On The Horns Of A Dilemma

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I was going to start this post by apologising, yet again, for the lack of regular updates. However, I read a post earlier this week by another book blogger on the topic of pointless blogging guilt, so I won’t. This is my blog, which I am writing purely for fun, and I am doing the best I can given all the other current demands on my time and energy, so we will all have to be content with that for now!

Doubtless you will want an update on my progress and I am pleased to report that I have not yet succumbed to temptation and I have not purchased any books so far this year, which is good going. Cora, who blogs over at Tea Party Princess asked me how I am doing it. Sheer force of will and a good dollop of stubbornness (which my family and friends will know I have in abundance), plus giving any place that harbours books a very wide berth. I even sent my step-children into Waterstones the other week to collect my copy of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project , which has been sat there since December waiting to be picked up, because I daren’t go in myself for fear of falling off the wagon.

However, I now find myself on the horns of a dilemma, and would seek guidance from you as to how to reconcile the problem with my current challenge.

Wednesday was my elder daughter’s 12th birthday (Happy Birthday, Mini-Me – please stop growing or I will have to stop calling you that) and she was given a copy of Caraval by Stephanie Garber. My sister, who has read the book, mentioned that it had some adult themes and suggestive passages in it that I may be uncomfortable allowing Mini-Me to read and suggested that I might want to read it first.

So here is my quandry. I have pledged not to buy, beg, borrow or steal any new books in 2017, but only read books that were in my TBR pile on 1 January 2017 and this book does not fall in to that category. I really do not want to fail in this challenge. At the same time, I do not want to allow Mini-Me to read anything unsuitable and I cannot really expect her to wait until next January to read her new book just so I can read it first.

What do I do? Is Caraval suitable for a 12-year-old who is fully conversant with the birds and the bees but not especially worldly for her age? If I read the book now, have I failed in my challenge? If I don’t, and allow Mini-Me to read it, will she be turned off literature, except books about horses, forever? (Although, they can be less than innocent – hello, Jilly Cooper!*) My sister is rather more prudish than I am (sorry, C, but you know it is true, it is one of your most endearing characteristics) so it may be that something she thinks is suggestive, I will think is perfectly acceptable. Maybe I should give it to a third party to read and assess in my stead – any volunteers? Has anyone read this book and can let me know what they think?

Any guidance gratefully accepted. Will I give in and read the book (which I really want to, it sounds great)? Will the challenge be all over? Will Mini-Me read the book and be scarred for life? Will C enter a convent? Tune in next week to find out what happens following this exciting cliffhanger!

*Before anyone calls social services, I have not allowed my daughter to read Riders yet, or any other Jilly Cooper for that matter, although I love her and do have the complete set!

A Snow Garden & Other Stories by Rachel Joyce #bookreview (@R_Joyce_Books) @TransworldBooks

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“In the course of a fortnight at the end of a year; a woman finds a cure for a broken heart where she least expects it; a husband and wife build their son a bicycle and, in the process, deconstruct their happy marriage; freak weather brings the airport to a standstill on Christmas Day; a young woman will change her life by saying one word; a father foolishly promises his sons snow; the most famous young man in the world goes back to his childhood home; and a law-abiding old man discovers guerilla gardening…”

I have to start this review with a humiliating admission – I have not read any of Rachel Joyce’s other work. I know this is awful. I have a copy of The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry sat in my TBR pile and for some reason I just have not got round to reading it yet. I intend to rectify this very soon, having read A Snow Garden & Other Stories.

This is a small book containing seven short stories which revolve around peripheral characters that were cut from her other works, but whom she has been unable to let go of completely. She describes them as ‘making a nuisance of themselves’ so she decided to try and quieten them by giving them short stories of their own. I love that idea – the thought  that these characters have a life of their own and won’t settle until their story has been told.

In the foreword to this book, Joyce says, ‘We are at the centre of our own stories. And sometimes it is hard to believe that we are not at the centre of other people’s. But I love the fact that you can brush past a person with your own story, your own life, so big in your mind and at the same time be a simple passer-by in someone else’s. A walk-on part.’ This is the theme that binds these stories together – they intersect almost imperceptibly, but the link is there, cemented by one recurring image throughout the book, so the book feels whole and not discordant despite the seven divergent story lines.

Joyce’s writing is very clever, she brings the various protagonists fully to life skilfully in the brief span provided by the short story form, and she manages to give us a very clear insight into their experiences and characters through a snapshot of a single moment in their lives. The stories are poignant and bittersweet, with an indefinable air of magic and melancholy about them, whilst at the same time as being totally real and relatable, and very, very moving. I was left affected by each story for a long while afterwards. ‘A Faraway Smell of Lemon’ and ‘A Snow Garden’ were my particular favourites and resonated deeply with me for personal reasons, and it is testimony to Joyce’s expertise that her writing has managed to connect with her reader in this way in such a short space of time.

I particularly love her use of language, and the way she manages to communicate a very clear image with the use of only a few words. This is a complete contrast to some of the unnecessary verbiage and over-wrought imagery I have seen in a good deal of literary fiction recently, where I sometimes feel figurative language is used for the sake of cleverness rather than clarity. I especially loved her description of ‘...birds sat pegged on the black branches of the trees.‘- can’t you just precisely imagine the scene.

Each of the stories is set in the period between early December and New Year’s Eve and it is the perfect winter book. However, I would not let this put you off picking it up now – it would be a great read at any time. I devoured it in one afternoon, curled in a cosy armchair, but it is one of those books that you continue to think about long after you have closed the final page. I loved this book and would highly recommend it. I look forward to reading Joyce’s other books that I have so sorely and misguidedly neglected until now.

A Snow Garden and Other Stories is out now.

About the Author

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestsellers The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Perfect and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into 34 languages. Rachel Joyce was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards ‘New Writer of the Year’ in December 2012 and shortlisted for the ‘Writer of the Year’ 2014.

She is the award-winning writer of over 30 original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4.

Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire.

A Test of Willpower

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Firstly, apologies to those of you who started following my blog after my initial post for my failure to follow up until now. It was my intention to post at least two book reviews and one other post a week, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. I should have known better than to start a new project in January – otherwise known as silly season for travel agents. I promise to try and do better going forwards.

Anyway, I am currently writing this on my iPad in the Plaza Premium Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 2, waiting to board a flight to Chicago for a 4-night city break in the Windy City with my other half (henceforth to be known as The Irishman).  Following my intention to use this blog as a record of my attempt to buy no new books this year, and use it as a tool to keep me on the straight and narrow, this post is my equivalent of attending an AA meeting for book addicts, as today is my biggest test so far of my willpower.

BECAUSE I LOVE BUYING BOOKS AT AIRPORTS!

And I mean, really, really love it. They might be my favourite place to buy books, and browsing book shops is definitely my favourite way to while away the tedious minutes between check-in and boarding. There are numerous reasons for this:

– all the new titles are here

– I’m going on holiday, so unfettered, guilt-free reading time lays ahead

– buying things for holidays is a necessity, not a treat, so totally justified

but mainly because of

– TRADE PAPERBACKS!!!!!

For those who don’t know what a trade paperback is, they are the over-sized paperback version of new books that are only currently available outside airports in hardback. So, hardback books in a cheaper, paperback version so it’s lighter to carry – what’s not to love about that? I adore a trade paperback.

My favourite author to buy in this format, and most of my complete set of his books are trade paperbacks, is John Grisham. John Grisham is the perfect holiday read. His books are well-written and gripping but not so arduous as to be hard work, because who needs to work hard on holiday? And, as a former lawyer myself, I do love a legal thriller.

But, no new John Grisham for me on this trip. We dashed straight from Security to this lounge,body-swerving all enticing purveyors of papery temptation en route. So far so good, but I fear a long 10 months and several more treacherous trips to airports lay ahead.

For now though, the second half of Claire Macintosh’s ‘I See You’ awaits on my Kindle to keep me company, and 9 hours of unadulterated reading time lays ahead, so it ain’t all bad.

2017 – The Year of Abstinence

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My name is Julie, I’m 44 and I am a book addict.

There, I’ve admitted it. Reading is my passion and I spend a lot of time doing it, and I own far, far too many books. So many in fact, that I am so far behind on my TBR (the number stands at 783 on Goodreads and counting) I fear I will never catch up. Book buying is a compulsion for me, you see. Nothing makes me happier than an hour spent browsing a good bookstore and buying a book. Problem is, I can never stop at just the one….

At the current time, I have 50 books stacked in two piles next to my bed. This pile never gets any smaller and has become such a permanent feature in our house that my 9-year-old daughter has christened it Mount Bookarus. Very apt, since the erosion of this edifice is every bit as slow as the erosion of the Himalayas themselves. In fact, towards the end of last year, it appeared that the pile had in fact been pushed up, due to some kind of literary tectonic event, and the top books of the stack are now in danger of taking my eye out if I turn over in my sleep too close to the edge of the bed.

(A small off-shoot of ‘seasonal reads’ appeared in November as the start of pile three, but these were pushed back during a concerted assault over the festive period.)

Mount Bookarus is the mere tip of the iceberg, however, if you will excuse the mixed geological metaphors. There are many, many, many more unread gems stuffed into every spare bit of space in my library. (I know, I am lucky enough to have a dedicated, proper library in my house. It was the one room I insisted on including when we built our house 11 years ago and it is my favourite. If you stick with me and behave, I will share some photos of it with you here soon and make you all green with envy!)

It is for this reason that I have started this blog. I have vowed that 2017 is the year I will make a proper dent in my TBR and, in order to achieve this goal, I have vowed to buy NO NEW BOOKS in 2017.

That’s right. No new books for a whole year. Nada. Zero. Not one single one.

As a self-professed compulsive book purchaser, this is going to a be a huge challenge. So, to keep me on the straight and narrow, I am making my intention public and am going to report honestly on here as to how I am getting on and I am hoping that my readers, should I be fortunate enough to get any, will hold me accountable.

The rules of the challenge are quite strict. No buying books, no borrowing books, no being given books for free. No downloading e-books, either free or paid for. I am going to allow my friends and family to buy me books as presents for my birthday in May (otherwise, what an earth are they going to get me?) and Christmas. After all, there has to be some relief on the horizon, doesn’t there? But there will be limit of one book per person. And that’s it.

So, 2017 will be a year of reading from the books I already own. I have set my Goodreads reading challenge for 2017 at 100 books, which is achievable, as I tend to read a couple of books a week anyway, depending on length of book and what else is going on in my life. I will be reviewing all the books I read on this blog. There may be other posts that creep in too, about the other minutiae of my life, family, travels and whatever else pops into my head, but it will mainly be book reviews.

I guess it will be a little different from other book blogs, because I will not be reviewing any of the new, hot titles – for this year at least – but maybe this is no bad thing. Different is good, and you may still find some gems in things that are not new. Vintage is in, right? Hopefully my blog will be on trend in that way. Let’s call it literary up-cycling. Dusting the cobwebs off those old but precious novels that are laying unloved and forgotten in the dingy recesses of my TBR, ready to be given new life.

We are 3 weeks in to the year and, so far, I have held firm but it will only get tougher from here. So I am hoping you will help me. Get behind me, support me, and don’t taunt me with all the fabulous new books I am missing out on. (I have already started a list – January 2018 could be an expensive month). Most of all, I hope you will enjoy my reviews, and maybe find something you might want to read, even though it is not shiny and new in the publishing world. First review to come on Monday.

Apologies in advance to my local branch of Waterstones – I fear your profits will take a severe dip this year.