Outfoxing Them All 

 Oh to be able to write a debut novel as impressive as this! What a total joy – I have been banging on to anyone who will listen about this book since I finished it. I must confess I was drawn in by the gorgeous artwork on the cover, and the fact that I am slightly partial to a picture of a fox, as you can see! (If you know me from Mr B’s you will have seen I am usually found ambling about the bookshop in winter in my giant wool jumper with a rather splendid foxy fellow blazoned across the front). 

In my usual style I started this book knowing very little, no idea that is was a debut and only the briefest of outlines of the story in my head. Turns out I had started something that couldn’t have been more up my street if I tried – reader, the comparison I can give you for this book? None other than my favourite Sara Baume! There are real echoes of her style of storytelling for me while still being completely fresh and captivating.

The novel centres on a thirty something woman called Mary, recently out of a potentially abusive relationship and currently very flaky in the whole turning up to work stakes, we are immediately aware this is somebody who is unravelling at the seams. Living in a semi-detached house in London with an over grown patch of wilderness at the bottom of her garden, Mary appears to be gradually cutting herself off from any possible human relations, blanching whenever her next door neighbours make contact. Those neighbours do keep forcing conversation though, as problems with foxes in the area are becoming a real issue for them. Trying to engage Mary in ways they can tackle what they appear to think of as something of a war for their home turf, she begins to try and put off any action in ways that will make her motivation unclear to the others. As we follow her into her unkempt home we soon find her reasons. A fox has been visiting her garden, leaving gifts of found objects on her door step and little by little working his way further into her affections. The perfect storm is brewing as Mary clearly begins to unravel further, the neighbours become more militant and it becomes something of an Us versus Them situation.

I love a story with an unreliable narrator and Mary is certainly that, but then that isn’t a title that falls on her head alone, as the story has the reader questioning the motives of so many along the way, beautifully so even the fox at times. The novel is incredibly readable and a moving insight into just how important having a connection, or feeling like somebody cares for us, is. The story of Mary may seem extreme at times but I think it pushes the reader to consider how close we all could be to letting things fall that bit further apart when we least expect it.

One of my most enjoyable books of the year so far, find a burrow and curl up to read.

How To Be Human by Paula Cocozza £12.99 (Cornerstone)

Happy reading! 

Outfoxing Them All 

Get Nasty! 

*quick note for this post, it’s another from the archives that didn’t make it on time due to illness, please excuse its tardy nature and the discussion of a long list that is now actually a short list (I’ve added a pic of the shortlisted books so you can see what made it!) Ok, off you go…

You are a lucky bunch dear readers. You only have to encounter me when you choose to, you can click on these links if you don’t mind me yapping in your ear for a little while and you can just as easily shut me down and walk away. Those who know me, family and friends, do not have it so easy. The problem is, I really am consumed with books. Recently I was asked what my interests were outside of work (which is 100% book focused) and I replied with reading. They asked for more so I mentioned writing on this very blog about what I have read. Next was the question of what I like to do with my friends, “well, I meet up with my friend Emma and we talk about…books”. Even for keen book readers I realise I can be a bit much but when you love a world, and it is very much a world to me, it is hard not to enthuse about it whenever you have the chance.
To try and ease the pressure on those who may not want to travel in this orbit as much as I do, I surround myself with fellow explorers who are as happy in book sphere as I am. This is mainly on twitter and YouTube/BookTube. There is something endlessly delightful in having a community to sit with as you all wait for the midnight announcement of the Baileys longlist (more of which to come), when usually that feeling of belonging is saved for the like of mass sporting events. Because of keeping in touch with the comings and goings of fellow souls in the book world, I get to see a lot of bookish news, and recently a project caught my eye. Kickstarter projects are really gaining traction now and can be a wonderful way of getting work out there that you want total self control of, regarding both content and how quickly the book finds its way into the hands of the people. I started seeing signs of 404 Ink asking people to get involved with a new book they wanted to put out, a collection of essays by a range of different women, on what it means to be living their experience in the 21st century. This book was to be called ‘Nasty Women’…SIGN ME UP!

Now a little about 404 Ink as I don’t believe I have introduced them on the blog before and they are worth knowing about. They are a shiny and new independent publisher ran by Laura Jones and Heather McDaid. They are publishing both books and a literary magazine that will come out twice a year. They look set to support some really interesting voices that will be fresh and challenging, something I always want to support. Here are some details if you want to check them out as well. They are @404ink on twitter, their website is 404ink.com and if you are feeling really helpful you can hop on over to their patreon account patreon.com/404ink.

Now – to the book. I read it in two sittings, it would have been one but life got in the way as it is want to do *shakes fist*. This collection is stellar. I love reading essays about women making their way in the world you all know this and I did worry that I would be reading some essays with a sense of déjà vu of collections gone past (although that is not to belittle the experiences, the reason these stories get told so often is that it is about time they are taken seriously and listened too). This was never the case, every essay opened my eyes, made me ask questions and appreciate the women who have spoken so honestly about their experience to push us all further in the goal for equality. Themes of violence against women, intersectional feminism, body image, contraception and politics run like a thread throughout the book, universal experiences. These was also hidden delights that I in no way expected, the main one of these being an essay called ‘Foraging and Feminism: Hedge-Witchcraft in the 21st Century’ by Alice Tarbuck, a topic that I have never read about and certainly never considered the feminist implications in but found endlessly fascinating. ‘Hard Dumplings for Visitors’ by Christina Neuwirth had me feeling the woven nature of the story lines of the women in my own family and ‘Fat in Every Language’ by Jonatha Kottler had me nodding in recognition and wanting to highlight sections for future reference (and also thinking, ooh Jona, what an awesome name, if I am ever have a baby girl I will go back to my mental note of that one!).

These voices should always have been heard but at this moment in history it seems even more relevant and their response to shout out loud, get people reading and thinking about these issues deserves praise – and support, so if you can I highly recommend you grab yourself a copy. Nasty Women Unity!

Nasty Women £8.99 (404 Ink)

 It seems fitting that this post also mentions the recent Baileys Longlist announcement, since we are talking about women kicking ass. The list was announced as International Women’s Day 2017 began in the very early hours. In case you haven’t seen it yet and are interested, here are the contenders, with added passing thoughts from me along the way:

Ayobami Adebayo – Stay With Me

The Power – Naomi Alderman I very much expected this one to feature & see it as a strong contender. Review to be found here on Dog Eared Reads if you want further info!

Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood The mighty Ms Atwood, who is mentor of Alderman above, I must confess I did not see this one coming.

Little Deaths – Emma Flint

The Mare – Mary Gaitskill

The Dark Circle – Linda Grant

The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride HUGE fan of Eimear McBride & I delighted in this book with more of her raw and innovative style.

Midwinter – Fiona Melrose

The Sport of Kings – C.E. Morgan

The Women Next Door – Yewande Omotoso

The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill I have heard brilliant things about this from Anna James over at @acaseforbooks, check her out on twitter & YouTube, what she doesn’t know about books isn’t worth knowing

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry – It had to be on here, I have yet to meet a reader who hasn’t loved this book

Barkskins – Annie Proulx – a mamouth novel that I haven’t felt an urge to pick up, but wonderful Emma did and I am now wondering if we could peer pressure her into popping onto Dog Eared Reads and doing a guest review for us?!

First Love – Gwendoline Riley

Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien – I can’t believe I still haven’t got round to this when it has been on my bedside ‘must read soon’ table for so long. I will report back soon.

The Gustav Sonata – Rose Tremain – I haven’t read this yet but I was intrigued by the blurb and listening to an interview about the novel.

NOW – one thing I will say is, why on earth are you all reading my opinions as clearly I know noooothing. I would have put money on some books being on this list in full confidence and are they there? Are they bugger. Now first we have to address what is the TRAVESTY (in my humble opinion) of Autumn by Ali Smith not appearing, to me this makes NO sense as I just think it was a beautifully crafted piece, although to be honest that’s a given when she picks up a pen, so moving, innovative in its immediacy and darn right special. It better be on the Man Booker *shakes fist*.

I also fully expected to see Zadie Smith with Swing Time, Yaa Gyasi with Home Going and Hannah Kent with The Good People on there. What did you guys think of the list? Any disappointing omissions or books you have been cheer leading on there? Let us all know!

*and here is the short list!

So there is a blog filled with writing women, filling the world with their words and inspiring me, and hopefully you, as they go.

As usual drop a line in the comments or over on twitter @dogeared_reads with a shout about what your reading at the moment or just for general chatter, I’ll be about with a cuppa, book and biscuit in hand no doubt, ready to natter back!

Happy Reading!

Get Nasty! 

She’s Electric, Can I Be Electric Too? 

When it is 4.32 a.m and as of yet you have been unable to sleep, what is the best thing to do? Have a hot milky drink, avoid all blue screen light and spray some lavender on your pillow? OR you can grab your laptop, prop yourself up with some pillows and write that blog post you have been thinking about for the last hour or two anyway.

I thought I would come online and eventually talk about ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman. Now fellow book bloggers and/or regular book blog readers will be well versed in this book by now, has anybody not talked about it?! But you know what, the fuss is for a reason and I loved it, so I want to get in the mix as well.

Alderman has a phenomenal background, quickly spotted as a rising literary star she has had three other novels published, makes appearances on Radio Fours most well-known shows, regularly writes in the Guardian AND co-created one of the top selling games for your smart phone. Oh also, she is a Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University (big up my fellow Bath Spa crew!) and did I mention the fact she is mentored by MARGARET FREAKIN’ ATWOOD!! As Beyoncé would say, bow down bitches.

You’d think it all couldn’t get much better but I really believe with ‘The Power’ she has gone into a whole other league. I finished reading it a couple of months back now but it plays about in my mind regularly. I can imagine in the future 16 year old brains being expanded as they read this for their GCSE’s (well, if the Gove’s of the world can keep their noses out of literature in education and stop insisting on only dead, white men being worth studying).

The novel looks at a period of time when, one by one, girls are finding out they have a power within them that has possibly lain dormant until now, or maybe has just started to develop in their bodies. Under their skins a type of electricity flows, which they can harness and by touch can cause serious, potentially life threatening, pain to others. Around the world girls learn just what they can do with this new skill and the realisation also comes that for the first time in history they are the more powerful sex. Walking home with keys grasped between fingers becomes redundant when you know you can fell an attacker by simply touching him. We then watch as the ramifications of this spread through society, men crossing the street to put distance between them and a girl right the way through to segregation in schools for the protection of boys and riots breaking out in the streets of Delhi. With social media the world can change that much faster and the pace of the story reflects this, I found myself so caught up in these changes it was exhilarating. Power will always lead to problems though and this novel plays out the whole difficult scenario of a world struggling with this new strata.

We are lead through this changing world by four characters, first off meeting Allie. Using her power for one of the first times to make a change in her life that few could not cheer her on for, she soon propels herself into something of a mysterious figure head for girls embracing this way of life. We have Margot, an American politician who has the challenge of towing the party line with what is appearing to become something of a revolution, while fully aware she has a teenage daughter of her own that needs ‘controlling’ at home. And then there is Roxy and Tunde. I adored these two characters. Roxy for her energy, she is so vibrant on the page and I would most definitely want her fighting in my corner should the world order ever be flipped on its head in such a way. Tunde fascinated me and I thought was beautifully drawn and complex. A Nigerian journalist, intrepid in his travels, who finds his moment of fame because of his recording of a girl using her power going viral. He decides to pursue this story no matter the dangers that could be await him.

One of my favourite things about this novel is its structure. Alderman has used the format of giving us a book within a book. We begin and end the story with letters going back and forth between a woman named Naomi and a man called Neil. The man has asked her if she wouldn’t mind having a read through his book, which looks at how on earth women came to be such a dominant force in society, why they live under the matriarchy…and so we go on to read his work. The letters that are penned once Naomi has read the fruits of his labour are possibly my favourite thing about the whole novel and I believe this is where Alderman’s real genius comes through. Clever, funny and thought provoking, I wanted to applaud with delight when I read them.

This is easily up there with one of my favourite reads in the last few months and I can see it being a strong contender at the end of 2017 when I think of my favourite books of the year. I love it when I get to recommend a book and I am totally confident in it being everything a great read should be. Everyone needs this dose of feminist science fiction in their lives, trust me, I am a power wielding woman.

‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman £8.99 (Penguin)

P.s. Apologies for the terribly obvious title of the blog, I couldn’t not! And also the fact you’re likely to be singing it all day now, I’m the book worm giving you an earworm! 

Happy reading! 

She’s Electric, Can I Be Electric Too? 

Hello from the other side


I hope, as I tentatively shout, that my call is not bouncing back to me as if I am in an echo chamber.

You may have noticed there has been little noise here on the pages of Dog Eared Reads for a month or two now. Normal service was disrupted but now the leaves have been swept from the line and we are back on track *toots horn*. Unfortunately a couple of months of rather unexpected bad health put a halt to pretty much all activity over in Dog Eared Towers, for some time I couldn’t read at all which, you can imagine, to me was as distressing a thing to happen as anything that could be told to me in a Doctors room. Luckily the concentration I needed to read did return and now I feel like I can get back in front of this key board and have some bookish conversation with you guys (oh the joy of being able to type from the comfort of bed and the relief you as a reader must feel at not having to see my pasty face atop of my pyjamas).

For this first post back I thought it would be nice to have a quick catch up, what have you lot been reading? There will not be a big, single book review on the blog today, I thought I would just run through some of the things I have been reading while holed up in my sick bed or passing the time in several waiting rooms. The books following all deserve honourable mentions, but I will also be chatting about any big hitters I have read during this time in due course, making sure they receive the centre stage of a blog to themselves.

I have used a lot of this time to catch up on some books that have been sitting in a ‘to be read’ pile for some time. I often worry about reviewing books that are so past publication date on here, but then I love to hear about what people have read, old or new, and there is always a chance it may not have caught the attention of somebody who would provide it with the perfect home, so I intend to carry on doing a mix of old and new unless you lot shout at me to do otherwise.

First off I eventually got round to picking up Sue Perkins memoir, Spectacles. When I saw the art work for the cover way back when I thought it was superbly done and I knew I would want to take a closer look to see if I should read. I then saw Sue Perkins at an event at Cheltenham Literature Festival where she did a couple of readings and managed to make the 600 or so people in the room feel like they were her mate having a good natter with her down the local. I have a very hit and miss relationship with memoirs of those in the public eye but I thought this was beautifully done. Warm and friendly, it struck the right balance of giving an insight into Sue’s life that was respectful. I hate it when I feel like somebody has been pushed to pour out intimate moments they would never have wanted disclosed. Never self-indulgent, no ‘my fathers, fathers, father was born on…’, just constantly honest and funny. I was even moved to tears with this book when I encountered the letter she penned to her dog just after he had been put down. If you are a dog lover such as me, or just a human with a heart really, have a stiff drink at hand for this chapter.

‘Spectacles’ by Sue Perkins £7.99 (Penguin)

Going with another comedian, I decided to pick up ‘Nina Is Not Ok’ by Shappi Khorsandi, her first venture into writing fiction. I went into this novel knowing absolutely nothing. I really enjoy watching Shappi on the TV so I had picked up a copy of this in hard back when it first came out without looking at the blurb, I decided to jump straight into the first chapter in this continued state of ignorance. Well. I. Never. I was really pleased I went with this. I know working in a book shop and the like I REALLY should know better, but it was not the story I thought I was going to get from the cover and I was all the more thankful for it. This book resonated with me because of some of the issues Nina has to deal with, and although some may have told me to stay away if they knew I was going to read this due to possible triggers, I am glad I avoided such warnings as I actually found it really helpful and honest in the way it broached tricky topics and how we navigate them. In case you do want trigger warnings and a bit of an over view of the themes covered, the book looks as bereavement, self-esteem issues, rape and alcoholism. It has just came out in paperback in the last few days so if you are feeling like you can handle some weighty subjects that are dealt with in an truthful and very readable way, I recommend you get yourself a copy of this.

‘Nina Is Not OK’ by Shappi Khorsandi £7.99 (Ebury)

Again, massively late to the party on this one, but ‘Why We Broke Up’ by David Handler was pretty much devoured in one sitting, how I wish I had owned this book when I was a teenager. Our protagonist writes her ex a letter cataloguing all of the objects she is about to hand back to him and uses each one to explain exactly why they broke up. Making mistakes we all make in those hazy days of first love but also hearing her inspirational voice as she looks back over this time is a joy to read. The book is illustrated so beautifully throughout, by the superbly talented Maria Kalman, I would frame some of the prints if I could. As always, this is officially a young adult read but I enjoyed this at 32 years of age so fill your boots!

‘Why We Broke Up’ by Daniel Handler £8.99 (Egmont UK)

In the next couple of blogs I will talk over a couple of other honourable mentions and also start bringing out the big hitters with ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman, ‘A Line Made by Walking’ by Sara Baume and ‘A Quiet Kind of Thunder’ by Sara Barnard, books you simply HAVE to get your hands on!

It is great to be back in our corner of the internet, I have missed it terribly. As I say give me a shout and let me know what you have been or are currently reading in the comments below or over on twitter @dogeared_reads

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Hello from the other side

Read the World, Make it a Better Place

So I had a post scheduled to come out on the site but normal service has been ground to a halt at a time when it feels like the world has done similar (or has been wound backwards). I find it hard to write about anything other than expressing my incredible anger, sadness, fear…a whole host of emotions too long to list. I want to rant and I want to scream but here at Dog Eared we will always offer a calm haven with books that show case voices from around the world, who have lived different experiences, we are open and inclusive to all. I have a strong faith in the arts, books, music, film, tv to make an impact in times like these, brave creators can fight back and often will have their message received by a far wider audience than any politician will, the first gay kiss on tv happened long before legislative change and I think went a long way in pushing forward the agenda and educating those who were simply ignorant of the issue because of lack of exposure. This belief has been expressed before and by many more eloquent than me, Toni Morrison saying the following:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair. There is no place for self-pity. No need for silence. No room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.

So in light of this belief I want to talk about some great books out there that make a reader think, books that are from/about those who Trump wants to marginalise and discriminate against, and also what books we turn to for comfort and escape. We need to amplify their/our message, make sure we are constantly heard. Take courage comrades, difficult times are ahead but I am confident, in the end, good will win.

This may be a bit of a longer post than usual so grab a cuppa and get comfy. It is all worth while however as we have two very special guest contributors AND two, read it, two fantastic prizes up for grabs (which, sorry, but you’ll have to read to the end to find out about!) so we are going to be positive, positive, positive.

I wanted to approach this piece with two aims in mind, hearing what people thought about writing in times like this and also getting recommendations for what we could be reading, either to help us through troubling times or to promote the voices of those who some may attempt to silence.

I knew immediately that I would want to feature ‘The Good Immigrant’ by Nikesh Shukla (Unbound £14.99) in this piece. I have long planned to review it on Dog Eared Reads (and a full review of the book will appear in another post soon) but it seemed fitting to begin with it today. 

The book is a collection of essays from 21 different writers and is “A document of what it means to be a person of colour now”. One of the writers involved is poet Selena Godden (I spoke about one of her poetry collections here if you would like to read) and she kindly gave up her time to speak to me about how she is feeling as poet/writer and reader now:

I was recently asked by a journalist how important it was for me to see myself in books, how important it was for the lead role to be a woman of colour, someone I can identify with, to see my brown face in the centre stage of a book.
I responded with this: How important is it for you to see yourself in the books you read? When you read Toni Morrison do you struggle and think it won’t resonate because she’s different from you, because she is American and black? No you won’t because beautiful writing will grab you by the heart and it won’t stop yanking at your guts until the book is finished with you. That’s what a good book is meant to do, carry you away and into its heart.
I want to see more diversity – I am sick of the word diversity – but I do want to read more books by ALL women about the passion and the sacrifices we make living this writing life, writing this living life. I want to see more places set for women, and women of colour, at that great table that is the feast of books. I believe that if we do not start publishing more diversely, we only pass on half of our inheritance, half of our heritage, half of the story. If we only document these times from the perspective of the great white shark, we miss all the other diverse voices and fish in the sea. Britain is producing some exceptional and powerful BAME female authors, poets and playwrights, now more than ever. I see my face in the exceptional writing of Kit De Waal, Sabrina Mahfouz and Catherine Johnson…to name just three.

I am so proud of Nikesh Shukla and buzz and heat the ‘The Good Immigrant’ is making. Books lead to books and so I want people to read these 21 essays and then read further published work by these writers, to ask these writers what they are writing and who they are reading. Then find out who that author was inspired by and onwards. Reading is the gateway drug to writing, all books lead to books which leads to more books, that is the beauty, the journey, I believe that is how books work. I mean, when I love a book I want to read everything the author has written and then everything the author has read and been inspired by.

For me it is all about intention and passion in the work, the intention with which it was made, the unsaid, and the passion it is completed with. I don’t read the safe books or the popular books, the books you buy in airports. I like to discover lost books, old second hand books, books I find in junk shops. I follow and read so many passionate and colourful writers and poets.

Right now I sense an excitement, I can feel a rumble, a rallying cry. For all the shit things going on in the world we need our books, our poets and artists now more than ever. There is a rise in hate crime, our newspapers are filled with fear, ignorance and intolerance, we all know that now more than ever there is a need for more diversity and visibility, more books and understanding, less panel discussions and more doing and creating. If there is a rise in hate then now is the time for a rise in love.

When I read through what Selena had written I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. When I log on twitter each day and see images of swastikas appearing on walls, people being racially harassed on public transport, it can make you feel helpless and very lonely, but her talk of a ‘rumble, a rallying cry’ fills me with hope and courage, to constantly raise my voice against these injustices and to know there are so many out there ready to fight against them.

So, with The Good Immigrant getting us off to a wonderful start let’s carry on with some books that are brilliant in their own right, but are particularly pertinent to read right now.

Now I want to feature writers here that maybe are not so well known on our shores but I also cannot ignore two of our grand dames, required reading for every human really, as they bring to the page the personal and the political with masterly writing that has seen them both go into the canon of the Greats . Welcome Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. For Toni Morrison I am going to put forward ‘The Bluest Eye'(Vintage £8.99),  this was her first novel and one that caused much controversy, leading to repeated attempts to ban it. The story concerns a young girl who struggles with her appearance, her eyes and skin colour especially, with themes not only of race but of child abuse and incest also running throughout. For Maya Angelou I am going to suggest ‘Letter to My Daughter’ (Virago £8.99). This is a collection of essays addressed to the women of the world, many of whom saw Angelou as a mother figure who spoke to them and often for those whose voices were not being heard. With no daughter herself she passed the wisdom she gained from her extraordinary life experiences on to us all.

Next up is a memoir by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, ‘Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Colour Dreaming her Way Home’ (Arsenal Pulp Press $18.95). Having to move to Canada to escape a past of abuse and the daily pressures of having to like as a queer, disabled, woman of colour in America, this book reflects on what she left behind and if she will ever be able to go home again.

Valeria Luiselli is a Mexican author who recently published a novel that certainly ticks the original box! ‘The Story of My Teeth’ (Granta £8.99) introduced us to our protagonist, Gustavo, who once trained as an auctioneer and is now using those skills in a dubious manner. Inventing fantastical tales for each item he sells, at one point one of his own teeth gets quite the high asking sum when he presents it as having belonged to… Marilyn Monroe!

Now, an interlude from our list as we hear from Jessica Johannesson Gaitan and Adam Ley-Lange, founders of http://www.therookeryinthebookery.org a great site dedicated to translated fiction, as they tell us what they think we should be reading right now, Jess first:

‘Borderlands/La Frontera’ by Gloria Anzaldua (Aunt Lute Books) 

First published in 1987, Anzaldua’s was a relatively early voice entirely dedicated to the in-between, the undefined and endlessly possible. Borderlands/La Frontera is an exploration of the bilingual experience and identity, specifically focused on female experiences of the Mexican border. It’s a song as much as a manifesto for curiosity in the face of division.

And Adam:

‘Tenth of December’ by George Saunders (Bloomsbury £8.99)

An unsentimental reminder for us all to be kind, especially to those who appear to deserve it the least.

For my next pick I am offering up some Young Adult fiction, (which, because I don’t say this enough, is for EVERY AGE), this is by author Fox Benwell and the novel is called ‘The Last Leaves Falling’ (Simon & Schuster £7.99). This beautiful story introduces us to Sora, a Japanese teenager who is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). With important messages of friendship and acceptance this is a dose of fiction that is good for all right now.

I wanted to get some photography in here, as I tend to feature a lot of prose but I am just as enamoured with the visual arts. ‘Bordered Lives: Transgender Portraits from Mexico’ by Kike Arial (The New York Press $21.95) has the aim of challenging transphobic caricatures that are so often found in the media and does so with a collection of stunning photographs, images that are moving and arresting.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is an author who you should be running out to your local book shop to grab pretty much anything written by him if you haven’t already. For this post I am going to talk about ‘Between The World and Me’ (Penguin Random House £10.99) which is written as a letter to his son. He talks to him about what it is to be black in America and tells him that “racist violence has been woven into American culture”. I am yet to meet anybody who has read this book and not been effected by it.

Now, I think it is time we talked about what is comforting to read during these bleak days, when you just want to turn the news off and escape for a bit where can you go? But hey, you don’t want me yammering on here do you? Oh no, we have the blummin wonderful author Kirsty Logan in our mist! Here is what she has to say:

“My comfort reads always involve snow and magic: Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, Edith Patton’s East, and any retelling of The Snow Queen. All I need is one of these books, a big chair, and a mug of something hot and sweet – and I’m a child again.

Every time I read Ursula K. Le Guin, I’m blown away. No other author comes close to the strength of her ideas and the beauty of her prose. Her books feel as relevant and challenging today as ever.

No matter how awful the world gets, I’m comforted by the knowledge that love still exists. Stories of women in love can get me through just about anything. Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, and Emma Donoghue’s Kissing the Witch are my favourites.”

Now I am not saying this just because Kirsty kindly got involved with this post as magic is something I turn to for comfort as well, so I can highly recommend her novel ‘The Gracekeepers'(Vintage £7.99)  about a world divided between those who live on land and those who live at sea, one of my best friend and most trusted readers, Emma, recommended it to me and like the butterfly effect I now pass on this book to you! 

For comfort I can also always be found turning to Dodie Smith with ‘I Capture the Castle’ (Vintage £7.99) and returning to the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter Is always going to see me right. 

I could have ran on and on with this list of books, I have a notebook beside me full of amazing reads, but I don’t want to overwhelm with titles. I realise I will not have represented everyone in this list, and I am sorry for that, but please read it for what it was meant to be, an outreached hand to all, and if you are railing that I’ve missed something, please get involved and comment below, email dogearedreads1@gmail.com or tweet @dogeared_reads with your suggestions and I will get them included. 

Before we go on to the competition details I want to leave this thought from Jackie Kay (in interview with Ali Smith, the whole fabulous discussion can be found on http://www.picador.com)

I think art makes things happen. Poetry makes things happen…To me the novel is the best form to explore everything: politics, culture, identity

Hear hear for the one and only Scottish makar! 

Ok – competition time! And TWO chances for you to win here! 

First up is a chance to get yourself a copy of ‘The Good Immigrant’. All you have to do for this is give your suggestion of which book you think the world (*cough*Trump*cough*) could do with reading right now and why, and the winner will have the prize winging its way to them.

The second competition offers a copy of ‘The Gracekeepers’ by Kirsty Logan to the winner. For this you need to let us know what you think is the all time comfort (hug in a book) read and why. 

To be in with a chance of winning simply share this post and email your answer/s into dogearedreads1@gmail.com.

The winners will be picked and announced next Sunday, November 27th, and I’m sorry mam, dad and my two sisters, you’re not allowed to enter! 

Good luck everyone, I can’t wait to read your suggestions, and until next time …happy reading! 


Read the World, Make it a Better Place

Happy Birthday to ya, Haaaappy Biiiiirthday! 

It’s a big day over here on Dog Eared Reads, would you believe it, we are ONE YEAR OLD TODAY!! Woop! I feel like maybe there should have been a party but as usual in Dog Eared HQ writing and reading is on the agenda for the day, but don’t you worry – there is a galaxy ripple with my name on it for later! 

I’ve really enjoyed this first year, I’ve read some amazing books but through this site it has led me to talking to and meeting some great people who I never would have spoken to before. There is also nothing more wonderful than a reader getting back to you and saying they went and got a recommendation and loved it, or an author saying your review made them smile. 

This website happened pretty quickly, I was blogging a little bit on my other site mainly about general day to day stuff but I found that even with recommending books all day in work I somehow still had more to say (I don’t know if my work colleagues would be shocked by this or not, they are all rather alarmed most days by how much I have to say, the prospect of more gabbing on from me may be very obvious or warrant ‘how can she still be talking?!’). This place lets me talk about books old and new, I’m completely free to say just what I feel about what I am reading and also just to chat in general about what’s happening in my book world. I read some great book blogs and wondered if I could do it, or even if there was any point when there are such brilliant bloggers out there who have a lot more time than me to provide the TLC their site deserves, but a friend encouraged me and said to just try, if it didn’t work it didn’t work, what would I lose? 

This website could not have started without my wonderful nanna and granda, I don’t want to talk about it too much on here but I would like you all to take a moment to raise your mug, glass or, even better, a quality street (for those in the know) to them. Another shout out must go to the Legends that are Family Culling, always reading and supporting me! 

Month by month we have had more and more readers join the fold and I really hope you think of this place as a trustworthy spot to read about books or ask for recommendations. I’d also welcome you guys to put forward any suggestions for what you would like to see on the site, if you’d like themed posts, maybe you’d like to hear about some of the best books in a certain genre, for a certain age range or good holiday reads. Whatever you’d like to see here feed it back to me and I will always try to accommodate. 

In the future, the next few months in particular, I plan for the site to get better, in appearance and functionality. I also want to be producing more content for you guys, with regular posts. I considered having set post dates, so there would always be something new popping up on say Sunday and Wednesday nights, if you think this would be a good way to go, let me know! (As you can see, you are heavily involved in Dog Eared Reads too!)

I hope you’ll keep on visiting our corner of the Internet and I wish nothing but excellent books in your future! 

Here’s to the next year and as ever, HAPPY READING! 

Happy Birthday to ya, Haaaappy Biiiiirthday! 

Seasons of mists…

(As mentioned in my last post, the following was actually written several months ago and this book has rightly been endlessly talked about since, but I thought it was a shame to leave it sitting there without a reader to its name – so here it is, a belated blog of one of my favourite books last year!)

 When it comes to the book I’m going to talk about today I have to confess I’d been counting down for its arrival like a 5 year old waits for Christmas morning. The moment I found out Ali Smith had a new novel coming out I was beaming but then imagine my joy when I discovered it was to be the first in a series of four books, each following a season. 
Before I even talk about the novel itself I must be allowed to wax lyrical about this book as a physical object itself. Dear readers you will swoon if you head to your bookshop and pick this beautiful volume up.  ‘Autumn’ has a fabric jacket the colour of the perfect Autumnal leaf, gold foil lettering provides the title and then we have a paper wrap around, but not just any wrap around oh no (do the Marks and Sparks advert voice here British readers) this wrap around is provided by the one and only David Hockney, probably the greatest living British artist (Heineken don’t make artists but if they did…). With shelf space at a premium in my flat I have already made a home for the following three volumes to sit along side, there’ll be Instagram photos – you just know it.

With such a build up and the ‘packaging’ offering so much, would it live up to the pedestal I had already placed it on, or would it be like received a Tiffany box with a lump of coal inside? (HA – come on, this is Ali blinkin’ Smith, if you were a betting person this would be a safe place to put your life savings). Oh, I tell you it. is. GLORIOUS. Every word, every character, every current day cultural reference she gets in there  is a stroke of genius. This book has had an amazingly quick turn around from being written to ending up in book buyers hands, Smith has covered a whole host of topics that are so hot off the press they’re still being discussed on the news now. She gets in the reaction to Brexit and writes so movingly about the bodies we are seeing being washed up on beaches daily. Her writing takes the most sensitivite issues, such as a young MP being murdered, never trivialising them but finding the simple and devastating truth and laying it out in black and white  for us to sit and let sink in:

A man shot her dead and came at her with a knife. Like shooting her wouldn’t be enough. But it’s old news now. Once it would have been a years worth of news. But news right now is like a flock of speeded up sheep running off the side of a cliff

Smith shines a spotlight on the times we are living through by interweaving them with an utterly charming plot. The story itself looks at the relationship that has developed over time between an old man, Daniel Gluck, and his much younger friend Elisabeth. The love between these two is precious, I could read tomes just of the conversations between the two of them, as Gluck encourages Elisabeth to expand her imagination and introduces her to a new way of looking at the world, primarily through studying the art of long forgotten Pauline Boty. The novel jumps back and forth from the pair first meeting around twenty years ago to the current day which finds them in a care home. The flow of the prose is like a melody washing over you, never feeling like Smith is jolting from social commentary to story telling, it somehow all works beautifully. I think you can hear her voice coming through in some of the passages, and she sums up how this rather trying year has left me feeling better than I ever could:

I’m tired of the news. I’m tired of the way it makes things spectacular that aren’t, and deals so simplistically with what’s truly appalling. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m tired of the anger. I’m tired of the meanness. I’m tired of the selfishness. I’m tired of how we’re doing nothing to stop it. I’m tired of how we’re encouraging it …I’m tired of liars. I’m tired of sanctified liars.

I hear ya’ Ali. I have no idea how Winter, Spring and Summer will follow up this first outing. My guess is that they will be written and published just as quickly so they will capture a year as it happens, make the spotlight burn that much brighter on topics that loom large in our lives in the amplified way that only fiction can. I suspect our characters will not appear again, that their time with us is done and we will be indulged with somebody else’s story (maybe they’ll make a cameo) but no matter what I’m back on the countdown until the next arrives and I’m staring at that gap on my shelf in eager anticipation!

Autumn by Ali Smith £16.99 (Hampshire Hamilton) 

Happy reading all! 

Seasons of mists…