Review // The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

IMG_2509

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

by Joanna Cannon

Just finished reading this little gem for this month’s book club, and it was such a pleasure. I had to do a bit of speed reading over the weekend to catch up with the rest of the club, but I’ve never found it so easy to gorge myself on 450 lovely pages of writing.

Goats and Sheep is set in a cosy little English avenue in the summer of 1976. Although I’m too young to remember this scorching summer, I’ve heard about it from my parents. Despite growing up in the ’90s, my nostalgia was seriously sparked by this novel, as I grew up in an avenue the shape of a keyhole, just like the one in this book. People lived in your pockets, curtains twitched, neighbours looked out for each other and children spent all of their time outdoors on the kerbside in summer. In Goats and Sheep, this environment is put to the test in a pressure cooker of heat, and when one of the residents goes missing, characters are examined through the eyes of 10 year old Grace, who narrates most of the novel with a wisdom beyond her years.

This book is British suburbia at its very worst and very best, with dark secrets and rumours uncovered and exposed, gossiped about and spread. Cannon herself is a psychiatrist, and this experience shines through each character’s personality as they are scrutinised by Grace and her quirky pal Tilly. As the pressure of the avenue builds with the heat of the summer, a dark climax arises with a literal clap of thunder. Full of little twists and mysteries, this book made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions, giving us plenty to discuss about how we perceive, and ultimately treat, our neighbours.

Advertisements

Books // My weekend reading

20749229

How to Connect with Nature

by Tristan Gooley

I’ve been picking my way through this book since I found it in Oxfam Books Knutsford after Christmas. It’s the perfect book to pick up and read a quick chapter, with some nice illustrations and easy to read excerpts. I’ve had a couple of books from the School of life series, which are all written by experts and philosophers in a really accessible way – with loads of different topics to choose from. As we were going camping this weekend, it was a no-brainer for me to take this book, and attempt to connect with nature on a more physical level. The good thing is, you don’t need to be a hardcore survivalist to enjoy this piece of work. It’s aimed at making nature more open and accessible to everyone, even city dwellers like myself. The book begins by highlighting how we have lost touch with nature, and rather than lamenting it and blaming those of us who have office jobs, offers gentle tips and advice on how we can reconnect.

There are little techniques and exercises to try along the way, such as switching on our senses and listening and smelling the world around us. Or to head out on a blindfolded walk to see how much more notice about our surroundings. Thanks to this book, I even know the direction of the prevailing wind! Still didn’t help me to pitch the tent in a non-windy spot, though…

I love how gently informative this book is. It’s not in your face philosophy that reprimands you for losing touch with nature. Rather it’s an ambling exercise in getting back in touch, encouraging us to do more, notice more and feel more. I’ll definitely be dipping in and out of this one for a while to come.

Words // A rainy afternoon in Manchester

Because the British summertime always lets us down and because we can’t let it get us down, we tend to venture out to my home town of Manchester whatever the weather. We’re used to it raining up here. If it’s not violent sudden downpours, then it’s persistent miserable drizzle. I don’t mind so much, I find the rain homely and comforting and I love nothing more than getting all wrapped up ready to face some weather. On a Saturday not so long ago we did just that, and headed into town to enjoy some coffee and some bookshops and some reading.

First off we headed to my favourite new bookshop in Manchester, Chapter One Books. It’s nestled in the Northern Quarter just behind Picadilly Gardens, and though it looks nothing special from the outside of the concrete prefab it’s in, it’s like a literary wonderland when you get inside. Not only do they do a beautifully curated selection of books, but they do breakfast too – always a winner for us. We tucked into a hearty bowl of chocolate and coconut porridge with a pot of loose leaf tea, before browsing the books on offer. The decor is so different to any other bookshops around Manchester, with a moodily lit corner for horror and a really cute mezzanine adorned in fairy lights.

img_1806
After fuelling up at Chapter One, we moved onto some of the record shops in the Northern Quarter. Piccadilly Records, Vinyl Revival and the large Oxfam on Oldham Street are all great for picking up something different to listen to. After a good wander around in the rain, we decided to dry off at one of my favourite little cafes in the area. Blue Daisy Cafe is about halfway up Oldham Street, next door to Pop Boutique, and is really easy to miss. There are more seats outside than in, but we managed to bag ourselves a cosy window seat inside the tiny cafe’s shopfront. Piled high with cushions, it’s a cute little place that still serves tea in a big mug and whips up a mean beans on toast. Everything is homemade, and the soups and deli salads are delicious. Loads of veggie options, too! It’s a perfect place to people, watch, with a great view of the streets. Especially in the rain, when people are scurrying about with brollies and jumping over puddles. We managed to while away at least an hour here, before getting a proper soaking on the way back to our car…..

 

Review // The Next Step in the Dance

The-Next-Step-in-the-Dance-Cover-670x1024The Next Step in the Dance
by Tim Gautreaux

4/5

This emotional, slow-burner of a novel was amongst the pile recommended to me at my recent Book Spa at Mr B’s Emporium in Bath. The store runs its very own publishing company, Fox, Finch & Tepper – aptly named after some of the most iconic literary characters. FF&T books are under-appreciated and crying out for some attention. Tim Gautreaux’s The Next Step in the Dance was actually published back in 1998 before falling out of circulation, and was picked up by the FF&T team back in 2014. Focusing on books with a strong sense of place with brave, confident characters, FF&T have succeeded in reviving a beautiful book with a heart as big as Louisiana itself.

Paul and Colette Thibodeaux are husband and wife at the very start of their marriage. Born and still living in the Deep South along the bayou, neither of them have ventured further than their little town of Tiger Island. The community is inward looking, small and timeless, and Colette is bored. She wants adventure and new things, and so sets out to California to discover something different. Paul eventually follows, and the narrative becomes a touching portrayal of two individuals trying to make sense of big city life.

Without giving too much away, this story has extremely emotional ups and downs, with a tense, testing build up to its happy, homely ending. FF&T weren’t wrong in choosing to publish this book for it’s sense of place. Gautreaux talks constantly and nostalgically about Cajun food, smells, sights and nights in bars. The bayou landscape is unique and all-encompassing, almost as hard to live in as the Thibodeauxs’ tenacious relationship. Thoroughly recommended.

Review // All My Puny Sorrows

9780571305292

by Miriam Toews
4/5

I was recommended this story during my book spa at Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath. I couldn’t resist the snappy, witty writing, and was intrigued by another female author who has a few award-winning books under her belt. All My Puny Sorrows is named after a line in a Samuel Coleridge poem, and has received so much praise for its combination of bittersweet humour and a tragic tale of loss. The story of two sisters – Elf and Yoli – explores the idea that sometimes in order to help somebody you love so much, you have to let them go.

Elf is an international pianist with a successful career behind her, and yet another global tour ahead. She has everything Yoli doesn’t – a happy relationship, a job she loves, a beautiful home and all the adoration she could wish for. The only trouble is that Elf wants to die. After numerous attempts on her life, she finds herself in hospital, and Yoli is at her side trying to convince her to find a way to stay alive.

The story is told from Yoli’s perspective and as such is quite stream of conscious-like. It flits between memories of the sisters’ childhood, and parallel storylines about family members and friends. This adds a certain humility and humour to the writing, and it’s obvious that Toews is drawing on her own experiences to write with such insight. Yoli is desperate to help her older sister get better, but Elf’s depression is all-consuming. After much convincing, Yoli agrees to look into helping Elf end her life, as one would help a family member with a terminal illness end the pain.

The story is touching and funny, honest and terrifying. It’s wise and insightful, and explores a point of view that’s difficult to imagine. I thoroughly enjoyed the style of writing, which rolled along like the thoughts in Yoli’s head. The poetic, rhythmic lines lent a lovely flow and honesty to the story. A highly recommended read, but be prepared to cry!

Review // All the Light We Cannot See

4/5

18143977

Having met a little controversy with his ‘overly sentimental’ portrayal of World War II, I have to say that I don’t really mind too much about what some of the critics have said about All the Light We Cannot See. Some have fact-checked Doerr’s writing and found a few geographical inaccuracies. Others have accused him of not picking a side when it comes to the War itself. If I wanted a book that did all of the above to a tee, I would be reading non-fiction. Or my school textbook. When I pick up a book – and in particular a Pulitzer Prize winning book – all I’m looking for is a great story, challenging writing, and perhaps a new perspective. As All the Light We Cannot See ticked most of these boxes, there isn’t really much for me to complain about. Except that after hitting over 300 pages and discovering there was over 200 more to go, I do wish it would have been a little shorter.

All the Light begins in Paris, where we meet Marie-Laure, a terrified six year old who has recently lost her sight. With the help of her loving father, she is given an injection of confidence, and soon finds herself walking the paths of the Jardin des Plantes to the museum where her father works. Having spent a lot of time in Paris, I loved being taken through the streets with the help of Marie Laure’s cane. I could imagine the smells, the sounds and the bustle of energy that she would have felt. Fast forward a few years, and WWII has reached the city, and Marie-Laure and her father flee, having been entrusted with a priceless precious stone from the museum. The pair find themselves taking refuge in St Malo, a seaside town in France, where they stay with Marie-Laure’s Great Uncle.

In parallel to Marie-Laure’s story is that of Werner, a young and ‘feathery’ German boy who is groomed by the Nazi party thanks to his talent for fixing transmitter radios. He is sent away from his sister and the oprhanage where he grew up, and endures the gruelling regime of Hitler’s Youth Camp. He then joins the army on the front line in France, tasked with tracking the transmissions of the French Resistance.

Without giving too much away, it becomes a matter of time before Marie-Laure and Werner come across each other, and there’s a fantastic, pensive build-up until they do. This is short-lived, however, for when they do meet it’s a little anti-climactic, and I was already getting a little restless. This is redeemed slightly by the flip forward to the 1970s, and then to 2014, where we reconvene with some characters, and more loose ends are tied up.

All in all, the detail in All the Light We Cannot See is second to none. Not having an advanced history degree, I didn’t notice any of the mistakes that other reviewers have pointed out, but I also did have enough knowledge of WWII to appreciate the characters and their development. For me, the ending could have come a little sooner. But overall, All the Light was a thoughtful page-turner with those fantastically short chapters that you just can’t stop reading – and a clever little nod to the parallels in life that tend to go unnoticed.

Book Spa at Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights

12928134_1757029767867428_8825208858493074127_n

My big sister and brother-in-law know me well. For my birthday last year they very kindly booked me in for a book spa at Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. With not much interest in real spas, the book spa had peaked my interest the first time I visited Mr. B’s a few years back. With the promise of a comfy seat, a cup of piping hot tea, a slice of homemade cake and a pile of recommended reading to take home… there was absolutely everything to look forward to!

12923326_1757029774534094_3546722142531281034_n

Arriving at the shop for my spa I had a quick browse around before being taken up to the newly refurbished reading room, where my spa would be held. Quickly handed a fresh brew made just the way I like it and invited to make myself comfortable, I was in my element. The room was fab – deep green walls and cool chequered floorboards, as well as the odd cockatiel…

12924464_1757029841200754_1211597465173619307_n

Soon I was introduced to my book spa companion – the lovely Lucinda who proceeded to ask me some vital reading questions to gauge my interest in literature. I’d already emailed over a list of favourite reads, which formed the basis of our discussions. We covered my day-to-day work, hobbies and interests, and even talked about some of the books that I really haven’t got along with (the latest being my failed Franzen attempt). I found out quite a bit about my reading habits just from having this quick chat. My penchant for female literature has grown a great deal over the past few months, with favourites including AM Homes for her snappy, witty dialogue; and Ruth Ozeki for her Eastern wisdom coupled with fantastical storytelling. These were used to help Lucinda pick some books she knew I’d love, as well as some that would take me a little bit out of my comfort zone. After our chat I was left alone with my chocolate brownie and a brew whilst Lucinda toured the bookshop in search of some future favourites.

12961524_1757029827867422_1585234564366075409_n

Coming back with a pile of titles towering over her head, Lucinda proceeded to talk me through every title she had found for me. With a fantastic knowledge and infectious enthusiasm for every book recommended, it was so hard not to take home every single one. This was the most enjoyable part of the spa – and I’ve found that Lucinda’s way of storytelling has really stuck in my head. I was able to excitedly recite the plot of each book back to my partner when I got home to Manchester that evening.

12924593_1757029877867417_7901881092053656729_n

After a lot of careful consideration, I came away with six shiny new reads. A pile on the chair in the reading room was begrudgingly left behind – but will be duly emailed to me so I know just where to head when I’ve finished the ones I took home. Overall, I had a fantastic hour at Mr. B’s, and would heartily recommend a book spa not only to those after a bit of literary pampering, but to those struck in a reading rut and looking for a little inspiration.

Books I took home:

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned – Wells Tower
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis – Lydia Davis
All My Puny Sorrows – Miriam Toews
The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng
That Old Ace in the Hole – Annie Proulx
The Next Step of the Dance – Tim Gatreaux