A trio of women all living in different periods of the 20th century are all held together by a genetic link. One that will see them pass in and out of each other’s lives over the course of sixty years.

Our first heroine, Jessie is living in France. After being abandoned by her husband she begins to rely on kindness of strangers to get by; transforming herself from Jessie to Perdita – muse, socialite and lover of a famous artist.

Next comes Baba McCleod aka Lisa La Touche, a Hollywood starlet, maker of her own destiny and big dreamer. Her success comes during the pre-World War II period but after she has been left in a delicate way from an affair with a married actor Lisa has some big decisions to make. Can she leave the glitz and glamour of Tinsletown behind?

And finally there is Cat. She is the most strong willed and independent of the three; a photographer who throws herself into the most dangerous situations. Her adventures happen amidst a backdrop of sixties decadence along with the darker side of the decade – focussing on the political unrest of a period of history that saw dramatic social and political upheaval.

Kate Beufoy’s stunning novel was based of letters that her grandmother had written just after the First World War. She was working in France and fell in love with painter. The letters, along with a dress from Liberty’s of London and other artefacts became the premise of this story.

This is a wonderful novel; the three generations of remarkable, strong willed, determined women that had to fight against societal constraints to stay afloat is one that we all should want to read. Beaufoy has managed to capture three very distinct voices and separate them into three different historical backdrops (that in my opinion acted as tertiary characters throughout the novel) and makes you empathise and fight for each one of them. It truly is a love story in both the conventional and non-conventional sense.

I loved this Liberty Silk. From the very first page I was transported into a different world. I was both titillated and impressed with how seamlessly Beaufoy mixed fact and fictionby introducing famous figures of the 20th century – such as Zelda Fitzgerald and The Beatles et al – into the story like they had a purpose in the narrative. However, I was more in awe of how much heart this story had. It was heartbreaking and heart warming in equal measure and I am genuinely sad that I have finished reading it.

Liberty Silk by Kate Beaufoy is available now.

liberty silk

Today, July 3rd 2014, saw the release of The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. The story centres on Nella Oortman who has left the comforts of a country life that she knows and loves because she has married a successful merchant from Amsterdam. This union, arranged by her mother, is the complete antithesis of what Nella believes to be a good marriage. Her childhood dreams of marrying for love and doing everything that is expected of a good wife are quickly shattered when she enters the home of her husband, Johannes Brandt. She is quickly reminded of her place by her formidable sister-in-law, Marin and she can’t quite get the measure of Johannes who refuses to share their marital bed and only converses with Nella when he is forced to. The only sign of affection (and indeed acknowledgment of their nuptials) comes in the form of a dollhouse that Johannes has specially made as a wedding gift for Nella; one that replicates the Brandt household.

Things aren’t quite as they seem in the Brandt household and Nella finds herself trapped in a world whereby she doesn’t know anyone, she isn’t being supported by her husband or his sister. She has no control over anything. That is until all the secrets and lies begin to unfold.

Admittedly, it took me a while to get fully immersed into The Miniaturist. I could appreciate straight away how atmospheric the novel was and that there was a story itching to be told, I just found it a little slow to begin with. However, as the story begins to unravel it became very hard to put the book down. The parallels between Johannes and Marin’s story are captivating and complex and are held together through both of their burgeoning relationship with Nella, who swiftly becomes the glue to a family that is crumbling around her.

This multifaceted novel explores themes of betrayal, lust, race, sexuality and loyalty. It is hard to determine which of these themes takes precedent. However, the underlying paradox that it is all taking place in a macrocosmic allegory of a dollhouse. Burton manages to make you care about each of these issues. Much in the same way that she makes you care about these characters, even when you don’t necessarily agree with their actions.

Overall, The Miniaturist is one of those books that will stay with you once you have read it, however, for me personally it was a slow burner.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton is available now.

The Miniaturist cover

As you may have seen (if you have read my previous post A Month in the Life of a Book Addict) I am addicted to books. I am not ashamed of this addiction…although I am slightly worried about my inability to stop buying books and also the structural integrity of my home under all the weight of the paper. I love books of all kinds and from most genres. If there are words on something I will give it a read – there is no prejudice here. An often told anecdote in my family is how I used to take forever with my breakfast because I would be reading the cereal packet.

It has been said (although not over my aforementioned breakfast table) that when you see someone reading a book you like it is the book recommending the person…or something to that effect. What I have noticed about myself recently is that a new reading habit has emerged. I like reading books about books. I am drawn to knowing what authors are recommending, why they liked the book, what was going on in their lives during this time. Frequently, the books that they mention make it to my book wish list even though I have far too many to read as it is. My Kindle books are in the thousands, my NetGalley downloads are becoming silly and my actual physical copies already manifest two small shelves, one large double layered shelf and I have had to purchase a further six tier double layer shelf for the overspill.

Quite frankly, this amount of literature is daunting. When you think about it and you do the maths I will probably never read all the books that I own. This will not be through lack of trying. At thirty years old, let us say that I am (optimistically) a third of the way through my life. Let us also imagine that I average one book a week (this is a very conservative estimate) that means I only have approximately 3,120 books left to read. This is terrible. In those optimistic sixty years that I have left there are bound to be more books that are released that I want to read. I am mathematically screwed.

However, that does not stop me reading books about books which kind of negate the whole point of reading books; books which deserve to be read.

That being said, here are three of the best ones that I have read recently.

 

The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails You by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin

As some of you may or may not know, I almost died this year. If you didn’t know then you can read all about it here – My IBD Story. However, I didn’t die but recuperation has taken (and is still taking) a long time. Since being out of hospital I have spent my days reading; consuming books with a vociferous appetite. A book that I happened to stumble across was this delightful little gem – The Novel Cure: From Abandonment to Zestlessness: 751 Books to Cure What Ails.

Broken down into its simplest form it is a book that looks at what illness or condition that you have and directs you to the best literature to make you feel better. So say you are fatigued or you suffer from insomnia or you are an alcoholic or you have period pain this book has the answer for you. It is great because you can dip in and out of it or you can do what I did and read it from A to Z. A lot of the joy comes from seeing the writers mention a book that you have read.

This is definitely the quirkiest book that I have read this year and one that I will probably be giving out to my friends at Christmas time.

 

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller

Ok. I admit it. I was seduced by the title. Escaping near death made me hungry for adventure; safe adventure mind, nothing more daring than perhaps a paper cut from a new book purchase. Also, having nearly died this year (have I mentioned that I nearly died?) I wanted to see if literature could save my life too. Heck it had already cured my ails; and it had also cured my boredom – seriously sitting in bed getting better for a few months takes its toll on the levels of boredom. So with eagerness I picked up this tome from Andy Miller and you know what, I am awfully glad that I did.

Why you may ask. Well let me tell you. This book was special. The premise being that we all fib a little bit about literature. We have said we love a book when never having really read it just so we can stay in the conversation or even just to make ourselves look smarter.

I myself have never lied about this…well that is technically not true. I have a mini confession. Well two really. The first is that I have never made it all the way through Anna Karenina. I got to the book about the fields and I just kind of gave up. Yet on my Goodreads account I still have this Tolstoy classic listed as a book that I am currently reading. I have technically been currently reading it for near on fourteen years. I will finish this book one day. No. I will start it afresh. I will not be beaten by a man and his love for his fields.

My second confession is that I can’t actually remember if I have read Little Women or not. I know what you are thinking. How could someone not remember reading a classic like Little Women? The thing is that I know the story so well. I just can’t remember if that has come from watching the movie or reading the book. Therefore I have added this to my ‘to-be-read’ list. At least then I will know that I am not a literature fraudster.

What I liked about this book was that Miller allowed you to see how and why books mean so much to him and how they shape aspects of his life. I both respect and relate to that. Again, the titillation came from knowing that I had read certain books. Miller did have a lot on his list that I had never even heard of and so I am now keen to read some of them too.

My book wish list had increased by at least 20 at the end of reading it. This does not bode well for me.

 

Stuff I’ve Been Reading by Nick Hornby

I have recently found myself on a Nick Hornby kick. I read Juliet, Naked and A Long Way Down among others. I even did a crazy eBay order which mean accidentally purchased two copies of High Fidelity. I loathed the film even with my bizarre crush on John Cusack but I wanted to give the book a whirl.

Anyway, when I was in my local library I saw this book and I thought to myself “Hey, I like Nick Hornby’s writing. I wonder if we have any books in common.” Out of the plethora of books featured in this book (which happens to be a collection of his articles from Believer magazine – which is, to my knowledge, not affiliated with Justin Bieber or his fan base) I had read three of them. Three. Now I consider myself well read so this low number is shocking but I guess this is what happens when you read books about books rather than reading book books.

1996. Back in New York having studied in England, Joanna Rakoff lands into the real world with a bump. She takes a job in a publishing agency performing menial tasks for her outdated boss, whose sole client is JD Salinger. Unfamiliar with his work, Rakoff fails to see the importance of Jerry (how JD Salinger is referred to throughout the memoir) or the impact that any of his writing as had on his followers.

And having not published anything recently, JD Salinger’s stories seems as archaic as the office in which Joanna works. She has to copy dictation by an old typewriter as computers are strictly forbidden. Her office is like a museum, steeped in the history of the publishing world and not as fast paced or as modern as it should be. That is until Salinger decides that it is time to publish another piece of writing and things slowly start to change.

Rakoff’s year of working in the agency is chronicled in My Salinger Year. Rakoff explains her time there with heart warming candour and sentimentality. Her relationships with the people around her – her parents, her boss, her colleagues, her boyfriend and indeed, the man himself JD Salinger – all shape and define her during this period. Throughout her story you cannot help but see parallels between Rakoff and some of Salinger’s characters, for me this was mainly due to the theme of growing up which is ever present. Rakoff is likeable and so easy to relate to, especially if you yourself are in that transition period of becoming a fully fledged adult.

I loved this book. Really loved it but what I felt more of was the desire to know the author. A strange similarity (that even I have to acknowledge) to some of the Salinger fans that Rakoff found herself writing to. I wanted to ask her questions about her experiences; to know what part of the book she would choose to do a reading of; to hear more of her anecdotes from this time in her life.  I loved My Salinger Year for the intimacy that Rakoff created between herself and me, the reader. However, I will point out to all who read it or who are contemplating reading it that this book is dangerous. You will start it and lose hours of your life because it is difficult to put down. Don’t say that you haven’t been warned.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff is available now.

My Salinger Year Cover

 

Book A Day

At the beginning of the month The Borough Press tweeted this photograph to get book enthusiasts (and you know, regular people) to think about the books that they have loved or had recommended to them or books that they haven’t managed to finish (you get the picture). Due to the phenomenal response of this project they have issued a July photograph. For now, here are my June picks. I hope you enjoy. #BookadayUK

1st Favourite book from childhood

I had a lot of favourite books from childhood. In particular, I loved the Sweet Valley Twins/High and Babysitter Club series but one of the books I loved most as a child was The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy. Before Hogwarts we had Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. I loved following Mildred Hubble’s misadventures as she faced arch nemesis Ethel Hallow under the watchful eye of Miss Hardbroom. She is the classic underdog.

2nd Best bargain

The best bargain book I have ever bought is A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. This is one of those book moments that I think every book lover experiences when they see a book cover but they forget the title and author name. I went to several different book stores asking for a book with a white cover speckled with what appears to be metallic ticker tape. No one could help me. However, I knew one day I would find it. Whilst looking for a second hand bookshelf I magically saw it sitting on a shelf. This bad boy (which is a fantastic read by the way) cost me the grand total of 20 English pence.

3rd One with a blue cover

I have several books with a blue cover but this has to be one of my favourites. Citadel by Kate Mosse is the third book of the Languedoc trilogy and if you have not read it before, and are planning to, then be warned it is a blood bath. A brilliant read though.

4th Least favourite book by favourite author

I don’t know if I have many favourite authors. I love JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series but she has three other books that I haven’t read. I don’t think I have read every book that a particular author has released. So for this one I am going to select David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. The other Dickens books that I have read I love; I would go so far as to class Great Expectations as one of my favourite books but David Copperfield just didn’t do it for me.

5th Doesn’t belong to me

A book that I have that doesn’t belong to me is Robert Rankin’s The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. This book technically belongs to my boyfriend but I should confess now that I don’t intend to give it back to him. Not because I particularly liked the book. In fact, it was possibly the strangest book I have ever read and was at time bat crap crazy but I am a sentimental person and I have found a man that will indulge my love of literature…no matter how obscure and random that the book is.

6th The one I always give as a gift

Lately, the book that I have given as a gift is The Naughty Girls Book Club by Sophie Hart. For most book people that I know the escapism that a good chick-lit book can give is immeasurable. The moment that I finished this book (which I owned in Kindle format) I automatically bought it for my mother. I knew she would love it. For days whenever we would bump into each other at home (which by my description may seem massive with various cavities so the likely hood of us meeting would be slim but in reality is a 3 bedroom ex-council house) she would tell me where she was up to, which character she loved, what she thought would happen next. I love that my mother and I have that bond through books. Since she finished the book we have both bought it several times over for our friends; friends that have fallen in love with the story too.

7th Forgot I owned it

This one goes to Carry You by Beth Thomas. It is strange that I should forget this because it is a relatively new book having only been released recently. However, I pre-ordered it on my kindle and when I was out shopping one day I bought a physical copy of it having completely forgotten that I already had it. Ah well, you snooze you lose.

8th Have more than one copy

I have two copies of The Goddess Experience by Gisele Scanlon. In my defence, they have two different covers but I just love this book. If I were to ever write a book I would want it to be like this.

9th Film or TV tie-in

I love Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. I also love the books sequel, Porno; since that hasn’t been made into a film (yet) it doesn’t count. I first read Trainspotting in high school. I borrowed it from the staff section of the school library that I, being a senior librarian at the time, had privileges to. It was too advanced for me at the tender and innocent age of fourteen, however, I gave it another attempt a few years later and whilst I still found it out of my usual book comfort zone I was entranced. I had never read a book that had been written entirely in Scottish dialect. I love this book and therefore have both a physical copy and a kindle edition.

10th Reminds me of someone I love

The book that reminds me of someone that I love has to be The Railway Children by E Nesbitt. This book reminds me of my boyfriend (not that I am likely to forget him). He and I live a million miles (well approximately 240 miles to be less dramatic) away from each other and so we are doing the long distance thing. There are constant train journeys involved so for Valentine’s Day 2014 he bought me the Folio Society’s edition of this book. It is gorgeous and it makes me smile every time I see it on my bookshelf.

11th Second hand bookshop gem

I am going to choose The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon as my second hand bookshop gem; mainly because I love Zafon’s books. I would be more than willing to pay full price for his books which are so full of atmosphere and mystique but I recently found this one in a charity shop’s book section and didn’t hesitate in picking it up. Read Carlos Ruiz Zafon!

12th I pretend to have read it

I don’t think I have ever pretended to read a book before. I’m the kind of person that if someone starts talking about a book that I haven’t read then my interest is piqued and I go and buy the book. However, there is a book that I can’t remember if I have read or not. This is because the story is so well known that I can’t seem to determine if I know it from hearsay or from actually sitting with the paperback and devouring the story myself. That book is Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I think that a timely reading of the classic is in order.

13th Makes me laugh

One of the books that always manages to make me laugh is Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison. I first read it when I was a teenager and sadly I empathised too well with the protagonist, Georgia and found the embarrassing situations that she found herself in rather too familiar.

14th An old favourite

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks is definitely an old favourite of mine. I’m going to be quite controversial here. I don’t like The Notebook. I don’t fancy Ryan Gosling. I just don’t get why girls go crazy over him. I think out of the two books that A Walk to Remember has the better story. It is certainly much more heartbreaking.

15th Favourite fictional father

It would have to be Georgia’s dad in the Angus Thong series. He was so hapless and a source of all things funny.

16th Can’t believe more people haven’t read it

One of my favourite books is Derby Girl by Shauna Cross. I have always wanted to be part of the roller derby and this book is the basis for the movie Whip It, starring the delightful Ellen  Page and whilst people have seen the film they may not know that it is based on a book. It is, in my opinion, the best book to movie transformation that I have ever seen.

17th Future classic

A bookish friend and I were talking one day and she had asked me if I had read this book called One Day. I told her that I hadn’t and she begged me to keep my eye out for it because I would love it. I thought nothing more of it for a while and then one day (see what I did there?) I was in a shop and I saw this bright orange cover which intrigued me and I realised it was the book she was talking about. I picked it up and started it that day. It consumed me. I got completely lost in the pages to the point that when I had to go out and meet friends the book came with me and rather rudely whenever they left the table to go to the bar or the bathroom I would get the book out and read it. The writing is gorgeous and the story is heartbreakingly lovely. This will be one that in 20 years time people will still be recommending.

18th Bought on a recommendation

I bought BUGS in Writing on the recommendation of my boyfriend. He frequently gets frustrated by my excessive use of commas. My grammar is generally ok but there are times when I do punctuate willy-nilly or equally, not at all. I would recommend this one to anyone who is trying to get to grips with grammar.

19th Still can’t stop talking about it

I was given a book by a friend called Claire who told me to read it. She told me that it wasn’t your traditional love story but to give it a go. Now the copy she had given me wasn’t attractive. It was bevelled from being dropped in the bath so I put it on my bookshelf and thought nothing more of it.

A few weeks later my friend Hannah was recommending a book to me and she was still distraught over it. That book was Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I realised I had it and so with two recommendations I decided to give it a read. Oh my wow. It has been two years since I have read it and even now I still find it heartbreaking. I couldn’t read the last 80 pages for the tears. That is some damn fine writing that can still pull on your heart and still resonate two years later. It also inspired me to read more songs by Jojo Moyes.

20th Favourite cover

I really love the cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It is sad to say it, but we all do judge a book by its cover and there are books that I will sniff at because I don’t like the cover. Stephen Chbosky’s book is fabulous and the cover is gorgeous. I love the punched title and the colours. I just love it. It was why I bought the book several years ago. Long before the movie which I have yet to watch.

21st Summer read

My summer read is going to be Written in the Stars by Ali Harris. I plan on reading it as part of book blogger @EmmaIsWriting’s #Sunathon which takes place between 21st – 27th July.

22nd Out of print

I have recently bought Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. I had to buy it second hand as I think it is now out of print. I have never read the book but I loved the movie and it still terrifies me to this day. I am fascinated with stories set in bookshops or libraries which this is. I am also looking forward to seeing how the book differs from the movie.

23rd Made to read at school

I read Talking in Whispers for my GCSE’s and I was blown away by it. Even now I remember how much it took me out of my reading comfort zone. It still resonates all these years later.

24th Hooked me in to reading

I actually can’t remember what book that hooked me into reading. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t either read or was read to. I suppose that the Sweet Valley books and the Babysitters Club books were the first set of books that I read avidly.

25th Never finished it

I am ashamed to say that I never made it all the way through Anna Karenina.  I have been up to Book 12 since I was 16. That’s almost 15 years. Jeepers. I have promised Andy Miller, the writer of A Year of Reading Dangerously that I will start it from the beginning and this time I will finish it. The thing is I liked the story but the book about the love of fields was a tad tedious.

26th Should have sold more copies

I’m going to throw in a bit of an odd choice here. I think the Harry Potter series should have sold more copies. Yes I know it is one of the bestselling book series of all time but damn it more people should give it a read. I can name a few people who haven’t and it still shocks me. Viva la Harry Potter.

27th Want to be one of the characters

I was asked by a friend for a list of books that I wanted for Christmas and I had been secretly eyeing Meant to Be by Lauren Morrill. I like YA fiction, but I like it even more when I fall in love with the characters. I wanted to be Julia. I wanted to go out with Jason. I wanted to have Oh Darling! by The Beatles sung at me in an abandoned place in London covered with graffiti. It is such a damn good book. Read it!

28th Bought at my fave independent bookshop

In Liverpool we have an Oxfam Bookshop and I recently bought Porno by Irvine Welsh from there. I love Irvine Welsh books, the injection of humour around hard hitting topics always keep me entertained.

29th The one I have reread most often

I have read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte on several occasions. The first time I read it was because my English teacher (and now friend) Shirley recommended it to me. It was probably the first classic that I had ever read. I have since read it as part of my degree (English Literature and Cultural History combined with Media and Cultural Studies) and each time I just get lost in the story. I think that you know a good story when you can keep coming back to it over and over again and falling in love with it all over again.

30th Would save if my house burned down

The honour of this book goes to The Grimmerie. It is the accompanying book to Wicked the musical. I did not like the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire. It was too twisty and warped for my liking; this didn’t stop me reading the sequel Son of a Witch. However, the musical is fantastic and such a clever premise that completely usurps your belief in the Wizard of Oz. The Grimmerie is fabulous and is tangibly exciting with its puffed out cover and gorgeous photography. I love it.