Wild Thing

I’ve just finished a book this morning that messed with my tiny little mind. At first I blamed myself, as mentioned previously I’ll often look at a title/cover etc but not read the blurb, jumping in for an immersive experience with little guidance as to what to expect in my reading. I very much did this here, the title was one that immediately caught my attention and the art work on the cover is stunning (by the wonderful Lizzy Stewart who gave us ‘There’s a Tiger in the Garden’ – check it out if you have little readers to entertain).

I had a dramatic realisation approximately half way through (the very thing that messed with my head) but later instead of blaming this on my approach to the book I realised my reaction was just because the work between my hands is, well, bloody amazing and truly, deeply original.

‘The Word For Woman Is Wilderness’. You see right? How could I NOT want to read a book with a title like that?! It comes to us from author Abi Andrews, who shows huge amounts of talent at a young age, making it all the more exciting to see what else she will go on to produce.

The book isn’t exactly set out as a diary, it isn’t dated, but it does follow a journey where our young protagonist sets out to show she can live and experience wilderness just as the famed ‘Mountain Men’ throughout history have done, the matter of her sex is not something that should prevent this as so many seem to believe.

I am thinking about how the small autonomy of just being alone in public for a woman is also a right that needs to be claimed and kept on being claimed until it is a given.

Instead of day by day accounts the text is split into sections which range in size, some describing a moment of the journey, others a thought that is troubling her. Just as time is not linear these entries are episodic but not tightly structured to the timeline of her travels.

Setting off from her home in England and leaving behind parents who are not supportive of this decision, her aim is to reach Alaska, living in a place so vast as to feel truly alone and part of the natural world around her, using survival instincts to get by. With limited funds a decision is also made not to simply fly to Alaska and begin her journey there, but to work her way across the globe in whatever ways present themselves as the miles tick by (making me wonder if this is a ‘Road to Ithaca’ scenario). The people on her voyage bringing with them a whole host of new opinions and experiences that challenge her deeply.

Now, here is where I will explain my ‘book freak out’. Throughout the book so far I’d been reading things that deeply resonated with my own experiences. Granted, I have not experienced true wilderness but I have travelled and the experiences and reactions she had were uncomfortably similar. I then read a part of the book where she was working in a restaurant to raise some funds when the chef had pulled her into a walk in fridge and molested her. When he was called away he left her in there, shutting the door, a door that does not open from the inside. After the event she repeatedly tells herself that nothing really happened and that others suffer a lot worse, the girls and women who are actually attacked. The experience didn’t feel as if it would be judged significant enough by others, that she was just being silly no matter how deeply upset she was. ‘My god’ I thought, ‘this is uncanny’. In my late teens I worked in a pub/restaurant to try and raise money for a holiday with my friends. The chef was particularly horrid and often grabbed my wrist when I went into the kitchen, saying he was going to pull me into the back so I could ‘sort him out’. He would always say he was having a laugh, his voice just the right side of jocular if anybody heard, but his grip on my wrist was tight, I would try to yank it away and often be left with red marks from the pressure. One day he was being particularly touchy and I snapped at him. When I then went into our walk in fridge to get dessert for a customer, he ran behind and shut the door so I was locked in there. The lights go out and you’re trapped. After 5 minutes or so a lady who washed the dishes heard me shouting and let me out. So you can understand, her experiences on this journey were so very real to me. It was at this point I suddenly noticed she was being called Erin in the text. ‘Hang on a minute, she is called Abi!’ I actually said out loud. Reader, I thought I was reading a memoir/piece of travel writing, no no no, I looked at the front of the book and there it was clear as Day ‘The Word for Woman is Wilderness: A NOVEL’. It was like being sent into a tail spin, how could she write so precisely about these experiences and it be a novel? She MUST have done this journey, she MUST have just changed her name. I honestly could not get my head around it. After finishing the book I still do not know if Abi Andrews has made this journey, I don’t know if it really matters, her novel is excellent. The expansiveness of her writing, the incredible realness of it, make it masterful in my eyes. I have the possibility in the near future of going to an event to hear the author speak and I am almost in two minds as to whether I want the answer to this question (I do, I always bloody do, in the end I’m the cat that curiosity killed).

Anyway, less about me and back to the book. This is an excellent read not only for the journey itself but also for the total immersion into Erin’s thoughts. She is young and sometimes naive but I found her endlessly likeable with her desire to challenge the patriarchal consensus and her openness to different thoughts and ways of life that she comes across, not always agreeing with other but always trying to think things through. Her thoughts jump constantly, one moment she will be discussing the Unabomber (somebody she repeatedly returns to) then in a blink of an eye she is considering the beads used in face wash. Science, feminism, philosophy, myth, as she wanders so does her mind on to as many different plains.

I found this novel to be thought provoking, written vividly like colours in a landscape, I was sad when I closed the last page and was no longer travelling with Erin as my companion. She set out and battled often with those who ‘projected vulnerability onto her’ and wanted to achieve the goal of being able to travel freely like a white man. I urge you to pick up this book to see a special journey unfold.

The Word for Woman is Wilderness by Abi Andrews £12.99 (Serpents Tail)

I’m intrigued to know dear reader, have you ever been hoodwinked and thought you were reading non fiction when it was fiction or vice versa? How did it affect the reading experience for you? Let us know in the comments below!

Also on Thursday the 8th of Feb competition time is finally here and our interview with Sara Barnard! Do not miss out!

As always you can subscribe to Dog Eared Reads by emailed dogearedreads1@gmail.com with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line and we will notify you each time a new post appears!

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Wild Thing

This Could Be Underwater Love…

I received a proof a little while ago that promised great things, historical fiction with…a MERMAID! The artwork on the cover was sumptuous and the publishers proudly heralded this as being their big book of the year. I tend to take these things with a pinch of salt, you never know what book will jump off those shelves and shake a reader to attention, well publicised or not. Well I am happy to say this one has came up with the goods, I sunk deep into every page barely coming up for air and know this will be ringing through the tills at bookshops across the land this year.

‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes Gowar is a powerfully evocative novel, taking us to London in the late 1800’s, the smells of the dockside, the pomp and powder of the Bawds house in town.Imogen Hermes Gowar

We meet Mr Hancock at his sparsely run home, essentials are provided for there but the place is down at heal, not occurring to him that at the very least a lick of paint wouldn’t go a miss. He is a worried man as his recent business venture is in question, a ship he has sent out to gather goods to sell has not yet returned and he has heard no word from the Captain. A businessman who loses a ship soon becomes a businessman who nobody will deal with.

Deeper into the city we find Angelica Neal, peachy skin voluptuously pouring over the edges of her clothing, being waited on by her friend (or hired help, depending on who’s point of view you take) and eagerly anticipating her return into society after being ‘kept’ by a gentleman who has recently passed away. Visited by her previous Bawd, who kept her in employ with a roof over her head at the finest of establishments in the city, the argument is made for her returning to this house of ill repute and back to ‘servicing’ the creme de la creme of the city, Lords and politicians being regular visitors. Angelica has had a taste for life outside of those four walls however, and has firmly set her mind on making her own way, believing her looks and charms require no promotion by any other, especially when the money would also be passing her by. Angelica lives an opulent life and likes to indulge in the finer things, and she means to do it in her own way.

Georgian Bawdy House

The novels turning point comes with the arrival of the Mermaid of the title. Mr Hancock may no longer have a ship on his hands but catastrophe may be averted, as the reason for the vessels disappearance being directly related to procuring him the Mermaid. His possession of this throws his house, and then soon after the city, into uproar as people come either to marvel or be horrified by the creature displayed before them. Acting as something of a magnetic force the Mermaid pulls all our characters into each other’s path, although whether this will be the making or undoing of them is deliciously teased along in the following pages.

Mermaids – not as pretty as you think

When reading this novel I really found myself thinking on the theme of ownership and independence. The women of the book are beholden to men for their upkeep and survival, in different ways to each other, some as prostitutes, some as family members working to keep their place in a home. The many layered roles they play is reflected when they look upon each other, what freedom means to one being something totally different to the other. The deep irony coming into play when all of these women, seekers of independence, try to further their own cause by entrapping and taking away the absolute freedom of another – namely, the Mermaid.

Who holds the coins holds the power?

The characters in this novel are all complex and fully fleshed out, they live in the grey area as we observe their strengths and faults, growing to care about them despite the latter. I was particularly partial to Angelica despite wanting to shake her several times throughout!

It was an utter delight getting washed away in this book, it transported me totally and I felt I could vividly see the scenes playing before me like a movie. The prose skilfully uses language at home in the 1800’s yet never feels dated or a struggle to understand, these are fresh characters brimming with life and bursting off the page. I love a proper yarn of a story and this provided, I’ll certainly never think of mermaids in the same light again!

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar £12.99 (Vintage)

As usual, you can subscribe by popping an email over to dogearedreads1@gmail with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line, this way you’ll get a notification each time a new post appears. No spam, we promise! Also for those who love YA, great writing and FREE THINGS, keep an eye out in February for competition time!

Until next time folks,

Happy Reading!

This Could Be Underwater Love…

I am Muzna, Hear Me Roar

Oh I love it when the postman brings me a book delivery, even more so when it’s some truly fantastic YA. Macmillan had kindly packaged me up a bundle of reading goodies to get stuck into, one of which will be popping up on here at the beginning of February. We will have an interview with the author herself AND a giveaway – Sara Barnard fans PREPARE!

Keep a look out in the first few weeks of February!

The book I’ve came on to talk about today is the first novel by author Muhammad Khan, and the bookasphere was arumbling with excitement and anticipation well ahead of the publication of ‘I Am Thunder’. Time for me to grab my ‘sharing’ (HA!) pack, open the cover and disappear for a while.

I’ll share how good the book is with you guys but I share my Buttons with NOBODY!

Muzna Saleem is a young teenager when we meet her and burdens are piling high on her school girl shoulders. Facial hair causing constant paranoia, a best friend who helps her access a more popular world in school but who also belittles Muzna’s opinions, and finally her parents applying pressure to be the perfect Pakistani daughter. Muzna is expected to train to be a Doctor, her Ami and Dad waiting to see top marks in maths and science, ignoring their daughters outstanding talent in English class and her dreams of becoming a novelist.

We follow Muzna through a period of serious change in her life. With her dad having to get a new job, a change of home and school is required, her parents feeling some relief at getting their daughter away from the influence of her ‘bad’ friend. Naturally nervous to start at her new school her first few days see her run into a gamut of pupils, some friendly, some so so and some who, well, are down and out racist. Muzna is fully aware of how members of her faith can be viewed and this is something that plays heavy on her mind. A life line is thrown to her when a fellow Muslim student, a gorgeous one at that, takes her under his wing, explaining that the ‘fam’ stand up for each other. Her emotions are quickly whipped up into a storm for him and as their relationship intensifies she is left wondering what is the right and wrong path to take in her life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, reading it far too quickly as I was completely wrapped up in the life of Muzna. Khan perfectly encapsulates the school and teenage experience, well, as much as I could relate to, being white myself and attending a school that largely had no cultural diversity I cannot even begin to imagine the added pressures of racism and bigotry being piled upon the high octane teenage emotions that course through every body. The push and pull from every side of the arguments for and against religion, how to have the ‘correct’ identity for where you are living, are described vividly, the confusion Muzna faces reads very genuinely and I imagine has no doubt been brought forth from Khans own experience in both school himself, as a pupil and then as a teacher.

Muhammad Khan

I was swept up in how this young woman was going to go forward, what decisions she would make and the ramifications these would have on those around her. I found her to be a realistic role model, not always acting perfectly, but then who does? Muzna made me feel stronger, I can only imagine the wonders she’ll do for young women with similar worries as her.

This book deserves to be read widely, copies being passed from hand to hand, edges becoming battered from over excited readers desperate to find out the ending. It deserves this not only because of its wonderful exploration of what it is like to be seen sometimes as ‘other’ in your own country, to feel you have to constantly explain your independent self against a preconceived idea of being part of some homogenous mass but also because it is a cracking, well paced, addictive piece of fiction. Let the rumble of thunder make you turn your head to this brilliant book.

‘I Am Thunder’ by Muhammad Khan £7.99 (Macmillan)

Remember, you can chat down below in the comments section as ever and if you would like an email letting you know when a new review goes up email dogearedreads1@gmail.com with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line and you’ll get a notification when a new book is being shouted about! No spam, brownie promise.

Happy Reading!

I am Muzna, Hear Me Roar

Sensory Overload

Trigger warning: The novella featured in this post contains content relating to rape and sexual abuse.

I found myself ‘without book’ the other night, I’d finished all my current reads, couldn’t sleep and felt too intimidated to pick up a book with any heft from my shelf. I happened upon ‘Peach’ by Emma Glass, although only just, running my finger along the spines on my shelf it so easily could have slipped past, being a story told in less than 100 pages.

Emma Glass

It felt quite ironic that in trying to avoid a book with heft I had then gone and picked up one that is likely to have knocked me for six than I can imagine any other novel is likely to this year. I read the whole thing in one sitting and was completely blindsided. The last time I can remember a similar reading experience was with the shock I felt finishing ‘A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing’ by Eimear McBride.

I will be reading ‘Peach’ again, without a shadow of a doubt, I think I will gain much more from a second reading. I may be doing you a disservice talking about it after the initial ‘hit’ but on the other hand my feelings towards it will never be this fresh again.

We meet Peach, a young woman currently attending college, making her way home one night after she has been attacked and raped. The book then follows her trying to absorb the shock of what has happened. Peach now lives in a hazy, lonely ‘post’ world where only she carries what has happened to her, although sometimes her pain seems to imprint itself on her skin, calling out for somebody to help her. The confusion and fear she feels is portrayed to us in surreal way, a real sensory overload. Peach describes those she encounters as if they are made up of different food stuffs, textures and smells all heightened to her now.

The language is raw and visceral. In the opening pages we find Peach alone in her bedroom using thread and needle to sew up the bloody tear that is sending pain through her body. At points I felt like I was reading poetry, the lyrical nature, words rolling one after the other. The writing style is so vivid, truncated sentences with each word chosen to directly express to the reader the feeling of that moment. I read part of the book aloud, it seemed right as with Glass invoking every sense within Peach so powerfully I also wanted to engage my senses, hear those words, the shape of them and the feeling they had in my mouth.

The time I spent with Peach was something like a dream, the heady, other worldly place she now seems to exist in, to me feeling very much like a time when life has so suddenly and dramatically changed for you that you do find yourself seeing through different eyes and experiencing your body anew.

This is strong stuff and like ‘A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing’ I suspect won’t be for all readers, but I found it bold, beautifully written and boundary pushing. I think it is good to be challenged and encounter art that is so powerful it is lodged firmly in your mind to be thought about for days and weeks after encountering it.

Now excuse me while I go and read ‘Peach’ for the second time in two days.

Peach by Emma Glass £12.99 (Bloomsbury Circus)

Happy Reading!

Sensory Overload

We Are Family, I’ve Got All My Sisters With Me

I thought I knew a fair bit about the Mitfords, could fair well if they happened to come up on a pub quiz say, well now I think I’m Mastermind level! (Don’t hold me to that, I’m in the mood for some gross exaggeration) With ‘The Mitford Girls; The Biography of an Extraordinary Family’, by Mary S. Lovell, I found acres of new stories to flit about in, and it has led on to me wanting more, to follow up with other writing about these fascinating women and more of the work they produced themselves. This is not to say that ‘The Mitford Girls’ does not give us a complete history, it is a satisfyingly in-depth look into the family tale at a chunky 529 pages long (excluding source notes) but these stubborn, contrary, bright, forces of nature seem somewhat impossible to pin down on the page so I just want to keep finding more of them. When you read more about these complex characters I imagine you’ll agree my search to understand them wholly will likely prove elusive.

This titled, well off and well connected family certainly caused a storm wherever they went, with difficult relationships within their home to follow on with difficult relationships played out in the public sphere, the two most obvious names linked being Hitler and Oswald Mosley. Politics caused huge rifts between the sisters, damaging not only their relationships with each other but also proving life altering to their own persons. With one sister heading off to befriend Hitler while another journeys to Spain to join the Communist party, it is not difficult to see why theirs was a life filled with the kind of events that leave a reader open mouthed when these are recounted.

This volume really does focus on the sisters, mother, father (Lord and Lady Resdale) and brother Tom do appear throughout but the spotlight is never fully on them, as the title of the book suggests we know who the stars of the show were. The only slight problem I had with this biography of the girls is that I feel is does tread quite gently when it comes to Unity and Diana’s involvement with the Nazis and the right wing, not completely letting them off the hook but not really seeming to want to fully charge them with their offences either, a little like the author is always trying to find the reason that they were good girls really and somehow it was all a bit of a misunderstanding/mistake. Oswald Mosley certainly comes out of it in a rosier fashion than I’m ever happy to see him in.

First published in 2001 you can see I’m bang up to date with my reading here, and numerous other books have been published about this family both prior and since this one, but when the Mitfords are discussed it always seems to appear as a reliable source, so I thought it was a good one to go for.

The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell £12.99 (Abacus)

I do have further reading lined up at home already, one book focusing solely on letters between Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, I’ve dipped in and out of this and it is GLORIOUS, the art of being bitchy and writing an utterly fabulous letter darling is displayed on every page within. My other tome is the complete letters between the sisters themselves, which has a handy family tree at the front representing each sister as a symbol, so of course we get a swastika and a hammer and sickle. Nancy gets a quill, Debo a crown, I may now have to make a cuppa and sit wondering what symbol I’d be handily reduced to if so needed in the future.

The Letters Of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh Edited by Charlotte Mosley £14.99 (Penguin Modern Classics)

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters Edited by Charlotte Mosley £16.99 (4th Estate)

Let me know if you’ve read about The Mitfords or are tempted to, maybe you know a fascinating titbit about them! And what would your symbol be by your name in the family tree?!

As always comment below, and new readers can email dogearedreads1@gmail with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line to receive a notification whenever a new post appears.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

We Are Family, I’ve Got All My Sisters With Me

A Bagful of Barter Books

It’s the time of the year for lists of ‘what I read in 2017’ and ‘what I’m looking forward to in 2018’, but here at Dog Eared Reads a slightly different tradition seems to have found its footing. The end of the year had me once again at Barter Books, even cosier than usual with a Christmas Tree made of books and people milling about in the festive spirit.

Now before I travelled back North for the Christmas season I had been VERY busy. My sisters partner is an architect and after a visit to my flat he admitted to being slightly worried about my abode being structurally unsound now due to the weight of books I’ve brought in there. I knew I’d be going to Barter Books soon so I would have been having a quick glance over my shelves to see if there were any books that were now read but didn’t warrant holding a permanent spot on the bookcase. Some kind of fever must have hit me as I did something rash, something unplanned, something…pretty stupid. I pulled ALL the books off the shelves in my flat, ALL OF THEM. As soon as I’d done it I wanted to weep. I’d made the decision to re-shelve in some new kind of order. Two weeks it took, two whole weeks of not being able to walk across my living room floor due to piles of book blocking my every step. This is a photo of the scene when I was beginning to feel hope as I was nearly finished…

So you can pop round to my flat now and basically have a guided tour of the different book sections, sad to some but immensely pleasing to me. The other result of this is an IKEA bag filled with 200 odd books to take to Barter. I’ll be taking them bit by bit for a while as they don’t allow you to turn up with such an absurd number, quite sensibly. So with two bulging carrier bags in hand is how I found myself arriving there this week.

As usual I filled a shopping basket with too many books and had to settle down on one of the many comfy landing spots in the shop to work out what I could sensibly afford. So here they are, ready to travel South with me and move into their new home!

‘Peter Schlemihl’ is published by One World Classics and as I always enjoy their chosen stories and translations I decided to have a look at this one. The blurb informs me that this sees the character for whom the book is named entering into a pact with the Devil, swapping his shadow for the everlasting riches from the purse of Fortunatus. Have you ever heard of a pact with the Devil working out well? Exactly! Combine this dark story with the fact that it was actually written as a cautionary tale for the children of the authors patron and, kerching, sold. The Grimms through to Dahl, I’m always here for authors who are disapproved of by the grown ups for being that bit too scary for children.

Barbara Pym is an absolute treasure, taking the everyday and sardonically pointing out the absurdities that go hand in hand with it. Constantly charming but never saccharine, the wit within her pages will always have me coming back.

Some Russian short stories and essays to be had here, as my love affair with all things Ruski continues (always there but definitely inflamed by the glorious Teffi – read her!) this is a collection translated into English for the first time which explores the tumultuous 20th century had by the country.

There is no real depth to my answer to ‘Why did you choose this read?’ simply, I already own a novella by Antal Szerb which is as of yet unread but looks fantastic, and I spotted this novel and fancied this too. A very simply blurb is given of a young man on honeymoon in Italy being forced to confront his past as his life begins to crumble around him. Published by Pushkin Press, one of my all time favourite publishing houses, I know I’m in good hands.

‘Ruby’ made the shortlist for the Baileys Prize in 2016 and also made for a lot of differing of opinion amongst my book loving friends, some loved, some loathed. Well, it really is about time I made up my own mind and head over to East Texas to uncover the story of Ephram Jennings and Ruby Bell.

I’ve ended up collecting these little Penguin Popular Classics when I find them, usually part hidden due to their size, in a charity shop. I haven’t actually read The Scarlett Letter and thought that as well as a nice addition to my previous finds, the pocket friendly edition means it will be perfect for reading on the flight back to Bath. A little drink to have along side goes perfectly, oui?!

I was introduced to David Sedaris and his wicked sense of humour when I started working at Mr B’s. I’ve always wanted to read this collection so when I saw it on the Barter shelves it was a definite to take home. With my mam getting a Fitbit this Christmas I had to show her his often quoted piece on what happens when you become a bit too keen on meeting your daily step goal, read it by clicking here and if you like his style you can’t go wrong with any of his books.

Oh Daphne, Daphne how I love thee, let me count the ways. Another collection I am amassing are these specific editions of her novels and short stories. It’s so exciting finding a new title, as ‘Rebecca’ and ‘My Cousin Rachel’ steel all the thunder it means I come to them knowing very little, a gothic turn full of surprises will always be a book I’ll curl up with.

Another author I was introduced to at Mr B’s, by my friend and colleague Kate, who is a huge fan of ‘Orkney’ by Amy Sackville. This beautiful cover immediately grabbed my attention (and although I know it is very exciting for a novel to be chosen for ‘Book at Bedtime’ PLEASE STOP PUTTING STICKERS ON MY BOOKS!!) and a quote from Francis Spufford on the back about Sackville saying

If Virginia Woolf had had a younger sister with a passionate interest in icebergs, she might have written something like this beautiful, unearthly novel

These three things combined would always result in me buying this copy once it had found its way to me.

Again another book grabbed with little knowledge of the contents, purely on the basis of loving what publishers ‘and Other Stories’ do (click here and scroll down to the Deborah Levy book to read all about them) and never having read a collection of short stories by Czech women writers at the Fin de Siecle, deciding it was time to do so! I shall report back.

I am not a huge football fan, I am a follower of the egg chasers, but I love the idea of this collection of stories and poems all inspired and written by those who were involved with the Homeless World Cup in Glasgow. Sport can bring people together like nothing else and the chance for those who can be so brutally and cruelly ignored by society to take centre stage and join together in a team can only be a positive it seems to me. Another I will come back to on here once read.

Regular readers may notice I have not given the usual price details for each edition this time, but with all of the books being second hand and many of them having been published some time ago the information would all be a bit hodge podge if you were trying to find the exact edition featured, so I would suggest the best thing to do would be to ask your local, friendly independent in person or online if it can be sourced using the authors name and title.

Did you get books this Christmas? What did you find under your tree? As usual you can leave a comment below or tweet over on @dogeared_reads If you would like to receive an email letting you know when there is a new post on this site, simply get in touch on dogearedreads1@gmail.com with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line and you’re done! Don’t worry, no tiresome spam from us! So until next time…

Happy Reading!

A Bagful of Barter Books

Listen Closely and Hear the Singing

I’ve just finished a book a matter of seconds ago and I’m sitting here reeling, an uneasy feeling inside of me as I recover from an emotional hit so strong I don’t really know how to go about the rest of my day normally.

‘Sing, Unburied Sing’ is by American author Jesmyn Ward, a writer who has won many a prestigious award over in her home country, all of which have somehow passed me by until this outing. In some ways I am sad that I didn’t come to this author earlier but then the silver lining is that I now have her entire back catalogue, both fiction and non fiction, to work my way through, and I intend to do so, every single word she has written will be consumed.

The story takes us to a fictional town in Mississippi and we are living in a post Hurricane Katrina world. Unfolding before us is a tale of a family scarred deeply by grief, injustice and complicated love. We are given different perspectives of the time we spend with this family, one being from young Jojo, a boy who is a parent figure to his younger sister and who hero worships his grandfather Pop. Next we hear from Jojo’s mother, Leonie, a woman who struggles with maternal instinct and an overwhelming passion for a partner who isn’t exactly one to take home to the parents. Last but by no means least we hear from young Richie, a boy whose life is entangled within Pop’s but is nothing but a vague story to Jojo and the family.

Jojo stole my heart from page one, I physically ached for him as we see him bearing far too much for young shoulders and always trying to do the very best he can. Ward shows amazing talent making every character completely whole, I felt I could reach out and touch them, so even though initially I found myself railing against Leonie, she became so much more than a one dimensional ‘bag guy’ to me and as I understood more about her I found deep sympathy for her situation. The dynamic between each member of this tale is so complete, so honest and raw, it is totally immersive.

As we gradually learn the story of Richie and Pop, the family also have to struggle with the suffering of Mam, Jojo’s grandmother, as cancer eats away at her body she remains in bed, the one constant in the book, the nucleus that the family move around.

This is an intense, demanding read, it took everything out of me in the best possible way. I feel so deeply moved because those people became real to me, their story of struggle the story so many are living now, the writing a whole other level to what I often read. To enter their world is painful but also beautiful, and Ward guides you through landscapes both physical and spiritual.

I’m about to make a very bold claim here but stick with me. The story is different but I believe has some of the same central themes, and something about the voice of this book, well…well it reminds me of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. I do not say that lightly, I now hold both books in extremely high esteem.

I know I always bang on about how you should get the book I’ve been typing away about, but really, I implore you for this one, it needs to be shared and loved.

For me, I now have a book hangover. I don’t know how to move on, I’m not ready to shake those characters off. I think I’ll just go sit in a dark room for a while and gather myself, see if I can hear the voices singing.

‘ Sing, Unburied Sing’ by Jesmyn Ward £16.99 (Bloomsbury Circus)

Happy Reading!

Listen Closely and Hear the Singing

If You Go Down To The Woods Today…

Magic, fairy tales, folk lore and all who sail in the ship these live in will always be welcomed on to my bookshelf. From innocent childhood tales right through to the real dark stuff, I will dabble in it all, giant tomes like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell being an all time favourite read as well as a wisp of a tale such as The Red Shoes. I’ll read these books all year round but  Autumn and Winter just seem to suit them that much more, flames flickering from the candles in your room and the world outside blanketed by thick, velvety darkness meaning any kind of spirit could be lurking in the shadows. 

A collection of short stories has utterly captivated me recently. Jen Campbell is a prolific booktuber (just search her name on YouTube for excellent content) and she has an envious knowledge of all things fairytale. When she announced she was bringing out her own book I was counting down the days to get my hands on it. Eerie and beautiful, she leads you down paths never before trodden but with signpostings of classical myth and legend that add extra layers to be found within each new story. With 12 short stories in the collection Campbell never falters, each one as wholly imaginative and novel as the last, her language is playful and she knows the importance of the unsaid in these twisted tales. It is unbecoming to giveaway any   significant amount of plot when a huge part of the joy in a new, magical world is having it unfold before your eyes, so here I give you a snippet from the blurb to wet your whistle 

Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island.

A boy is worried his sister has two souls.

A couple are rewriting the history of the world.

And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

If you can hold out I think this book would make a great present to find wrapped under the tree, the stunning cover design certainly adding to the treat, but if like me you just want to tuck into something great right now – get yourself to your local bookshop with no hesitation! (A quick added note, if you are getting this for a present I believe Jen will happily sign copies if you order on her website! http://www.jen-campbell.co.uk/shop.html )

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell £14.99 (Two Roads) 

Now this next book I bought as soon as it came out, in fits of excitement after hearing it was a Russian fairytale. I then did a very Dan thing and put it on my ‘TBR’ pile and it sat there far longer than I wanted it too, so now I’m totally late in the game writing about it here, but when has that ever stopped me?! ‘The Bear and The Nightingale’ follows a wild, spirited girl called Vasya, living in rural and untamed country side with her family. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to Vasya, making her husband promise to care for the girl as she knew she would lead a special life, something her own mother had done which resulted in royal connections for the family. An elderly woman who has worked for the family her whole life raises Vasya and her siblings, and they spend many a night huddled around the fire listening to her tell folklore of frost demons and winter spirits. 

Eventually a new step mother is brought from Moscow to hopefully be a calming influence on strong willed Vasya, but soon the family begin to doubt this woman’s mental health as she claims to see evil spirits around the home and can only find relief when locked away in the church. Vasya immediately becomes dangerous and suspicious to her when she realises that she too can see these spirits, but welcomes them and treats them as friends. 

This book has swiftly become one of my favourite reads, it gets satisfyingly dark and the characters are so real they jump out of the page, one in particular being the Priest, he is so wonderfully written. As I didn’t want the book to end I am delighted that it is the first part in a trilogy, I long to go back to Russia and spend more time with Vasya, who has quickly become something of a hero to me. 

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden £7.99 (Ebury) 

These two books are everything that is perfect to me for a night of winters reading, get under a blanket, get a hot drink and get completely lost in these other worldly tales, you’ll be in bookish bliss! 

Until next time, happy reading! 

If You Go Down To The Woods Today…

Let’s Get Factual 

As Autumn has well and truly found its feet and the nights are getting darker that much earlier, it’s tempting to always head towards the fiction shelf for a break from some of the realities of life. As we head into the new month though we see the arrival of  Non Fiction November, which aims to get readers picking up something a little more factual than fictional. I tend to have a few books on the go at once, with one usually being non fiction, and over the past few weeks and months I have read some great books that cover a wide range of subjects. I thought it would be an idea to give you a summary of some of these, and then if you’re looking for inspiration you may find something that takes your fancy. 

I’m currently reading ‘Hamlet, Globe to Globe: Taking Shakespeare to Every Country in the World’, and although only three quarters of the way through it is holding up well enough to make me confident enough to pop it in this list. In 2012 The Globe invited theatre troups from every country in the world to come and perform a Shakespeare play in their own language on the hallowed stage. This was a resounding success, so much so that when the season had ended all those who worked on the project felt a little flat and were left asking ‘what now?’ They decided for their next project to do the travelling themselves, taking one Shakespeare play to every country on the globe. The book is written by Dominic Dromgoole, the former director of The Globe, and is an enjoyable look into the stresses and strains that go into planning such a tour, as well as the farcical moments that can only happen when travelling. Dromgoole gives fascinating insights into why they chose ‘Hamlet’ to be the play they toured, talks about the text itself and how differently it is received depending on the country the company currently find themselves in. There are also some great giggles to be had at the adventures the actors encounter which each new touch down. I’m not particularly a huge devourer of the Bard but I think this makes for an enjoyable read whether you dabble in his works or not.

Hamlet, Globe to Globe: Taking Shakespeare to Every Country in the World by Dominic Dromgoole (Canongate) £16.99 

Now I’ve always been a fan of Maggie O’Farrell’s fiction, you know when you pick up one of her books you are in safe hands, so when I saw she had a memoir coming out my ears immediately pricked up. Word spread fast on bookish twitter about how this was a must read, and when I found out the extra titbit that this wasn’t your standard memoir but actually 17 accounts of brushes with death, to say my interest was piqued would be an understatement, I ended up getting it on the day it came out. Never have the first two chapters of a book had such an effect on me as these two, they were visceral and have stayed with me to this day. The whole book is pitched perfectly, as you read about these close encounters with death you are simultaneously overwhelmed by the beauty of life. I talk about this book to anybody who will listen now, it is simply stunning and oh the language she uses, so gorgeous I was constantly reading sections out to myself. The last line of the book saw me crying, and last month I was lucky enough to see Maggie O’Farrell speak and discuss this last chapter. As she repeated the last line goosebumps covered me, every hair stood on end and I burst out crying once again, much to the alarm of the audience members sitting either side of me. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, without a shadow of a doubt one of the best reads I’ve picked up this year. 

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press) £18.99 

Often with non fiction I’ll happen upon a book that will teach me something new, maybe about a historical event or figure, or open my eyes to a situation, political or otherwise, in the world. It is rare that one comes along that deeply makes me question how I’ve been looking at the world and the privilege I have as much as the following book did. ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’ is truly a transforming, and that old cliche, eye opening read. Starting life as a blog post by Rene Eddo-Lodge, the reaction the original piece received then planted the seed for this polemic. Every chapter revealed new layers to me of the systemic racism in Britain today. I think this is a hugely important book I’d encourage all to pick up. Eddo-Lodge is a captivating and informative writer, and the fact that so many reached out to her in recognition after her original blog post shows just how needed this book is.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Rene Eddo-Lodge (Bloomsbury) £16.99 

So there are some options to be getting stuck into. I’ll be posting another blog with some more great non fiction offerings as we go deeper into the November days, so keep a look out! Let us know in the comments below or over on twitter @dogeared_reads if you will be joining in with the months theme! 

Until next time, happy reading! 

Let’s Get Factual 

Story Telling (Or; Bore off You Attention Seeking Misery)

Just as often as you will find me with my nose stuck in a book you are likely to come across me scrolling through Twitter. I love the fast paced interaction, hearing what people have to say, somebody I have never met making me laugh with exemplary use of their 140 characters. I do appreciate Twitter can become something of a bubble, as you are generally choosing to follow people on there who hold similar opinions to your own and create a little online world in which you would like to live. Every now and then you can click that follow button on somebody less than savoury without quite realising what you have done. Now I think it is great to branch out and hear new voices (maybe the results of the general election and the Brexit vote might not have come as such a painful shock to me if I had done so) but also there are some who are just so tiresome in their beliefs you really don’t need their toxic views filtering into your day. I’ve never done the inexcusable and followed Katie Hopkins, you are just asking for the headache then, but there have been others who I thought were harmless enough before being pulled up short one day realising their negativity and plain mean spiritedness to others is working its way into my daily consciousness and I am the one who can choose to stop this with the quick click of an unfollow button. 

For some time now a columnist for The Times has been sending out tweets that leave me feeling angered and frustrated, but I still didn’t press that button, I don’t really know the reason why, is there a part within us that enjoys having a foe? In this last week two of her tweets have caused my mind to tick over in such annoyance I felt like I had to respond, I am a terrible one for letting anger boil away within and getting my feelings out on paper is often enough to take the heat out of that.

The tweets by Camilla Long were in response to the announcement that Kazuo Ishiguro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. Before I go any further I will confess I am a huge fan of the work of Ishiguro and am delighted at him receiving the award which I believe to be more than well deserved. Despite my stance on this you could switch in any author to the comments made by Long about the win and my response would still be the same. Here follows her tweets:

“Sorry but Kazuo Ishiguro is just lame as a Nobel choice. His books are made into films FGS!”

I read this and just thought ‘oh heavens, here she goes again’ but did give her some benefit of the doubt thinking it could be a really poor joke. Other readers clearly thought along the same lines and questioned her on this, her answer:

“It’s not a joke. Film adaptations are a lazy form of art and not one Nobel prize winners should entertain”

I wonder if she made that opinion known when she got the job as The Times FILM CRITIC – yes, really. Apart from this being more than a little ‘one does not become a Nobel Prize Winner but is born one’, what utter, total bullshit! I won’t take up your precious time listing all the winners of this award who have had their work adapted into a film, take my word for it, there is A LOT.

The real thing that gets up my nose? The snobbishness of it all. I live and breathe books, to, some would say, an unhealthy point. When I am not reading I like to be talking about reading, or book jacket covers, or genre, or…well you get it, the written word is my love. BUT. I do not believe that literature is some godly like art form that all must kneel before. I know some who think TV, film, music or videogames cannot compare with the hallowed book. I disagree entirely. That may be where my passion is and the talent that goes into producing a great work of fiction is a thing to admire, but not one of these forms can be held above the other. Their success lies in what they are to the person who is engaging with them at that time.

We have always been a story telling animal and we will always tell our stories across many different mediums. I think it is important we just cherish that the story is told and that we gain pleasure from it, not imposing some worthy rating system as to who engages in these tales in the most ‘pure’ way. Musicians have been inspired by authors who have inspired movies which have inspired plays which have inspired poems, if you follow the theory of there only being seven stories in the world, with different ways of them being told, do we all not absorb these and then bring them back into the world in an altered form coloured by our own experience? It gives me nothing but pleasure to think that somebody who is not a fan of reading could get to enjoy a story that has absorbed me in a different form, why miss out? One of my most favourite authors and general Wise and Respected Person, Philip Pullman has said…

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the things we need most in the world”

I hope, as humble as my opinion is, he would agree with me, get lost in the story in which ever way you want to.

So, the annoyance has now cooled off, I am heading to my sofa to read some more. Later I am going to watch a film, I expect both experiences to be pretty damn good. You know what will be even better though? Before I do either of these things, there is a narrative I don’t want to be involved in any more, and all I have to do is hit that unfollow button.

Story Telling (Or; Bore off You Attention Seeking Misery)