Book Shopping In London

As a lot of you already know, I’m shadow judging The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick.

This weekend saw me high tailing it pendalino style down to our capital from good old Stockport. Saturday afternoon was spent at The Groucho listening to the shortlisted authors reading excerpts from their books. More in this soon in a separated blog post. On Monday morning I am getting together with my fellow shadow judges to deliberate on our winner. Exciting! I think it’s going to be a very interesting morning!

So the plan for Sunday was to hit up some of London’s famous bookshops and in preparation I put out a little ‘help!’ tweet and the lovely bookish folk of Twitter gave me some excellent book shop suggestions.

We (my husband and I, just for reference he’s not a huge reading/book fan but he’s a diamond geezer and happy to chaperone me around London whilst I gaze adoringly at books) started out with brunch at The Drury on Drury Lane funnily enough. I was immediately drawn to the stacks of books, in the windows, on the tables and on various shelves around the place. The food was bloody delicious too so it was a win win situ.

Bolstered up by our hearty brunch we set off for our first official book shop stop, Foyles on Charing Cross Road. Unfortunately we got there a bit too early and had to wait for it to open but it was well worth the wait. (Which was only really 5 minutes or so in the biting cold wind).

I was a little dubious going in as I had been told by a couple of people that Foyles has no character and is a bit too big and soulless but I thought it was heaven. Which booklover wouldn’t enjoy a mooch through floor after floor of awesome books and gifts I ask ya?!

In here I bought 3 books, I actually had in my sweaty hands around 6 books but I exercised a little restraint as I knew there were more book shops ahead of us and I didn’t want to peak too soon!

The 3 books I plumped for were:

I’ve heard lots about Such Small Hands by Andres Barba and it sounds like a book I’d enjoy. I have Little Eve by Catriona Ward but have yet to read it, I’d seen Rawblood on Simon from Savidge Reads channel and thought it sounded amazing. Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval I have to admit was a pure impulse purchase. I’ve not heard of the book or the author before but I was drawn to the book so I bought it. It happens right?! We all do it.

Next up was Any Amount Of Books also on Charing Cross Road. I enjoyed having a rummage through the £1 books outside and was amazed at the newly released hardbacks inside selling for around £6 each.

In here I came away with just the one book (reserved right?!). I’ve heard lots about An Unremarkable Body by Elisa Lodato and have read and really enjoyed her book The Necessary Marriage, so I thought why the devil not?

From here we went to Hatchards (after a little stop off at Sipsmith for a cheeky little hot gingerbread gin, gorgeous!).

A couple of people had recommended Hatchards and I’m so glad we made the stop there. Such a charming, chilled out space in which to browse and the staff were lovely. One of the girls took a shine to my leopard print skirt and made me feel all fancy. I chose one book here but could have walked away with far more.

This was a cover purchase. How bloody stunning is it?! I can’t stop looking at it! It will be a beautiful addition to my short story collections and I’ve never read any Joyce Carol Oates.

From here we hot footed it to Kings Cross and headed to Word On The Water. I was really looking forward to seeing this boat full of books. It was a little busy and cramped but I still got the chance to have a good browse.

In a bit of a panic about time constraints we made our last trip Persephone Books. I’ve heard so many good things about this shop and it’s beautiful books that I knew I had to make it before it closed.

We got there just as the sun was setting which made it all the more beautiful. (I’ll gloss over the fact that I nearly keeled over walking up the 175 steps out of Russell Square tube station!).

I had enough time for a decent browse and plumped for There Were No Windows by Norah Hoult (no 59). I chose this one purely because I liked the synopsis. The story of an old woman during The Blitz who is slowly losing her mind. The end papers and matching bookmark are gorgeous. When I went to pay, the lovely lady on the till said she had been slowly making her way through all the books and this book was her next choice.

Those signature grey covers are a dream.

So that there was my day of book shopping in London. It was tiring, interesting and exciting. I’m sure there are loads more places to see but I also had to remember I have a husband who also wanted to go places……rude.

I’m off now to have a drink and some Minstrels because I’ve earned it. Hope I can fit all these books in my suitcase…….

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

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The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick – Elemet by Fiona Mozley

I’ve always had an eye on Elmet since it was shortlisted for the Manbooker Prize in 2017. It’s one of those books that I tend to push to the bottom of the TBR because it was discussed and ruminated on so much that I felt myself backing away from it.  When a book is so popular and is talked of often, this tends to happen to me.  I like to wait until the buzz has died down a little and discover what the book is about at my own pace.  I’m so delighted that Fiona Mozley was shortlisted for this award and that I got to discover this book and her writing sooner than I thought I would.

Elmet is the story of Daniel, Cathy and Daddy. Told from the perspective of Daniel we learn of their close knit family life living on the outskirts of rural Yorkshire.

Their house has been built by Daddy from scratch and is situated just close enough to civilisation for them to get to know the passing of the trains on the tracks but far enough away from any discernible neighbours. They are living literally and figuratively on the periphery of society.

They live off the land and are self-sufficient. Taught by Daddy to kill and cook animals, mainly birds and keep their own chickens. Daddy makes his living by bare knuckle boxing. Matches which are gloveless, off the grid, brutal with no clearly defined rounds. Just two men fighting it out until there is a clear winner.

By all accounts Daddy is quite adept at this violent way of life and it proves sometimes to be very lucrative. He has a reputation of being the victor and men from far and wide want to test their boxing prowess against him.

When the safety and security of the home Daddy has built for his two teenage children comes under threat, he has to take drastic action to ensure he keeps his family away from harm, and cement their future.

Character wise you really can’t get more intriguing than Daniel, Cathy and Daddy. Although the story is told from 14 year old Daniels’ perspective I found myself hankering to discover more about both Cathy and Daddy and would maybe have liked alternate chapters telling the story from their perspectives. Daniel is the exact opposite of his sibling and indeed his father (in both stature and temperament). He is the homemaker, the peacemaker and comes across as a gentle sensitive soul.

‘Daddy told us what he had done next. He recounted how he had put up his arm to catch the club. How he had bent it in half with his two bare hands. How Mr Coxswain had ended up sprawled and choking on the tarmac, beaten so badly he should have been unconscious. But Daddy was expert in the consequences of time. He knew how to lengthen an engagement. He knew how to make a man suffer. He detailed it all. Told us everything. Until it seemed like tears were coming to my eyes.

Then he stopped. Stopped suddenly. He rose from his chair and wrapped me in his arms, said he was sorry and that he should not have told us anything.’

There were actually times where I had to remind myself who’s perspective I was reading from as Daniel’s narrative felt quite feminine.

Conversely, Cathy is cut from the same cloth as Daddy. Secretive, brooding, introspective and harbouring anger and violence. Daniel’s relationship with older sister Cathy is one of being protected, looked after, a strong sibling bond formed.

The story has a dual timeline narrative, the present day (shown in italic chapters) and the recent past. Daniel is alone, on the road. I must admit that I didn’t find myself as invested in the chapters based in the present.

The writing is rich and lyrical. Beautiful in some parts and captivating. The landscape is described in enough detail for you to feel part of it. There is also a somewhat ‘timeless’ feel to this story. There are points where the narrative and backdrop feel almost historical. Were it not for the modern day references it could almost feel like you are experiencing a different age. Having said that there are also moments where it feels like you’re reading about a dystopian, lawless world.

I feel like it took me a little while to become fully invested in the story, however the final third of this book is where it really grabbed me by the throat. I was reading it on my lunch break at work and had to just set the book down for a moment during a particularly poignant moment between Daniel and Cathy. Real visceral, emotive writing.

It is also during this final third that the full horror of consequences are revealed. It is brutal, unflinching and difficult to look away from despite the horror. It is not for the faint of heart.

This is real gritty and raw writing, interspersed with some beautiful prose.  A story of close familial bonds, life lived on the outskirts of society, of trusts made and broken.

I am glad I had the opportunity to read Mozley’s writing.

I will be back soon with my next review which will be The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman.

Please do remember to check out the views of the other panel members and  the @youngwriteryear twitter account for more news. #youngwriterawardshadow

See you all soon.

Bookish Chat xx

The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick – The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

When I saw that Imogen Hermes Gowar was on the shortlist with her Georgian romp of  a novel The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock, I have to admit that my stomach did a little flip.  As I mentioned in my previous post  I read this book back in 2017 just before its publication and adored it.  In fact I gave it a 5 star rating.

As I’ve already read and reviewed the book, I thought I’d refresh my memory a little, by both dipping into the book again and re-reading my previous review.  I have inserted the original review below and will give you some updated thoughts…..

‘When you know, you know, and I knew within the first chapter of this book that it was going to be one of the best books I’ve read this year. I wasn’t wrong.  I requested this one for review through Netgalley having seen it talked about on a couple of my favourite Booktube channels, and luckily I was accepted.

This story is set in Georgian England and follows Jonah Hancock who is a merchant and a widower having lost his wife during childbirth, along with the son she gave birth to.  He owns ships which transport goods and artefacts to various different places.  His business is turned on its head when one of his ships captains decides to sell the ship he’s sailing on in order to buy a mermaid for Mr Hancock to display as an item of curiosity and earn revenue from it in the coffee houses, brothels and anywhere else that will exhibit it.

This mermaid is the catalyst for the meeting of Mr Hancock and one Angelica Neal who is a courtisan of great standing previously under the tutelage of ‘bawd’ Mrs Chappell. The mermaid also opens doors for Jonah within high society and shows him a new way of life.

The relationship between Angelica and Jonah is tested by the capture of this so called Mermaid and there are definite threads of ‘be careful what you wish for’ running through their story and their developing relationship.

Quite often you find that a really outstanding book leans either to having a twisty turny attention grabbing plot OR great characters and character development but not often both together and thats fine, but one of the great positives of this book for me (of which there are many) is that this book is both rich in plot and depth of characters.

The story line is so engrossing and my god the characters just leap off the page! They are so well developed and stunningly written I felt as if I was watching them play out the various scenes right in front of me. They are colourful, brimming with life, sometimes vile, sometimes very easy to dislike but always, always engaging.

Another really enjoyable element of this book for me was all of the Georgian detail. I’m usually a Victorian period lover but I’ve now had my eyes opened. This book makes you want to go and research that era (as indeed the author must have spent countless hours doing judging by the minute finer detail). I found it totally fascinating. Particularly the class system, the social ‘season’ and the Georgian interest in curios and anything out of the ordinary or beyond the realms of science.

This book left me so invested in the characters that I feel I now need to know what has become of them. I need them back in my life!

I’m loathe to make a comparison of any book but this one put me strongly in mind of The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber which incidently is one of my favourite books ever. Both books are beautifully detailed with such richly written characters with so much depth.

If you’re a Crimson Petal fan you will surely love this book. An absolutely bewitching debut novel which will stay with me for a long time and which I will certainly be urging everyone to read when it’s published early next year.

A definite 5 star read’.

So there we have it, those were my thoughts back in 2017.  Having refreshed myself I can genuinely say that I wholeheartedly agree with my 2017 self and still have all the same thoughts about this wonderful book.  I can now also say that as time has gone on this book hasn’t faded one bit in my mind and I still get all the same feelings when I think about it.  Whenever I see someone post anything on Twitter or Instagram about it, I find myself getting a little jealous that they still have the reading experience ahead of them.

It is the true test of a good book when you can revisit it and still have all the same thoughts and feelings.  I would have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending this book (and have done, lots!) and I think that Imogen Hermes Gowar is very deserving of her place on the shortlist.

My next review will be Elmet by Fiona Mozley, coming soon!

Please do go and check out the other guys blogs, links can be found in one of my previous posts  here .

Also check out the @Youngwriteraward twitter account and see what the discussions are over there. #Youngwritershadow

See you all soon with the next review!

Bookish Chat xx

Five Days Of Fog By Anna Freeman – A Review

Publisher: Wiedenfeld And Nicolson

Publication Date: 15th November 2018

My mum always said, a fistful of rings is as good as a knuckleduster

I saw this book advertised in the Orion catalogue that I was given at an Orion Showcase event in Manchester. I sent a couple of cheeky emails, put the ‘feelers’ out (see, I’m talking in gang speak already!) and the lovely Poppy Stimpson sorted me right ahhht with a copy.

London 1952 and a great smog is descending. Something far worse than a typical fog or ‘peasouper’. 17 year old Florrie Palmer waits in her mother’s cousins house for her mother Ruby to come home. Released from Holloway prison after serving time. All The Cutter gang tend to serve time during their lives.

But Florrie is growing tired of the gang way of life, particularly since embarking on a relationship with her second cousin, Ted. However, leaving a gang just doesn’t come that easy. Nobody gets to walk away from The Cutters without consequences. Will Florrie have to make the ultimate choice between gang loyalties and love? Or will Ted have to stop turning a blind eye and get far more involved in gang life than he ever anticipated?

Told over a 5 day period, set under a claustrophobic heaviness of cloying, choking, poisonous fog this story is action packed.

The descriptions of the smog and the attention to detail regarding this are brilliant. The Great Smog was actually an event that happened in London in December 1952 when an anticyclone pushed down all the industrial smoke and filth in the air. The fog in this book is almost like a character in itself. It has a life of its own.

Talking of characters, the ones in this story are larger than life! Vivid, three dimensional fully formed characters. The women in The Cutters gang are all fascinating! Colourful and vibrant in their own ways. I can just imagine them parading around in their ill gotten gains, stolen furs, opulent jewels, fancy perfume. They just jump right off the page!

These women are strong, gutsy, conniving in the most compelling way. Alright, they are no angels, nothing could be further from the truth. They’ve done some dastardly deeds but I adored them all.

At a time when men were still recovering from the effects of the war, these women had to step up and provide for their families. Stick together and prove that The Cutter women would always come out on top.

It’s pretty safe to say I really enjoyed this book. It’s also safe to say that the authors notes at the end were just as fascinating as the actual story. The Cutter gang are based on a real gang called The Forty Elephants. A female gang from Elephant And Castle who operated from the 1890’s until around the 1960’s. There are some other books mentioned which the author got her inspiration from and I most certainly will be checking them out.

A thoroughly enjoyable read indeed. I would highly recommend it! Thank you as always to the publisher for the review copy.

See you all soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick – 2018 Shortlist Reveal

So the time has come to reveal which four talented authors have made the shortlist of The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award in association with The University Of Warwick, with their books.

Without any further mystery and ado (and because you have eyes and they are there in the image below) I give you the shortlisted authors:

What an illustrious list!

So we have:

Kings Of The Yukon (An Alaskan River Journey) by Adam Weymouth – Particular

Elmet by Fiona Mozley – John Murray

The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar – Harvill Secker

The Reading Cure-How Books Restored My Appetite by Laura Freeman – Wiedenfeld

I’m not going to go all blurby on you (yes that’s a word) because I think it’s important that we discover these books together, so I’ll give you as much as I know at this time having only read The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock in full.

The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (published by Harvill Secker) was one of my favourite books of 2017 so I was super chuffed to see Imogen’s name on there. Ever since reading The Mermaid I’ve been wishing and hoping that she will be producing more amazing work like this….and soon please *crosses fingers, toes and eyes*.  This book is a gloriously vivid Georgian romp, chock full of period detail with an amazing magical feel to it.  I’ll be sharing my review of this book first I think.  I will be planning on dipping back into it, even though it’s still very much emblazoned on my brain.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley, (published by John Murray) was of course shortlisted for The Manbooker in 2017 and had lots of buzz and interest around it. I have been meaning to pick it up and now I have the perfect reason to.  This is a dark tale of a family living life on the periphery of society both figuratively and literally.  Forging their own way in the world under a strange set of rules and governed by a brutal violent criminal underworld. I am very much looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you, as I’ve seen various view points and ideas and want to add my own to the mix!

Now the final two books are both non-fiction. I don’t naturally gravitate towards non-fiction but just recently I have ventured into the non-fiction world a little more I have to admit that these two have piqued my interest.

First up we have The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman (published by Wiedenfeld). This is the story of Laura’s battle against the eating disorder, anorexia and her subsequent journey to health and recovery sparked off through her love of reading and the way food is portrayed in literature.  I think this one is going to be a very thought provoking, possibly very emotive but ultimately uplifting story.  I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

And last but by no means least we have The Kings Of The Yukon by Adam Weymouth published by Particular.  This is Adam’s story of when he single handedly sailed a canoe down the Yukon River in Alaska, encountering the people who have lived there for generations. This is his story of how the people of Yukon’s lives have changed dramatically due to the reduction in King Salmon and the encroachment of the modern world.  I have read some reviews of this book and I must admit I am quite excited to get started!

So there we have it!  What a cracking list, I’m sure you’ll agree.  I am super excited to get started on them and share my thoughts with you.  Please do look out for my reviews over the coming weeks and be sure to visit the blogs of the other shadow panel judges and see if we have the same thoughts! It’s going to be very interesting!

Remember you can follow the progress of the award at @youngwriteryear on Twitter.

See you very soon with my first review!

Bookish Chat xxx

The Word For Freedom – Short Stories Of Women’s Sufferage – Edited By Amanda Saint and Rose McGinty

Publisher: Retreat West

Publication Date: 1st November 2018

As a reader I don’t usually gravitate towards short story collections but just recently I have been giving them a shot. When I was asked if I wanted to read The Word For Freedom, I jumped at the chance, mainly because it’s an anthology of stories surrounding the topic of women’s sufferage.

I was woefully lacking in knowledge with regards to this subject until I read Nevertheless She Persisted by Jon Watson a couple of months ago. This book piqued my interest in the women’s sufferage movement so I knew, or hoped, that this collection of stories should further whet my appetite.

This anthology has been put together by Retreat West to support the charity Hestia and their UK Says No More campaign against domestic abuse and sexual violence.

These 24 stories are probably the best group of short stories I have read. They are cohesive, despite being set in myriad different time periods.  All written by female authors with female protagonists, the voices in these stories are so rich and varied. From a young girl being taken to Pakistan for an arranged wedding, a woman preparing to bring her sexual abuser to trial, Christobel Pankhurst sitting in a broom cupboard in the Houses Of Parliament (I know!) and a Mermaid who sacrifices her water world for ours in the name of love (who doesn’t love a mermaid I ask ya?!). I was entranced by every single one, and I mean Every. Single. One.  There were no duds, because lets face it, with short story collections there is often a story or two that you don’t connect with as much.  Not so with this collection.

They vary in length from 2 pages to around 10 pages maximum.  I found the shorter stories very powerful indeed, and greatly admire a writer who can pack an emotional punch and leave you a bit winded over 2 pages! such skillful writing.

There were certain stories that gave me the shivers (in a good way), and ones that actually made me well up.  I liked the way that the contemporary stories gave me pause to think about how they were linked into the sufferage movement and the events of the past and the effects this has had on women’s lives in the modern day world.

Thought provoking and utterly absorbing, this collection made me proud to be a woman and profoundly grateful for the sacrifices those brave women made.  These tales of strength in the face of such adversity made me feel humble but also empowered.

I’m urging anyone and everyone to get their hands on this collection and spread the word.  The word for freedom.

Thank you as always to Anne Cater and the lovely folk at Retreat West for this review copy.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xx