The Constant Reader's Book Blog

(Reviews, Bookish Stuff and all Things literary)

25th May, 2022

Review: Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie (Sourcebooks)

In Scritch Scratch, we are following Claire whose father owns a ghost tour business. Early on in the book Claire has to help her father run his ghost tour one night, and not only does Claire meet a ghost - it follows her home. Yikes! 

I was excited about reading this books because it was marketed extremely well as a middle grade horror novel. Even if it's not exactly the typical "gothic book reading time" I was craving a bit of an uncanny story and Scritch Scratch seemed to embrace the creepy ghost story genre whole-heartedly.

Unfortunately it did not turn out to be such a great read after all. I did enjoy all of the scary scenes that quickly begin to happen around Claire. Hauntings are a traditional but still great trope, and I think it's a perfect way to pull young readers into loving horror. I did not, however, like Claire. Her attitude was simply annoying and I found myself not caring about her plight at some point. 

In a way, this book seems like it's having a bit of an genre crisis. It does have some deliciously creepy ghost moments. But then there's also friendship and silly fights, crushes and weirdness, family dynamics... it is just so much for such a short book. While I really appreciate the author's effort to capture chicago's history and all the obvious research she has put into the book, for me, Scritch Scratch just tried to do too much.

I really don't want to bash this book, as I am certain that a lot of people will like it - there are many who have actually given it five-star reviews on Goodreads - and I think especially younger readers will enjoy this story a lot. It simply didn't work for me.

Rating: 2/5 stars

18th May, 2022

Bookish Stuff: Bookshop Tourism


My latest review of Bookshop Tours of Britain has made me think. Do many readers go on bookshop tours? I know that I do but sometimes I wonder if this is a bit over the top and other people might think I'm a little bonkers. ;-)

I mean, most of us will probably, at some point, have travelled to a place we know from our books. Maybe you visited the house of a famous author, or you rode the Glenfinnan Express because it made you feel like you were going to Hogwarts. Maybe you visited a place that inspired a writer to start their famous story. But did you ever travel to a town/city/village only to visit its bookshops?

Many cities offer so-called bookshop crawls so this might be a good chance to tackle a number of shops in one go. Or you can do your own "crawl". It's actually a lot of fun and I've giving up caring what non-readers might think about my little obsession. A friend of mine once organised a bookshop crawl in her hometown and we all, i.e. our group of Litsy friends, went there for the day. I also happened to be in London during the official bookshop crawl day once and obviously took advantage of that coincidence. :-) Next Saturday I'm going back to the British capital to meet some of the ladies I usually go on a reading retreat with, and we're on a mission! We've compiled a list of ten or twelve bookshops that we want to visit on that day. Will we manage to get to all of them? Doubtful. Do we care? Well, a little bit as we DO want to go to all the shops but there is only so much time in a day. Will my back be sore from a day of lugging around my new treasures? Certainly. 

There are still many bookish places on my list. At some point I hope to have gotten to all of them. Because book places are just magical. Have you travelled anywhere extraordinarily bookish? Send us a message and share your experience. 

(Photo Credit: The Shopkeepers)

9th May, 2022

Review: Bookshop Tours of Britain by Louise Boland (Fairlight Books)

Do you like to explore bookshops? Are you always on the hunt for a cute place to buy books when you're travelling? Then I've got the perfect book for you!

Bookshop Tours of Britain is a slow-travel guide to Britain, navigating bookshop to bookshop. Across 18 bookshop tours, the reader journeys from the Jurassic Coast of southwest England, over the mountains of Wales, through England's industrial heartland, up to the Scottish Highlands and back via Whitby, the Norfolk Broads, central London, the South Downs and Hardy's Wessex. On their way, the tours visit beaches, castles, head down coal mines, go to whiskey distilleries, bird watching, hiking, canoeing, to stately homes and the houses of some of Britain's best-loved historic writers - and last but not least, a host of fantastic bookshops.

This is indeed a book all booklovers need. I personally love travelling to bookish places, for example to see the places an author writes about or where the characters live, but what I love most is doing a tour of ALL THE BOOKSHOPS!

Louise Boland has put together a wonderful book full of beauty and wonder in these troubled times and there are stunningpictures and pictures galore of bookshops inside and out. Perfect for exploring the many cute and whimsical bookshops of Britain even when you're sitting on your own couch. Bookshop Tours of Britain is a delightful book with beautiful illustrations and photographs that are immediately going to make you want to visit the bookshops you haven't been to yet as well as revisit the ones you have been to. We all know that allure that a bookshop has and Bolan's collection captures that magic wonderfully. There are a lot of literary snippets throughout as well, such as info on classic writers and fictional settings. There's an interesting bit about Thomas Hardy's Wessex for example – a real plus for all fans of classic fiction.

This book captures the magic and wonder of everything that books are. Travelling around the UK and seeing what delights can be found is the perfect bookish dream! This book will accompany me on all my travels of the British Isles from now on.

Rating: 5/5 stars

27th April, 2022

Review: The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James (Berkley)


The Book of Cold Cases was my first Simone St. James novel. I’d heard great things about her and this story sounded like the perfect fit for me. It started out well, but then somehow fell flat. First things first, though. So what is this book about?

In 1977, Claire Lake, Oregon, was shaken by the Lady Killer Murders: Two men, seemingly randomly, were murdered with the same gun, with strange notes left behind. Beth Greer was the perfect suspect--a rich, eccentric twenty-three-year-old woman, seen fleeing one of the crimes. But she was acquitted, and she retreated to the isolation of her mansion.

Oregon, 2017Shea Collins is a receptionist, but by night, she runs a true crime website, the Book of Cold Cases--a passion fueled by the attempted abduction she escaped as a child. When she meets Beth by chance, Shea asks her for an interview. To Shea's surprise, Beth says yes.

They meet regularly at Beth's mansion, though Shea is never comfortable there. Items move when she's not looking, and she could swear she's seen a girl outside the window. The allure of learning the truth about the case from the smart, charming Beth is too much to resist, but even as they grow closer, Shea senses something isn't right.

I can’t fully explain why St. James‘ novel didn’t work for me. There were a lot of elements that I liked. The passages that describe the haunted mansion, for example, were amazing and gave me plenty of goose bumps. I could almost see the house and the view from the cliff and feel the ominous presences within its walls. I also liked Beth’s character and the fact that you can’t see through her for most of the book.

However, there were also several aspects that bothered me: For one, I felt that – except for Shea and Beth – the rest of the cast were very flat characters that somehow drifted in and out of the plot but they never really “got a face” in my imagination. They just weren’t fully formed and seemed like puppets that were used whenever another human being was needed in the story (T.S. Eliot said in Prufrock: “I’m an attendant lord, one that will do to swell a scene or two” and that covers exactly what these minor characters felt like to me.)

Also, what really irked me were the numerous repetitions. We learn about Shea’s traumatic childhood experience over and over again. We continuously hear how Beth’s father died, etc. This is a problem that may have to do with the parallel storylines or it may be a conscious narrative device – whatever it is: it sometimes made me loath to actually continue with the story. And finally, there is the ending. I’m not going to post any spoilers but oh please! Really? I must admit I didn’t see this ending coming but not because it’s good but because I felt it was kind of lazy. And it was this that eventually contributed a lot to my not-so-great rating of The Book of Cold Cases. It’s a shame because the author writes wonderfully, her prose itself is great and so I was sad that the plotting seemed like it wasn’t completely thought through. I will definitely give the author another chance though and will pick up one of her other books.

Rating: 2/5 stars

21st April, 2022

Review: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday)


Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it's the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with--of all things--her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America's most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth's unusual approach to cooking ("combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride") proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn't just teaching women to cook. She's daring them to change the status quo.

Lessons in Chemistry is a book I had been awaiting patiently. My bookclub friends and I had been gushing over the beautiful Waterstones special edition for weeks. I still ended up getting only a "regular" copy but I enjoyed the story a lot. 

On the one hand, the general idea isn't new: It's a story about women in the 1960s who are hindered by society to live to their full potential: If you got pregnant out of wedlock, it was your fault alone. If you wanted to pursue a career, men thought you were somehow defective. In this way, Garmus' book is reminiscent of stories such as Hidden Figures. On the other hand, the author adopts such a unique narrative voice that the book does stand out amongst similar titles. Elisabeth Zott is quirky, slightly obnoxious but extremely loveable. The way she weathers all the tragedies in her life is truly inspiring. Over and over again, the narration shifts to Elisabeth's dog though and this is were it becomes really interesting. Weirdly enough, my previously reviewed book had a cat narrator for some parts of the story, so I'm not sure if this was a coincidence or if this is a trope that's becoming fashionable in contemporary literature. :-) Whatever it may be, I tremendously enjoyed the parts told by Six-Thirty (what a cool name!) as they were full of wisdom - he is a failed bomb detection dog of amazing emotional intelligence. And who doesn't love a dog who knows the best of world literature?

Lessons in Chemistry is a narrative of emancipation, a story about family and a tale of fighting for what is rightfully yours. It's a book full of humour and extremely witty dialogues. I loved it!

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

12th April, 2022

Review: The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward (Viper)

I'd been meaning to read The Last House on Needless Street for quite a while but for some reason it got left on my TBR over and over again. And I don't know why because this was one hell of a thrilling ride and I kind of wish I had read it sooner. Be prepared for an utterly weird but fabulous story. 

I think it's best to go into this book knowing nothing about the plot, because even if you have a general idea what it's about it will still confuse you. Tremendously so. There were times when I had no clue whatsoever what was going on as the author does an amazing job in manipulating the reader's view on the events described. The characters are all deeply flawed and throughout you are left with the question who is actually the good guy and who is the baddie and - most confusing of all - if all of it is in fact really happening. 

I must admit - without giving anything away - I did NOT see this resolution coming! Not at all, not in a million years. Imagine a We were Liars type of smack in the face overturning all of your previous assumptions and making you want to revisit passages to find out what you've been missing and how. Kudos to Catriona Ward - hardly any book has been able to do that to me in the last few years. What this story definitely did: It left me gutted, particularly for the children in this story (those past and present). It was a deeply emotional rollercoaster that surprised me which is a reason why I'm keeping this review short so as not to spoil anything for other readers. :) Just trust me: it's so good and you will not want to miss it!

Rating: 5/5 stars

1st April, 2022

Review: Gallant by V.E. Schwab (Greenwillow Books)


V.E. Schwab's novels are usually a bit tricky for me as I either end up loving or completely disliking them (I still haven't come across one that fell inbetween). Therefore, I'm always a bit worried how a new book will work for me. Gallant definitely falls into the first category and I loved almost everything about it. 

Gallant is a vibrant gothic read full of ghosts (or ghouls, as they are called here), a haunted mansion, a parallel world of darkness and decay, and a family curse. Now, if that hasn't gotten you all giddy and excited something is wrong with you. ;-P 

The setting of this book is amazing and felt like Coraline meets Silent Hill meets Pan's Labyrinth to me. You can almost see and smell Gallant because it's so vividly drawn. Olivia's character was great and I found that her muteness added tremendously to the story. There were so many scenes that would have been less complicated (and less thrilling) if she was able to speak. It showed me once more how important communication is and how tough things can become if it's hindered in some way. 

Ultimately, we have a lot of familiar tropes that don't exactly present something brand new but that's alright because it is the combination of these elements that makes the story amazing. Schwab manages to weave everything into a dreamlike narrative that sweeps you right along. 

Gallant is the perfect book to curl up with on a rainy day. It is suspenseful, highly atmospheric and beautifully told (there are also stunning illustrations). Thumbs up and definitely recommended. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

27th March, 2022

Review: A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver (Penguin)


Today I’m reviewing a genre that you normally don’t often find on this blog. I don’t really know why I don't often talk about verse here because I do love good poetry and - as Plato once said - “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” Mary Oliver’s collection is a great example of that:

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall–
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

Mary Oliver’s poems are both simple (in a positive way) and touching. “I go down to the shore” was the first text of hers that I ever came across and it hooked me immediately. As a result, I bought myself this collection and I must say that I enjoyed every single poem. Some texts are a bit like affirmations or aphorisms, others are more along the lines of traditional poetry but all of them are calming and soothing.

Oliver writes about the little moments, the small intricacies of life, the seemingly mundane that has so much effect on our being without us noticing. A lot of the poems in A Thousand Mornings make you reevaluate how you approach these ordinary everyday events - to enjoy the moment, to not sweat the small stuff, to consider issues within the greater whole. I found them equally touching, encouraging and inspiring.

If you are looking to include more poetry in your life, Mary Oliver may be a good start, especially if you happen to have “poetry phobia” from your school days. These poems are for everyone, they don’t require elaborate decoding of metaphors but they speak from and to the heart.

Rating: 5/5 stars

14th March, 2022

Review: The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick (Simon Schuster)


Sorry for my long absence. The current political climate had me knocked over backwards for a while but now I'm back and I missed you. :-) I haven't been able to read a whole lot in the past few weeks, but audiobooks worked alright, so today I have an audiobook recommendation for you. Of course, you can also read the regular, physical book. :)

If you like quirky contemporary stories and if you like Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, then The Mother-Daughter Book Club may be just the thing for you: 

Even if Megan would rather be at the mall, Cassidy is late for hockey practice, Emma's already read every book in existence, and Jess is missing her mother too much to care, the new book club is scheduled to meet every month.

But what begins as a mom-imposed ritual of reading Little Women soon helps four unlikely friends navigate the drama of middle school. From stolen journals, to secret crushes, to a fashion-fiasco first dance, the girls are up to their Wellie boots in drama. They can't help but wonder: What would Jo March do?

For some reason, this story reminded me a lot of the Sistershood of the Traveling Pants book. Maybe it was because the characters were all so different, but a fact is that I really liked the dynamics between them. Of course, the ending is quite predictable but I found that the getting there was what made this book special. Each of the girls has special character traits that contribute to the group, once they actually realise that they are all valuable persons in their own ways.

I wasn't overly keen on the mums though. One of them was described in a very stereotypical way and I didn't really like the poking fun at her environmental concerns. As the parents in this book are always going on about being accepting and polite and are keen on teaching their daughters to become good people, this was one of the plot strands that seemed a bit unbelievable to me. All in all, I believe that the adults in this story are way more flawed than the kids: They are over-protective, or snobby, or have literally abandoned their family. And they judge each other, even though they claim that they are not. 

All the typecasting aside, this was a cute read that touched on a number of serious topics but wasn't too gloomy. I breezed through it on Audible and particulaly enjoyed the connections and references to Little Women. 

Rating: 3.5/5 stars 

18th February, 2022

Review: Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (Michael Joseph)

In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett's death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child, challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage, and themselves.

Black Cake was a book that I didn't really have on my radar until a Bookstagram friend pointed it out to me to me and I decided to read it with a group of other people.  And let me say, I was very glad to have found it because I enjoyed every single page.

Essentially, this is a sweeping family history full of of twists and turns that I often didn't see coming. I loved how the author manages to slowly develop the story and makes us experience it along with Byron and Benny. As the tale moves from the Carribean to the UK to the US (both East and West coast), the reader is swept along and needs to pay close attention to catch all the intricate connections. This is an aspect I found particularly fascinating: There are so many different plot strands that eventually come back together perfectly and as a reader I loved connecting the dots.

The book is a very personal tale of love, loss, identity and heritage but it also functions on a more universal level in that it talks openly about black lives, hybridity, institutionalised racism as well as ecocriticism. Again, Wilkerson does a great job in incorporating these topics effortlessly so that they are constantly there but don't become overbearing, i.e. the main plot is never pushed into the background.  

Black Cake is a wonderful story of families and their secrets, it's about having to reconcile drastic lies with the truth and coming out on the other side of trauma. I can't recommend this book enough, so do yourself a favour and pick it up from your nearest bookshop or library. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

14th February, 2022

Bookish Stuff: Raising Readers - How to motivate kids to read


Reading is an important skill and the basis for participating in all kinds of social aspects of life. It’s not just about being able to decipher street signs or the menu of your closest take-away, reading is necessary to succeed in school and at work. It’s no wonder therefore that we all would like our kids to become competent readers. But what can you do if your child is reluctant? Here are a few tips for raising readers that I recently discussed with fellow colleagues and other mums.

Very important: Before you force your kid to read or establish firm reading times, ask yourself where the child’s unwillingness to pick up a book may come from. As adults we are so used to the printed word that we easily forget what a complex process learning to read actually is. Reading is exhausting if you’re not used to it!! If a child still has to painstakingly decipher every letter, syllable, word and sentence, it’s no wonder that reading loses its fun quickly. Until a child is able to read fluently and to make sense of what they are reading, there is a lot of practice and patience needed.

It’s vital that the kid’s motivation is kept up during this time. And reading should always be fun – as soon as the activity is connected with pressure or even force by the child, they’ll lose interest quickly. All in all, especially for beginning readers, it helps if the book has large print and lots of pictures. This way, the kid will feel like they are making progress.

At the same time, it’s crucial that we function as role models. If a parent never touches a book or magazine and never talks to their kids about what was read, the kid won’t either. A good strategy here would be to get comfortable with a book and to let the child see how much you’re enjoying it. Reading together is equally important. Let the child pick the book and let them dive into the story with you. Get cosy, cuddle and enjoy the story together.

There is a prejudice that boys don’t like to read. This is something I can’t really confirm. In our son’s class, the three most voracious readers are all boys. Of course, finding the right book is crucial – which is the case for both boys and girls – and of course it helps if the boy's father also serves as a role model so that reading isn’t subconsciously associated with being a “girl thing”. Our son loves to read in bed before lights out and it’s the perfect ending to the day when he can wind down and relax. First one of us reads to him, then he has about half an hour in which he reads by himself.

With reluctant readers, it sometimes helps to stop reading to them during a particularly exciting passage and let them continue themselves. This is how our son transitioned to longer texts with fewer pictures. His dad had been reading to him when he received an important phone call he couldn’t ignore. Our son couldn’t wait to learn how the story would continue and by the time his dad had ended the phone call, he had finished the rest of the chapter. 

All in all, I think the main message is: make it fun! Make it exciting! Show your kid what an adventure reading is, and let them choose their own reading material (even if it’s “just” the kind of comic books you personally hate). It will foster their love of stories and will set them on the right path to becoming a book lover. And always keep books in easy reach. Have them lying around the house and trust me, there will come a moment of boredom when they'll pick one up. And if it's the right story at the right time, they'll be hooked. :-)

3rd February, 2022

Review: The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher (Headline Review)


One hundred years ago a small bookshop on the Paris left bank published James Joyce's Ulysses, a novel that would become a Modernist classic. It is quite fitting that, just in time for the centenary, Kerri Maher's novel came out earlier this year. The Paris Bookseller tells the story of Sylvia Beach who opened an English bookshop in Paris in 1919. Little did she know then that her shop Shakespeare and Company would become a hub for the so-called Lost Generation of writers.

For me, this was a fun historical novel. Having a long-standing fond attachment to today's Shakespeare & Co. (which is an entirely different shop but built on the tenets of Beach's original store) and being a fan and teacher of Modernist literature, I enjoyed the story a lot, even if as a fictional text it - of course - takes certain liberties and adds facts and conversations etc. to the plot that may never have happened. But that's okay because we know this is not a biography and Maher clearly says so herself in a "notes" section. 

Maher nicely captures the atmosphere of Paris in the 1920s as well as the relationships between all the creative people who made Beach's shop their meeting place. I loved how the author details the liberal mindset and various homosexual relationships. Sylvia's long relationship to Adrienne Monier is here described in great detail and I very much enjoyed getting a glimpse into sapphic life one hundred years ago. At times the focus on this part of the story became a tad much though and I had the feeling that a few sex scenes were simply thrown in to spice up the story whenever the plot became a bit slower. It's a minor thing but it bothered me because it was simply unnecessary. 

The Paris Bookseller is a great fictional take on one of the most interesting literary times in Europe. Highly recommended!

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

25th January, 2022

Review: Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments by T.L. Huchu (Tor  Books)


Ropa Moyo is back in the house! After I devoured the first book in the Edinburgh Nights series last year, I was thrilled to get access to an ARC of its sequel from the publisher. And boy, it surely did not disappoint. Here is a short synopsis:

When Ropa Moyo discovered an occult underground library, she expected great things. She’s really into Edinburgh’s secret societies – but turns out they are less into her. So instead of getting paid to work magic, she’s had to accept a crummy unpaid internship. And her with bills to pay and a pet fox to feed.

Then her friend Priya offers her a job on the side. Priya works at Our Lady of Mysterious Maladies, a very specialized hospital, where a new illness is resisting magical and medical remedies alike. The first patient was a teenage boy, Max Wu, and his healers are baffled. If Ropa can solve the case, she might earn as she learns – and impress her mentor, Sir Callander.

Oftentimes, second books in a series tend to flounder, but I am happy to report that this is definitely not the case here. We do get slightly fewer breathtaking action scenes compared to The Library of the Dead though. Instead, we dive deeper into the library/society's history which I found interesting, even if occasionally the amount of information became a bit much to process. I do love how the author connects the history of a fictional secret society with the real life history of Edinburgh as a city.

Even though we get a little less "gothicness" in terms of haunted houses, deranged milk men and wandering ghosts, we still witness Ropa battling malevolent spirits of course. She is her old self with a unique voice that mingles references to pop culture with "youthspeak" and a certain level of endearing sass and hubris. You can't but love her, even if you sometimes want to slap her for doing something that is clearly a stupid idea. I also loved that Huchu expands the stories of some other loveable minor characters like Priya and Jomo and the Rooster. 

The story flows well as we follow Ropa trying to solve the mysterious case of priviledged school boys falling ill. As in the last book, Edinburgh is the secret second protagonist in this novel. References to the illusive "catastrophe" pop up again as well as a kind of prophesy that threatens even darker times to come. Huchu does a great job here in keeping the reader engaged and thirsting for future instalments. 

The Edinburgh Nights series has captured my heart and I can't wait to see what Ropa will be doing next. If you are looking for a clever story set in a Scotland that is still recognisable but also utterly changed, if you love stories about ghosts and magic - this is a series to keep on your radar.

Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments will be out with Tor Books on 3rd March!

Rating: 5/5 stars

19th January, 2022

Review: The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley (Penguin)

Competition is always fierce, and particularly in our times it seems that the way we compare ourselves to others has become even more critical. So we make up stories about our life in order to look better, to have a better standing, to find admiration. But ultimately... we're not just lying to everyone else but most of all to ourselves. This is where Clare Pooley's novel The Authenticity Project cuts in: 

Julian Jessop, an eccentric, lonely artist and septuagenarian believes that most people aren't really honest with each other. But what if they were? And so he writes--in a plain, green journal--the truth about his own life and leaves it in his local café. It's run by the incredibly tidy and efficient Monica, who furtively adds her own entry and leaves the book in the wine bar across the street. Before long, the others who find the green notebook add the truths about their own deepest selves--and soon find each other in real life at Monica's café.

What I liked about this book was the quirky mix of characters: artist Julian, Monica the cafe owner, addict Hazard, fabulous social media mummy Alice, etc. All of them are hiding something and all of them need to learn to be happy again. I thought this was a cute take and I liked how they all realise that they need to change something in their lives. The leaving-behind-a-journal idea, of course, isn't a new one though and that did take away a bit of the fun for me. 

I think I might have enjoyed this story more if I had read it at a different time. Somehow it wasn't the right moment and I found it hard to really connect with any of the characters, as interesting as they all are. They are all flawed and, in different degrees, more or less unlikeable which is good really because they are not cast as black and white husks of people. BUT... they do eventually become stereotypes as the situations and coincidences they find themselves in are so ridiculously unbelievable. Finally, the characters are all revealed as being truly good people who, deep down, mean well. That was a bit too much for my taste and I wish that Pooley had stuck with the idea of varied personalities that the book starts out with as that would have been... well, more authentic. To be honest, I eventually had to push myself to finish reading the story. That's a shame because I did like the general plot idea. However, it simply wasn't my cup of tea.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

9th January, 2022

Review: Wintering by Katherine May (Riverhead Books)


As Forrest Gump already said: "Life is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you're gonna get." Or as the synopsis of Katherine May's books explains: "Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered."

I began reading this book in late November so, even though it is only 250 pages long, it took me a while to finish it. I took my time on purpose, because I wanted to give this memoir the attention it deserves while also trying to already implement some of May's basic ideas into my own life. The concept of wintering is generally described as an involuntary dark time in life when everything slows down out of necessity - a time that can be challenging and even depressing. However, as May explores the many ways in which we can take the good out of times like these, I started thinking about selfcare and the little things that we often take for granted. What I took away from this wonderful book was not just the thought that life is a cyclical journey from bad to good to bad to good times over and over again. I also took away the lesson to be more mindful of the good things in general, to appreciate them more, to enjoy the tiny moments of bliss - even if they are just somethings as banal as a warm ray of sunshine on your face on an otherwise rainy day. May refers to ideas from literature, mythology, and the natural world, offering instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. From solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas - May finds illumination in many different ways.

Wintering is a book that will make you think about your own strategies of dealing with fallow times. In our world, where it is expected to always "push through" and where most people tend to find distraction from their real problems, May's memoir invites us to change how we relate to our own tough times: "May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear."

Rating: 5/5 stars

3rd January, 2022

Review: Christmas by the Book by Anne Marie Ryan (Putnam)


I hope you all had lovely holidays with those near and dear to you. I wish you all the best for the new year. May 2022 bring us all a bit more "normality". That said, I read the cosiest of Christmas books over the holidays which I would like to share with you. Yes, it's very predictable and there are a few too many coincidences but it still warmed my heart tremendously. 

Nora and her husband, Simon, have run the beautiful oak-beamed book shop in their small British village for thirty years. But times are tough and the shop is under threat of closure--this Christmas season will really decide their fate. When an elderly man visits the store and buys the one book they've never been able to sell, saying it's the perfect gift for his sick grandson, it gives Nora an idea. She and Simon will send out books to those feeling down this Christmas. Maybe they can't save their bookstore, but at least they'll have one final chance to lift people's spirits through the power of reading.

After gathering nominations online, Nora and Simon quietly deliver books to six residents of the village in need of some festive cheer, including a single dad of twins who is working hard to make ends meet, a teenage boy grieving for his big sister, a local Member of Parliament who is battling depression, and a teacher who's newly retired and living on her own. As the town prepares for a white Christmas, the books begin to give the recipients hope, one by one. But with the future of the bookshop still up in the air, Nora and Simon will need a Christmas miracle--or perhaps a little help from the people whose lives they've touched--to find a happy ending of their own....

Christmas by the Book is essentially a Hallmark movie in novel form. We have a beautiful English village with lots of interesting and quirky characters and we have the loveliest of little bookshops which was really the best part of the whole story. I wanted to move in there immediately and spend my days selling books to the villagers. Ryan draws such a wonderful image of this special place that it makes you all warm and fuzzy.

I also loved the many different characters who all have their own problems and traumas to deal with and who are eventually all brought together through the power of stories. As I said before, the book relies a little too heavily on coincidence which, in my opinion, wasn't really necessary. As Nora and Simon learn from the messages coming in why each individual could do with a surprise book, they could have just send specific stories to specific people. Instead, they send them out as "blind dates" and, still, every grieving/traumatised/struggling character receives just the book they need. Meh! However, the overall story is so uplifting and hopeful and beautiful that you can easily see past this sloppy plot bit. :-)

I loved this book a lot as it ticked almost all boxes for me as the perfect winter read. 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

27th December, 2021

Review: The Nesting by C.J. Cooke (Harper Collins)

A few days ago, I posted on social media that I had found the perfect book for the winter solstice. It's this one and it was indeed the most fitting read for the longest night of the year. 

Architect Tom Faraday is determined to finish the high-concept, environmentally friendly home he's building in Norway – in the same place where he lost his wife, Aurelia, to suicide. It was their dream house, and he wants to honor her with it. Lexi Ellis takes a job as his nanny and immediately falls in love with his two young daughters, especially Gaia. But something feels off in the isolated house nestled in the forest along the fjord. Lexi sees mysterious muddy footprints inside the home. Aurelia's diary appears in Lexi's room one day. And Gaia keeps telling her about seeing the terrifying Sad Lady… Soon Lexi suspects that Aurelia didn't kill herself and that they are all in danger from something far more sinister lurking around them.

The Nesting is a mix of Norse folklore, gothic thriller vibes and the traditional ghost story. At first I thought this would drift into a retelling of The Turn of the Screw or Jane Eyre but I quickly realised that this was something else entirely and, in fact, so much more. 

The use of imagery was stunning, the folkloric elements had me hooked immediately. A wandering elk, an ancient river that shouldn't be tempered with, nature punishing those who don't treat her with respect - I loved it all. Cooke's writing is captivating, and she truly is a master of creating an eerie atmosphere that is deeply connected with the landscape. The characters were all interesting and while I didn't care very much for Lexi, I absolutely adored Gaia and found myself worrying about her safety. I enjoyed how the reader is left guessing what is real and what is imagination. The only thing I wasn't completely convinced by was the resolution - it's a bit weird because I did really appreciate the twist but wasn't fully sure of certain individuals' motivations. But this is just a minor point as it didn't take away any of the fun and suspense of the story. 

If you are into gothic horror, this will be the perfect book for you. I've been an avid horror reader for thirty years but Cooke still gave me goosebumps and made me want to keep a light on at night with lines like these: "It's the Sad Lady. She lives in our basement. And she doesn't have eyes, just holes." Yikes! So if this is your jam, make sure to go and get yourself this wonderful book. :-)

Rating: 5/5 stars

17th December, 2021

Bookish Stuff: Christmas books

I recently heard about a great idea that I plan to "appropriate" for our own home. It’s about Christmas and it’s about books. The perfect combination if you ask me, so this will be a great addition to our already established tradition of Jolabokflod.

The gist of it all is that each year you buy your child a Christmas or holiday themed book, and you write them a note inside with the year as well as a short personal message. You also buy a so-called "house" book, into which you also jot the year. The idea is that when the kid is grown up and has a family of their own, they will take their collection of Christmas books to their own home to share with their family, and the house books will be at your house to enjoy with your grandchildren (if we have some). If you do this for a few years you will have a lot of beautiful and special books to enjoy throughout the holiday season.

I love this idea! The Christmas books are supposed to come out the evening of the day the Christmas tree goes up. And they should go back into storage once the tree is taken down. This way they are clearly marked as special and will be treated as such. Christmas book night, i.e. the evening the books are brought out again, may then become one of your kid’s favourite nights of the year. They will love browsing through the stacks of books and reminiscing about Christmas past. When choosing the books, you can try to match them with something special about the year, or simply an interest the kid has at the time. Looking at them together in the following years will be like walking back in time with them.

I wish I had read about this brilliant idea earlier because now I'm unfortunately seven years behind, but I believe it's still a great tradition to establish at any time. A happy bookish Christmas!

(Photo credit: GettyImages)

8th December, 2021

Review: The Haunting Season by Bridget Collins et al. (Sphere)


Winter is here, a season that has for generations been a popular time for gathering by the bright flame of a candle, or the warm crackling of a fire, and telling stories of ghostly encounters and strange happenings. In The Haunting Seasoneight bestselling writers bring this tradition to life in a wonderful collection of spooky tales.

"From a bustling Covent Garden Christmas market to the frosty moors of Yorkshire, from a country estate with a dreadful secret, to a London mansion where a beautiful girl lies frozen in death, these are stories to make your hair stand on end, send shivers down your spine":

- A Study in Black and White (Bridget Collins) - A man rents a strange house with topiaries in the form of chess pieces. People in the village, however, say that previous tenants were never seen again.
- Thwaite's Tenant (Imogen Hermes Gowar) - An ominous house and a malevolent spirit: While society clearly expects it of her, Lucinda can't imagine returning to her cruel husband.
- The Eel Singers (Natasha Pulley) - Featuring characters from Pulley's earlier work, we are confronted with a memory-eating village. 
- Lily Wilt (Jess Kidd) - An infatuated photographer brings a gorgeous dead girl back to life. However, there are some rather unpleasant consequences. 
- The Chillingham Chair (Laura Purcell) - A haunted wheelchair and a family with lots of secrets: Evelyn Lennox uncovers the deadly truth about her in-laws.
- The Hanging of the Greens (Michael Hurley) - A man attends a church meeting seeking forgiveness, and leaves a lasting impression on a member of the parish. 
- Confinement (Kiran Milwood Hargrave) - Alone during her postpartum recovery, Catherine Blake is haunted by an evil witch. 
- Monster (Elizabeth MacNeal) - Aspiring paleontologist Victor Crisp sets out to make a geological discovery that will finally best his brother's success. 

All in all, I loved this book - particularly so, because I read most of it on a cold stormy night in an old library building. And hey, there is no better place and time to read this book really. I am not going to go into greater detail about the merit of individual stories because it might give too much away about the plot of these short tales, but I definitely did like Kiran Milwood Hargrave's "Confinement" best. One or two of the other stories seemed a bit convuluted or had too much backstory of the authors' other books that I didn't become particularly invested. The rest of the stories made up for these though. I liked how each of these tales draws on basic human fears, may they be of things coming alive, somebody snatching away your child, dying too young or losing control over your own life. Wonderfully atmospheric, this was a rewarding read, even though I'm usually not a big fan of short stories. 

The Hauting Season is the perfect companion for this cosy yet sinister time of year, so snuggle up with a warm drink and enjoy these spellbinding tales of ghosts, family secrets and weird incidents. 

Rating: 4/5 stars

30th November, 2021

Review: The Cat Who Saved Books by Sosuke Natsukawa (Picador)

The Cat Who Saved Books is a heartwarming, whimsical fable about the power of books. It talks about how books have the power to heal and addresses the importance of being able to use your imagination.

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki has to close the secondhand bookshop he inherited from his grandfather. Rintaro's grandfather raised him after the death of his mother, and now that he's gone, Rintaro has to learn to live without his words of wisdom. The bookshop was his grandfather's project of love and is considered too much of a responsibility for a teenage boy. However, when a talking cat named Tiger appears, the two go on a mystical journey to save books that have been imprisoned, destroyed or unloved. This marks the beginning of a strange friendship and an "adventure that will lead them to travel through four different labyrinths to resolve as many existential questions on the importance of reading and on the infinite and inscrutable strength of love as they can".

I read this book on a cold day while a gale was blowing around the house, rattling the windows. In a way, this was the perfect setting for reading such a whimsical story. The Cat Who Saved Books is quirky tale which - over and over - stresses the importance of books, human relationships and the necessity to believe in yourself. It is a simple story that heavily leans on books such as The Little Prince with the protagonist philosophising about the most important topics of life.

I liked this cute blend of fairy tale with magical realism, but wasn't blown away by it. It is a book that will surely appeal to book- and catlovers as well as readers interesting in Japan and its culture. For me, it was a beautiful palate cleanser with interesting ideas. 

Rating: 3/5 stars

24th November, 2021

Review: The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams by Mindy Thompson (Viking)

If you are looking for a magical read that is going to touch you deeply, look no further because this book has got you covered. 

It's 1944 Sutton, NY, and Poppy's family owns and runs, Rhyme and Reason, a magical bookshop that caters to people from all different places and time periods. Though her family's world is ravaged by World War II, their customers hail from their past and their future, infusing the shop with a delightful mix of ideas and experiences. The shop runs on a set of rules handed down from one generation of bookseller to the next, with their cardinal rule their most strict: shopkeepers must never use the magic for themselves.

But then Poppy's brother's best friend is killed in the war and her brother wants to use the magic to save him. Young Poppy is caught between her love for her brother and loyalty to her family, all the while knowing that her brother's actions could have devastating consequences that reach far beyond the bookshop, feeding an insidious, growing darkness.

The setting of Thompson's novel is magical in itself. I immediately fell in love with "Rhyme and Reason" and its idiosyncrasies. The descriptions of the bookshop simply gave me warm and fuzzy feelings and I wish places like these actually existed. 

The characters were lovely. Poppy is fierce and strong, even if she doesn't know that at first. The conflicts she and her brother are going through were convincingly drawn and even though Al's reaction might seem a big strong at first, there is an explanation later on that worked for me. The most interesting characters besides the protagonist, however, are the shop's regulars. I loved Bibine and her grandchildren, and I found myself particularly fond of apprentice courier Ollie. 

In essence, this is a story about darkness and light, about good and evil and about the things we do out of grief. It is a tale about overcoming adversity and doing everything we can for the ones we love. And last but not least, it's a story about the power of stories and about the narratives that make up our lives. It's the perfect book to curl up with this winter. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

17th November, 2021

Bookish Stuff: Hectic times and the classics


It's mid-November and I don't know about you, but I've already felt the holiday rush in the past few weeks. It's only 5.5 weeks till Christmas and suddenly there are so many things to think about that it can drive you mad. I always try to stay calm and take in the Christmas spirit at this time of year but some years this seems to work better than others. What I do like to do in these times, is read either old favourites or explore a classic that I haven't read yet. There is something about the old-timey language that I find strangely soothing and the often slow-paced narratives make you lean back and relax. 

Because I teach literature at university, some people tend to assume that I've read everything. Obviously I haven't! For one, because that is simply not possible to achieve in a lifetime and also because some texts simply aren't up my alley. There, I said it: even lecturers or teachers "hate" certain texts or writers.  :-) 

There are some classic writers with whom I have a love/hate relationship. Take the Brontë sisters, for example. I love Charlotte and Anne, but am definitely not a huge fan of Emily. Or Dickens. I love some of his books but utterly detest others. And that's alright! It's a matter of personal taste and you can still appreciate a text's significance, even if you don't love it.  It's also something I tell my students: "Just because it's canon, it doesn't mean you have to adore it. Give it a go - yes. If you like it, good. If you don't, then you can at least argue why you didn't enjoy it because you know what you're talking about."

Another writer I have a weird relationship with is Jane Austen. It might have to do with her being a favourite topic with a lot of my students (please don't make me read another term paper on marriage in Pride and Prejudice!). I don't really know, but it's a little like I said above: I really like some of her novels (Northhanger Abbey, for example, is amazing) while not being overly keen on others. There are also one or two I haven't even read yet, so this is my plan for the next few weeks until Christmas. I am finally going to read Persuasion which, I have heard recently, is by many considered to be her best book. We'll see how it goes. I will keep you posted. :-) 

6th November, 2021

Review: The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan (Little Brown)


It's going on Christmas time and, once again, Jenny Colgan does not disappoint. Just in time for the holidays, she has published this gem of a Christmas story that, I'm not ashamed to say it, I have fallen head over heels in love with. 

When the department store she works in closes for good, Carmen has perilously little cash and few options. She doesn’t want to move in with her perfect sister Sofia, in Sofia’s perfect house with her perfect children and her perfectly ordered Edinburgh life.

Frankly, Sofia doesn’t exactly want Carmen there either. Her sister has always been sarcastic and difficult. But Sofia has yet another baby on the way, a mother desperate to see her daughters get along, and a client who needs a retail assistant for his ailing bookshop, so welcoming Carmen might still have some benefits for everyone.

At Sofia’s behest, Carmen is thrown into the daily workings of old Mr. McCredie’s ancient bookshop on the streets of the old dark city. Can she use her design skills to revamp the store and bring it back to popularity in time to benefit from Christmas shopping traffic? Can she choose between bad boy literary rock star Blair and quiet Quaker student Oke? And will she heal the rift with the most important people of all: her family?

I basically loved everything about his book, so be prepared for some gushing praise. :-)

Let me start with the setting: Christmassy Edinburgh is marvelous in itself but add Victoria Street and a strange little bookshop into the mix and you've got me - hook, line and sinker. Mr McCredie as a somewhat incompetent shop owner immediately touched a soft spot in me and I adored how Carmen, by and by, falls in love with the place. The way the street's shop owners stick together and arrange decorations and parties for each other touched me deeply. The shop itself is simply a wonderful place and the house a hodgepodge of weirdly connected rooms. I could easily picture it in my mind and instantly wanted to be there to help Carmen vamp up the window display and rearrange the shelves.

The characters were all great as well. I already mentioned Mr McCredie and Carmen, but I also loved seemingly perfect Sofia and the kids (Oh Phoebe, you are so amazing). Skylar made me snort laugh more than once because she is so darn ridiculous all the time including the way she speaks, and don't even get me started on Blair Pfenning. What an eejit. Oke immediately caught my interest and I loved his quiet reservedness. All in all, this was the perfect mix of idiosyncratic characters. 

The romance part didn't really start before half of the book and I really liked that. Yes, there is the typical love triangle with lots of misunderstandings and it's all a bit foreseeable but that's alright because it is all so tenderly and beautifully done that I didn't mind the few somewhat stereotypical tropes. After all, it's not just about romance, it is also about the relationships between two sisters and between an aunt and her nieces and nephew. The story gave me warm and fuzzy feelings as it spoke about the time we spend with our loved ones (even though we might hate them occasionally). 

The Christmas Bookshop is the perfect feel-good read for this holiday season so I advise you (no, I'm begging you) to get yourself a copy. Trust me, you will not regret it. :-)

Rating: 6/5 stars (Yes, I loved it THAT much.)

27th October, 2021

Review: The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig (Del Rey)


Long ago, Nathan lived in a house in the country with his abusive father—and has never told his family what happened there. Long ago, Maddie was a little girl making dolls in her bedroom when she saw something she shouldn’t have—and is trying to remember that lost trauma by making haunting sculptures. Long ago, something sinister, something hungry, walked in the tunnels and the mountains and the coal mines of their hometown in rural Pennsylvania.

Now, Nate and Maddie Graves are married, and they have moved back to their hometown with their son, Oliver. And now what happened long ago is happening again . . . and it is happening to Oliver. He meets a strange boy who becomes his best friend, a boy with secrets of his own and a taste for dark magic. This dark magic puts them at the heart of a battle of good versus evil and a fight for the soul of the family—and perhaps for all of the world. But the Graves family has a secret weapon in this battle: their love for one another.

When I read the synopsis of Wendig's book, it didn't take long for me to double click on that little basket icon as the story seemed right up my alley: a spooky house, a vengeful ghost, murder, magic, ... of course I was intrigued! Because it is a bit of a chunkster, I saved it for a particularly rainy weekend and it was blissful when I finally started reading it. The story starts out strong - with a bang, one could say - and once I had gotten the characters straight in the next few chapters, I thought "This could really be something".

Then, however, trope after trope happened and I didn't really like any of them because they seemed like a pick and mix of other stories: a bit of King here, a spritz of Koontz there and some Hendrix sprinkled on top. The thing is: There is a great idea lurking somewhere in here, but to me it seemed like the author simply wanted to pack too much into this book so that it has become - in my humble opinion - a bit of a convoluted mess. The Book of Accidents has elements of old-timey horror novels and sci-fi. It has parallel worlds and creepy woods, lost children, murdered children, abused children. It has a haunted house and magical creatures. It is about trauma, grief, alienation and terror. Yes, a bit much, innit? 

Do take my criticism with a grain of salt though because - after all - this is a very subjective viewpoint. I'm sure readers who are into mixed genres will like this better than I did and horror lovers should definitely give it a try. It is a crazy and creepy ride with lots of brilliant ideas. For me, throwing them all together just didn't really work.

Rating: 3/5 stars

25th October, 2021

Bookish Stuff: Bookish Autumn


It is no secret that I love autumn, and it is also no secret that this has to do with cosy sweaters, the crisp air, the colourful leaves on the trees and that this time is the perfect reason to coorie in with a cuppa tea and a book at night. Yes, stereotypes... but nice stereotypes. Cosy stereotypes. Comfy stereotypes. ;)

As I said in one of my previous posts, every year around Halloween I tend to read gothic stories and horror novels because... well... spooky season. This year, however, I also found myself more drawn to cosy books, books that already make you anticipate Christmas time in a way because they are somewhat wintry and festive. That was a rather weird development for me but I've been trying to embrace it because if I didn't, I'd just end up in another reading slump. And I've definitely had enough of those this year. So I've been reading some romcoms, some literary fiction and some classics while also throwing in my share of creepy tales, and it's been a beautiful mixture! 

What I'm enjoying most, however, is that the kid is really and truly getting into reading himself. He has always been a bookworm and reading to him has always been a fixture in our lives. He has also read quite a few books by himself but somehow he used to be a bit hesitant, preferring to have us read to him. This year, this has improved a lot! I often find him wrapped in a blanket, reading his book and then saying that he wants to keep reading for as long as he can. He's really gotten into chapter books now but he's also become a fan of the Amulet graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi. 

So now we have evenings when we all read together and it's definitely precious quality time. We've also been watching quite a few Halloween films - Hocus Pocus even had to be watched twice this weekend. :-) I can't believe that Halloween will be over again by this time next week but I'm definitely looking forward to reading all the new Christmas titles coming out in the next few days and weeks, and watching lots of cheesy Christmas movies. 

12th October, 2021

Review: The Lighthouse Witches by C.J. Cooke (Harper Collins)

When single mother Liv is commissioned to paint a mural in a 100-year-old lighthouse on a remote Scottish island, it's an opportunity to start over with her three daughters--Luna, Sapphire, and Clover. When two of her daughters go missing, she's frantic. She learns that the cave beneath the lighthouse was once a prison for women accused of witchcraft. The locals warn her about wildlings, supernatural beings who mimic human children, created by witches for revenge. Liv is told wildlings are dangerous and must be killed.

Twenty-two years later, Luna has been searching for her missing sisters and mother. When she receives a call about her youngest sister, Clover, she's initially ecstatic. Clover is the sister she remembers--except she's still seven years old, the age she was when she vanished. Luna is worried Clover is a wildling. Luna has few memories of her time on the island, but she'll have to return to find the truth of what happened to her family. But she doesn't realize just how much the truth will change her.

This is a novel I was really looking forward to: the title alone had me intrigued and the cover looks absolutely stunning. I received an ARC via Netgalley but was so smitten with the plot (and the cover) that I ordered a physical hardcover copy as well. 

In general, I really loved the story. I've heard other reviewers describe it as chaotic but that wasn't my impression at all. Instead, I liked the multitude of voices and levels of time that eventually blend together and then make absolute sense. I adored the setting of Lón Haven and The Longing and a community that's steeped in superstition and a deep belief in the supernatural. I also loved the characters, even slightly annoying Saffy. What I found particularly intriguing were the speculations about the wildlings and how folklore still has such a strong impact in some areas today. I didn't have any idea how to explain the phenomenon that occurs in the story until shortly before the end, and that's great! Oftentimes, I have a hunch very early on which can take the fun away but here I was guessing throughout. 

So, all in all this was an amazing story and a stunningly beautiful book about family, belonging, and the horrible consequences of superstition. BUT... and I'm so sorry to say there is a but... the book was full of typos and grammatical errors where it was clear that the text had been changed but the grammar hadn't been "adjusted" (e.g. "she pleased", "she wasn't can't", etc). Also, there were some logical discrepancies (e.g. birds being described as black with white heads and then called black-headed birds a few lines later; the way that the social workers just send Clover home with Luna without seemingly checking the missing case files, etc.). I must say that these things almost put me off the book and I only continued because I was so very much invested in the story. I have no idea what went wrong during the editing process but it almost seemed like possibly the wrong file was sent to the printers(??). This is such a shame and I simply feel sorry for the author because it's something that could have been prevented easily, yet it will probably negatively affect the way readers will react to this book. It is definitely the reason why I'm deducting one star from what would otherwise have been a five star rating. Sorry, C.J.!  :(

However, if you don't mind the above points of critique and are looking for an atmospheric read full of folkloric elements, go and pick up this book. You'll feel like you're right there on a remote Scottish island with Luna, Saffy, Clover and Liv. 

Rating: 4/5 stars 

6th October, 2021

Review: Pages & Co - The Book Smugglers by Anna James (Harper Collins)


Like every September, I eagerly awaited the publication of a new Pages & Co book and was utterly happy when I finally held it in my hands. Book four in the mesmerising series about bookwanderers takes us away from Tilly as the main protagonist and moves on to Milo: 

Milo lives on board the Sesquipedalian, or “Quip” – a magical train that uses the power of imagination to travel through both Story and the real world. The train is owned by Milo’s uncle, Horatio, and Milo has witnessed many of his uncle’s dodgy dealings as a book smuggler trading in rare books.

When Horatio takes on a dangerous new job, he needs the help of Tilly Pages. And Tilly owes Horatio a favour. But when poisoned copies of The Wizard of Oz are sent to Horatio and Tilly's grandfather, sending them both into deep sleeps, Milo and Tilly find themselves racing against time to save them – and to figure out what is going on.

I thoroughly enjoyed this new instalment. The series has become a modern classic for me and I keep recommending it to everyone and giving it away as birthday and Christmas presents. While book three hadn't hooked me as much as the first two novels - which was weird because it was much more fast-paced - I found myself thoroughly invested again with this story, even though I was a bit worried at first because the Pages family's marvellous bookshop wouldn't be at the centre anymore. I shouldn't have worried though, as the story did hold up well. 

The children's magical journey takes them to the Emerald City with Dorothy and Toto, bumping along on the unruly Quip, and finally to Venice, where they pursue the mysterious Alchemist because "the very essence of imagination, story itself, may be in danger." 

As always, you'll get the most out of these books if you know the texts that they are referencing, in this case The Wizard of Oz. I liked how the characters pointed out differences between the original novel by L. Frank Baum and the more widely know film version - little geeky moments of pleasure. :-)

The new villain is amazing and even though this book sets up a lot of elements and plot strands that will likely be important in the next instalments, this still felt like a story in its own. The ending promises new adventures to come and while I'm still undecided about Milo's new sidekick, I'm very muchlooking forward to seeing where the series will take us.

Rating: 5/5 stars

29th September, 2021

Review: Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead (Knopf)


Normally, the Booker Prize judges and I don't necessarily share reading tastes, but this year I found one book from the shortlist that I really liked. I read it together with some Litsy friends as part of our inofficial bookclub and it was, so far, the only novel that we all enjoyed. That in itself has to count for something. :-) But it really is an outstanding book!

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There—after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes—Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian's disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian's own story, as the two women's fates—and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times—collide. 

The plot synopsis itself already sounds epic and this is indeed THE word I would use to describe this novel. It is a sweeping tale of two women trying to make their way. Two women, two timelines (from early 1900s Montana to present day LA) - this is such a gorgeously written book that you won't even mind that it's a bit of a chunkster at a little over 600 pages. I adored Marian's story and found myself becoming really invested in her narrative. I also enjoyed the Hadley part of the novel, even though her character was driving me insane with her sense of entitlement of a child spoilt by too early success.

Great Circle is simply brimming with loving attention to detail and especially Marian is so well-written that I actually believed she was a historical character for about half of the book. You can tell that Shipstead did meticulous research for the aviation passages and that effort really pays off. This is a book that will steal quite a bit of your time, not because it's long but because you'll want to make it last. So if you are in the mood for an encompassing, beautifully composed mammoth of a story that is worth every single second of your reading time, Great Circle is the right book for you. Make yourself a cuppa and curl up with it sometime this autumn and winter - you won't regret it. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

19th September, 2021

Review: Burden Falls by Kat Ellis (Dial Books)

The town of Burden Falls drips with superstition, from rumors of its cursed waterfall to Dead-Eyed Sadie, the disturbing specter who haunts it. Ava Thorn grew up right beside the falls, and since a horrific accident killed her parents a year ago, she's been plagued by nightmares in which Sadie comes calling—nightmares so chilling, Ava feels as if she’ll never wake up. But when someone close to Ava is brutally murdered and she’s the primary suspect, she begins to wonder if the stories might be more than legends—and if the ghost haunting her dreams might be terrifyingly real. Whatever secrets Burden Falls is hiding, there's a killer on the loose . . . with a vendetta against the Thorns.

Kat Ellis' Burden Falls has been described as a mix of Riverdale and Stephen King, and I couldn't agree more. There is an eerie atmosphere throughout, a sense of paranoia and claustrophobia. And the ghost! Can we just mention the ghost? Ellis paints such an amazing portrait of Dead-Eyed Sadie that I found myself looking over my shoulder whenever I was walking through the house in the dark. 

The story is also full of little hints and foreshadowings. I really liked these little breadcrumbs and even though they made me guess quite early on who was behind all of the things happening, I thoroughly enjoyed the story with all its spooktacular incidents. Local legends and family mysteries plus a small town in the middle of nowhere create a fabulous plot that will give you goosebumps. 

Burden Falls is a wonderfully atmospheric read that blurs the lines between the supernatural and reality so that you find yourself questioning what is real and what is not. It's the perfect book to curl up with this Halloween season.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

6th September, 2021

Review: The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher (Titan Books)

This was my second book by T. Kingfisher after reading The Twisted Ones a few months ago. I was expecting the same kind of creepyness but this novel was a bit different. However, before I say more, let's see what the story is actually about:

Pray they are hungry.

Kara finds these words in the mysterious bunker that she’s discovered behind a hole in the wall of her uncle’s house. Freshly divorced and living back at home, Kara now becomes obsessed with these cryptic words and starts exploring the peculiar bunker—only to discover that it holds portals to countless alternate realities. But these places are haunted by creatures that seem to hear thoughts…and the more you fear them, the stronger they become.

I think it's clear why this synopsis had me intrigued. Unfortunately I found the story to be a bit all over the place which is why it didn't fully convince me. 

The plot starts out a bit slow with Kara aka Carrot moving in with her uncle after her divorce and beginning to work in his fabulously quirky "Museum of Wonders". When she discovers a hole in the wall and, behind it, a bunker that leads to an alternate reality, this immediately conveyed House of Leaves vibes as that part of the story transported the same sense of claustrophobia and foreboding as Danielewski's masterpiece. Once Carrot and Simon pass through the portal and get lost, this feeling turns into something we know from Stranger Things or the Alien movies. From here on, it was all about indescribeable monsters hiding behind the different layers of reality. We have some rather creepy passages, for example involving a school bus, and again I could feel the hopelessness and despair oozing from the pages. So thumbs up for that!

BUT, to me personally, it all seemed a bit of a hot mess. I loved how weird the book is but somehow it all felt a bit convoluted. This may have been the author's intention in order to have us share the protagonists' confusion, but with me it left the impression that at some points Kingfisher wasn't really sure herself where the story would be going. In addition, I was annoyed with Carrot for not seeing what had actually opened the portal because it was RIGHT IN HER FACE ALL THIS TIME, and she could have ended all of this a lot earlier. Eventually she realises what's happening but not before we have a supernatural stampede messing up the museum. 

All in all, I really enjoyed this book but I would have loved a bit more ... I don't know ... common sense in the main characters. Despite its "flaws", The Hollow Places is an atmospheric novel that's perfect for this time of year. If you like weird stories, give it a go. :)

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

1st September, 2021

Bookish Stuff: Falling into fall...

... or autumn, but that doesn't make for such a nice phrase. :-) Today is 1st September which means there's a certain train leaving from King's Cross at eleven o'clock, lots of kids are going back to school (if they haven't already) and autumn is just around the corner. Well, for me it's starting today which - hopefully - will bring an end to my summer reading slump (which unfortunately also affected this blog a little - sorry about that). After all, it will be spooky reading season!!! 

Every autumn I drift even more towards gothic books than I usually do anyways. It's one of my favourite genres but nothing calls for eerie stories more than rainy autumn days spent with tea and a steaming bowl of pumpkin soup. I already have a nice TBR piled up for this year and I actually finished one book early so keep your eyes peeled for a review of T. Kingfisher's The Hollow Places in the next few days. 

In the last few weeks I've seen a lot of polls on bookish social media channels asking people what their favourite season was. Interestingly enough, it seems like we readers tend to love autumn and winter while most of us don't care much for summer. A friend who doesn't read much recently asked me why that is and it took me a while to come up with a possible answer, but  I believe it has a lot to do with getting cosy. I mean, just look at this image: warm colours, a hot drink, a soft scarf - who wouldn't want to bury themselves in this picture? For me personally, autumn has also always had a sort of studious vibe to it. Maybe it's the college film and series I used to watch as a teenager (best example: Class of '96) but I always want to roam old university halls and sit on a campus lawn with a book (I do have access to the campus lawn but my university is unfortunately anything but old hallowed halls - haha).

So happy September and happy spooky reading season - if you're doing it. If not, then happy whatever floats your book boat. :)  

(Picture credit: Shutterstock)

21st August, 2021

Review: Billy Summers by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)


Reliable as he is, King just published another novel this month. Billy Summers is closer to some of his other not-really-horror books than to the classics but it is an amazing story about identity, friendship and moral outrage. 

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He's a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he'll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

I was waiting impatiently for this novel, picking it up on publication day and starting right away. It is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it's about the little things that happen for large streches of the plot that make the first section so compelling, before the story really picks up speed about halfway through. I very much enjoyed the first half of the book with its book-in-a-book structure but I also had a blast with the second part when Billy forms an unlikely friendship and hunts down the people who wronged him. 

As usual, we have a few references to other King books, here a nice little nod to The Shining, which immediately made me want to reread that particular novel. :) Billy Summers, however, is - as said before, not a horror novel. The creepiest thing that happens is the appearance of a weird photograph hanging in a remote cabin. Other than that this novel is full of "bad people": rapists, murderers, pedophiles, and conmen. The main protagonist is actually a "bad man" himself, working as a hitman, but you can't help but root for him. I really liked both Billy and Bucky a lot. And I very much appreciated how the story ended which was a bit unexpected but nicely done. 

This is definitely a "different" King but the man knows how to tell a story, so never mind that there isn't much horror in here. Definitely a recommended read. 

Rating: 5/5 stars

15th August, 2021

Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry (Berkley)


Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast. They're polar opposites. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they're living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer's block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She'll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he'll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

I enjoyed the story of Gus and January. It was the perfect "beach read" ;-) and I found myself quickly beginning to really like the characters. The premise, of course, was great: a story about two writers - that's usually a winner. And as I said, I did like the book, it was a cute rom-com with lots of meta commentaries and a quick holiday read. But... and I'm so sorry to say that there is a but involved... but the story started out great and then somehow petered out for me. In the beginning I laughed out loud at the quirky comments and the hilarious, genre-typical scenes - starting with January standing on the deck, shouting obscenities into her phone and Gus overhearing them. Cute. Funny. But also kind of tropey. As the novel was self-reflectively commenting so much on the rom-com genre (as well as that of literary fiction), I was hoping that Henry would play more with the conventions in her story. However, everything still felt sort of schematic, there were far too many coincidences and, without giving too much away, I found Gus' explanations about why he was so hesitant about him and January a bit far-fetched. I can't really explain it but for me there were simply a few contradictions in the given reasons of why he was so traumatised by what had happened in the past.

I really wanted to love this book because I had heard so many great reviews all over social media but somehow it didn't fully work for me. It was a sweet and entertaining read but unfortunately not much more. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy all the meta passages and very much liked the two main characters. A cute read for the summer holidays. 

Rating: 3/5 stars

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20th March, 2019

Bookshop Spotlight: Topping & Co., St Andrews, Scotland

I know I've let drop comments about this shop before, both here and on Instagram and Litsy, but today I think it's time that this wonderful place gets its own "Bookshop Spotlight". 

The independent bookshop Topping & Co. in St Andrews opened in 2015 after branches in Bath and Ely had already been highly successful. The first shop (in Ely) was founded by Robert and Louise Topping in 2003. A fourth branch is going to open its doors in Edinburgh in the summer/early autumn. And who knows what more is to come in the future? 

What makes me love Topping & Co. so much is its atmosphere: It's a bibliophile's heaven with honey-coloured bookshelves from floor to ceiling and sliding library ladders that help you reach the upper shelves. Also, it's clear quite quickly that the people who work here love books and I mean: LOVE books - in capital letters and with an exclamation mark. Almost every time I visit, I find myself having a wee chat with one of them. They are not just employees but true booksellers who know their wares and are passionate about their job. 

Another quirky benefit is that you are offered free tea or coffee while you are browsing the more than 50,000 titles. And I mean: what goes better together than a good brew and literature? Exactly! Nothing. Well, maybe chocolate, but that always poses the danger of nasty stains on the pages. The horror, the horror! So yes, better have a cuppa instead while you're perusing the shelves for your next read. And if you are looking for people to talk books with, the shop offers several book groups, such as "The Literary Odyssey Book Group" or the "Galley Book Club" (the latter of which is geared towards children between 7 and 11). There are also numerous literary events throughout the year. Just a few names that are lined up for the next few months: Ian McEwan, Ali Smith, Shaun Bythell, John Connolly, Mary Beard, etc.

What you will find a lot of at Topping & Co. is signed editions. There is a "Signed Editions" subscription service but while that is of course great for people who live further away, it's even more fun to hunt for treasures on the shelves directly. I've amassed quite a number of signed books this way without exactly meaning to, but hey - if I have the choice between a signed first edition and the regular one, the decision isn't such a tough one.

And in general, I have found that Toppings seems to have pretty much everything in stock. I don't remember ever having to order in a title as one of the booksellers has always managed to somehow conjure up what I was looking for. 

One more aspect that I adore about the shop is its "Blind Date with a Book" shelf. I'm a total sucker for these kinds of things so, lo and behold, I find myself buying at least one of these wrapped mystery packages every time I visit. So far, I have never been disappointed. There was one book last year that wasn't really my cup of tea but this time I was very lucky and scored an edition of Jeannette Winterson's wonderfully atmospheric Lighthousekeeping and one of Vladimir Nabokov's ingenious Pale Fire. Sure, I already owned the latter but while I could have easily exchanged the book for something else, I'm just going to give it away as a present. 

This is a bookshop that any true bookworm will immediately want to move into. Especially in the colder months the mix of books, tea or coffee and a cosy wood fire will make you want to while away an hour... or two or three. It makes me extremely happy to see that independent bookshops seem to be thriving again and Topping & Co. is definitely one of places that make people fall in love with bookshops over and over again. 

9th April, 2019

Bookish Spotlight: Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, Wales


So, imagine you could simply step through a mirror or wardrobe (or insert any other mysterious portal of your choice) and you are in a stunningly beautiful library full of impressive leather-bound tomes. And now imagine someone telling you that you can actually live there for a while. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn't it? Well, no need for magic as this place is only a good thirty-minute bus ride away from the city of Chester, situated in the wonderfully quaint village of Hawarden in North Wales (UK).

Gladstone's Library is a magnificent grade 1 listed building which pays tribute to William Gladstone, a four-time prime minister of Great Britain in the later half of the 19th century, who founded the library himself. After his death in 1898 it became a memorial to his life and work. Gladstone's is a residential library, a place for study and contemplation and a meeting place for bibliophiles from around the world. So when a friend who I had met through Litsy (a social media platform for bookworms) asked if anyone was up for a weekend reading retreat in this marvellous locationI didn't think twice and booked my room and flight within minutes.

When we arrived at the library we were all kind of giddy with excitement, on the one hand because of meeting a bunch of people you'd only so far talked to online and, on the other hand, because of the sheer beauty of the place. The reading rooms themselves are absolutely magnificent - think Disney's Beauty and the Beast and you'll get an understanding of what I mean. They are indeed a place of silence with absolutely no talking allowed. I felt that merely sitting in one of the comfortable leather armchairs with my book and enjoying the tranquility had an amazing soul-cleansing and centreing effect, because it is so far removed from the stress of our everyday lives.

The rest of the building is certainly just as attractive as the library proper. Many of the rooms come with beautiful book wallpaper and all of them have old-timey Roberts radios and mullioned windows. Something they explicitly do not have are TVs because of Gladstone's Library seeing itself as a place for research, study and debate. And this is precisely what I appreciate about it: Three days of peaceful tranquility, hours of reading, good food and bookish conversations in the lounge or over meals left me so incredibly refreshed and regrounded that it actually surprised me how relaxed I felt afterwards. It is the perfect sanctuary in a time where distraction is everywhere, and I found myself thinking that this must surely be what the characters in Thomas Mann's famous novel The Magic Mountain must have felt.

We started our first day of the retreat with a scrumptious Afternoon Tea in the library cafe and food somehow became a constant entity, either in the form of lovely pub lunches and dinners or as nibbles, cake and candy as reading accompaniment in front of the fire place in the cosy guest lounge. (Thank goodness, we walked some of it off on a brisk country walk on day two - haha.) And of course it was also the wonderful people who were with me on this retreat that made it such a success. It felt good to be surrounded by book people, people who are comfortable with sitting together in silence with their nose in a book but who also love to have inspiring conversations in-between.

Gladstone's Library is a truly stunning place and I didn't want to leave. The next retreat is already planned so I'm looking forward to coming back and staying a bit longer next time around. If you'd like more information, you'll find it all on their webpage: https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org/

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