machado De Assis (printed specially from OUP for my Reading for Brazil thing, too kind)
  • By Midnight – Mia James (a young adult book set in Highgate Cemetery)
  • Stories to Get You Through the Night – Various (have started this, its great so far)
  • The Invisible Bridge – Julie Orringer (not heard of the author before have you?)
  • Dona Nicanora’s Hat Shop – Kirsten Dawkins (another kind send for Reading for Brazil)
  • God Says No – James Hannaham (hadn’t heard of this but sounds very, very me am itching to start this one)
  • Ilustrado – Miguel Syjuco (I know nothing about this but adore the cover)
  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey – Zachary Mason (they also sent me a copy for my Mum who is a classicist which was very kind)
  • Repeat Today With Tears – Anne Peile (most annoyed this was delayed as wanted to go to the launch but as hadn’t read it didn’t feel I could)
  • The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas – Machado De Assis (another book printed specially from OUP – again too kind)
  • Beatrice and Virgil – Yann Martel (I loved The Life of Pi but am going to try not to compare them when I read this one)
  • The Radleys – Matt Haig (Vampires as next door neighbours sounds fun, mind you might hold out on this one a while before I get vampired out)
  • Tony & Susan – Austin M. Wright (a book I would never have known was being republished – or had indeed been published – after many years, which has a book within a book sent to a woman from her ex-husband, sounds intriguing. We read the book as Susan does.)
  • Grace Williams Says It Loud – Emma Henderson (a tale of love and the life after of two people in a Mental Institute, an interesting debut)
  • Inheritance – Nicholas Shakespeare (have never read him but always liked the idea of doing so)

And onto the Paperbacks…

  • Cousin Phyllis and Other Stories – Elizabeth Gaskell (I have never read Gaskell and so want to and short stories might be a nice way in)
  • Dear Mr. Bigelow – Frances Woodford (I think this will be an unsolicited joy. Woodford and Bigelow never met but wrote to each other from 1949 to 1961. I cannot wait to read these letters.)
  • The Book of Fires – Jane Borodale (Too late to try and get done before The Orange First Novel Award but one I am looking forward to no less.)
  • Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan (a modern fairytale receiving very mixed reviews around the blogosphere, wonder which camp I will be in – love it or loathe it?)
  • Jezebel  – Irene Nemirovsky (I am one of the few people who didn’t love Suite Francaise maybe a short novel with such a tempting title will do the trick?)
  • Ménage – Ewan Morrison (never heard of him but sounds like he has quite the cult following)
  • The Kindest Thing – Cath Staincliffe (another one I have never heard of but “a love story, a modern nightmare” sounds like it might be just up my street)
  • City of God – Paulo Lins (another book for Reading For Brazil that the publishers kindly sent)
  • The Lady in the Tower – Alison Weir (I am a little obsessed with Tudors and Anne Boleyn in particular, so this will be a great summer non-fiction read – I have a mate who works at Hever Castle, maybe I should read it there?)
  • Little Gods – Anna Richards (am super chuffed this one arrived as I saw it in Kew Bookshop and just wanted it from these words “an adventure, a black comedy, a fairy tale of sorts and a romance” that sounds my perfect book, let’s hope the blurb isn’t lying!)
  • Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier (love, love, loved ‘Falling Angels’ and this is Victorian again, ladies on the hunt for fossils doesn’t sound thrilling but I have been recommended it is by lots of people)
  • A Death in Brazil – Peter Robb (a historical study of Brazil looking at the country after slavery was abolished)
  • Henry VII: Wolfman – A. E. Moorat (as much as I am unsure about the Jane Austen zombie books this could be fun, and the next on ‘Queen Victoria; Demon Hunter’ I am going to beg for)
  • Troubles – J.G. Farrell (the Lost Man Booker winner which instantly made me want to read it and hoorah now I can)
  • The Scouring Angel – Benedict Gummer (another part of history that fascinates me is The Black Death and the plague years so this is perfect. Sounds like have some great long non-fiction for the summer months)
  • The Blind Side of the Heart – Julia Franck (I know nothing about this and, from the cover or the title, I am not sure how me it will be but is good to give new things a whirl)
  • Stone’s Fall – Iain Pears (I didn’t like ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ very much but have heard this is a cracker, has also been chosen for The TV Book Clubs summer reads)

So that’s all of them. Have you read any of these? Are they on your radar or your TBR? Have you read anything else by any of the authors? Which ones would you like to see me read first and hear about?

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