Today over at Dog Eared Towers I find myself looking out at pretty bleak weather and feeling filled with a warm contentment, to me it is like a giant permission slip from the sky saying ‘stay cosy, read with a cup of tea in hand, it is what the world wants you to do!’ So, that is what I am doing, having just finished a novel, ‘Bleak House’ (part of a Dickens group I am in the long term midst of), a re-read of some non-fiction by Xinran, ‘The Good Women of China’, I thought I would pop on here to have some book chat before beginning anything else, a palate cleaner of book sorbet shall we say. I wanted to also talk about two other books I have recently finished, one adult fiction and the other YA, and bring to your attention some exciting book news that has caught my eye. With no further ado, let’s get going.
In the past I am sure I have mentioned what a fan I am of Pushkin Press so I am always keen to take a look at their new publications. They kindly provided me with a proof of one of their latest reads ‘The Beautiful Bureaucrat’ by Helen Phillips and off I set into the pages, not expecting that with each new chapter I would find myself so unnerved, yet desperate to read on despite a creeping unease. The novel follows Josephine and Joseph, a couple who have moved to a new city to find work after both enduring months of unemployment. It feels like the two are clinging to each other as the only solid permanence in their lives when they cannot even find a solid base to call a home, rental after rental being both unreliable and often uninhabitable. Josephine is our protagonist here and she does eventually find work in a building so large it covers enough land as a small town would. Its hulking grey presence feels like a weight pressing down on the landscape, drowning out any spark of life around it, and soon the job itself is having a similar effect on Josephine. Working alone in a tiny office she spends her hours inputting dates onto a database, not sure what the whole thing means, just knowing she has to work her way through the files she finds stacked on her desk each morning. Other than her boss and one other colleague the building seems like something of a mausoleum, the only evidence of other workers having been there being the fingers marks and scratches left on the walls around her desk.
Home life seems to be changing in parallel to this job. A quick agreement is made between her and Joseph not to talk about their days and what they are doing as they both appear to find their situations so miserable there is no need to pollute their hours of freedom from their employment with acknowledgement of it. Joseph is changing before her eyes however, becoming more distant and sometimes so far removed from the man she fell in love with she can become quite frightened by him. When she looks in the mirror she struggles to recognise herself as her eyes become bloodshot and her face drawn from paranoia. Eventually deciding to question her job, what exactly she is doing there and why it is spilling out into her personal life, the situation soon spirals away from her with alarming consequences.
I thoroughly enjoyed this dystopian read and it keeps playing over in my mind, just who pulls the strings in our lives and how much self-control do we have over our days? The book won’t give you all the answers, but where would the fun be in that?!
Now when I am reading some intense adult fiction I often like to mix it up with something lighter. I foolishly fell into a trap here though, turning to a new piece of YA writing that I thought would provide some light relief. Yes, smack my hand with a ruler, YA certainly does NOT mean a story will be less intense as I sharp was reminded. ‘Sea’ by Sarah Driver is the first part in ‘The Huntress’ trilogy, although with my classic ‘not reading any info about the book before I start it’ move, I was beside myself in the last few chapters as to how this would all be wrapped up, assuming it was a stand alone!
The Huntress is actually a ship, upon which a 13 year old girl called Mouse and her younger brother Sparrow live. Life at sea is tough for them both after their mother died in Sparrow’s infancy and their dad has recently gone missing. They are under the protection of the Captain, and I must confess I let out a bit of a whoop when the Captain is revealed to be…their Grandma! Mouse has clearly inherited great bravery and determination from her Grandma, although still has lessons to learn. These are put to the test when a new shipmate joins the crew, welcomed as a past member of the crews family, Mouse can’t help feel suspicious towards him, doubting his motives for being there.
This is a classic rip roaring adventure of a read, and although I found it sometimes confused itself in all of the action I think this was more me over scrutinising as a reader, I am pretty sure I would not have worried a jot about these things had I read the story aged 12/13. The language used in the novel is gorgeous, those who live on board the Huntress have their own lingo and it felt earthy and real to me, I particularly have a soft spot for the term ‘heart thanks’, when you are truly grateful to somebody. The judgement for a new trilogy is always whether I will be bothered to pick up the next instalment when it hits the shops, I can confirm that I will be there at a shop till with purse and a copy of ‘The Huntress: Part Two’ in hand eager to find out what other adventures Mouse will be going on.
And last but not least to our bookish news. I feel very lucky that in the book world there is a great community to be a part of, interesting people to meet who are bound by their passionate love for books and getting great stories into other people’s hands. I get to talk to these people both through working in a bookshop and using online communities, twitter etc. A year or two ago I started talking to Sam Missingham through twitter, always admiring how outspoken she was in the publishing community and how she always wanted to drive it forward, especially how respectful she was of the blogging community. I then got to meet her at last when she visited Mr B’s, a good old natter ensued and my belief was confirmed that she was an Excellent Woman. Well today in the book world there has been an exciting announcement, if we had a ‘breaking news’ bar running along the bottom of our screens we would see Sam’s name appearing there. Having recently left Harper Collins, the wonder woman of the book industry is starting her own project which I am blummin’ excited about and want to make sure all fellow book lovers are aware of. She has launched her own website which you can find at http://www.lounge-books.com which is ALL about getting the right books into the right hands from personal recommendations. I really encourage you to have a gander over there and get involved, I know it is going to grow stronger and stronger and be another spot on the internet us bookworms can gather. If you want to follow Sam on twitter as well her personal handle is @samatlounge and the websites is @lounge_books.
So, my reading nook calls as my book has waited impatiently on the arm of my chair. Later this week I will be publishing a blog I wrote some time ago but did not get to hit ‘go live’ on due to being unwell, so please excuse the tardy nature of the books write up! I will add a little note so you know it is an older post.
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Until next time,