10 books I recently enjoyed

10 books I recently enjoyed
Any excuse for a photo of a map…
So I have finally started editing my book! I was supposed to begin two weeks ago but was waylaid by concussion (which is another story entirely, one that I won’t bother telling you here as it relates more to chopping garlic than to writing a book). Next Tuesday, my self-editing course with the Writers’ Workshop begins, and I want to get as far as possible with my initial work before that happens. I am in the process of writing a scene-by-scene summary of the events and what the reader will (hopefully!) learn from each one – I am making notes as I go along of things (e.g. character traits) that need to be drawn out more, scenes that need to be added to and anything else I notice. I will also use this summary to evaluate my plotting, pacing and ordering of the various story arcs.

I am currently on scene 25 out of 103 so I am scrawling and scrolling as fast as my lactic-acid-filled hand and unresponsive mouse pad will allow. With this in mind, I wanted to write a blog post that didn’t require too much in the way of research time.

So following on from the 10 books that have stayed with me (for better or for worse), I have compiled a list of 10 books I have read recently and particularly enjoyed (recently being anything ranging from yesterday to 11 months ago). These are not necessarily recent books (in fact, most of them aren’t) – we have a large, overcrowded bookshelf and I like to hoard books such that I always have at least 30 unread specimens from which to choose. I obtain these from my mother (a fellow book hoarder), second-hand book shops, the library, and, very occasionally, a regular, high street bookshop.

So…to the books…

10 books I read recently and enjoyed

  1. The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood)
  2. This won the Booker Prize in 2000 and is probably not a book for those who love high-speed car chases and back alley shoot-outs. The now-elderly narrator regales the events of her past leading up to the death of her sister decades before. Also featuring a (retro style sci-fi) story within a story. This book (almost) managed to distract me from my bladder on a 3 hour Alpine drive on a coach with no toilet.

  3. The Crimson Petal and the White (Michel Faber)
  4. This has apparently been dramatized for the BBC but I haven’t seen it. It is a Victorian rags-to-riches epic written from the point of view of a prostitute called Sugar, and I have read at least one review that essentially describes it as Dickens with added sex. It is explicit at times, so if that puts you off then this book is probably a no-go, but I found the story engaging and the writing style entertaining. As an added bonus, it is set in Victorian London, so technically counted as research for my book…

  5. Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell)
  6. I’m sure most of you will have read this Booker nominee or seen the film adaptation (which, again, I haven’t). Part of me feels this book is perfect if you can’t decide which genre to read – it follows six interlinking lives and includes a sea-faring adventure log, a political thriller (complete with car chases and shoot-outs) and an account of post-apocalyptic Hawaii in some distant future. I know some people have problems with narratives that jump around from person to person or from era to era, but I happen to love them. Having said that, this book seems to be a bit of a Marmite book, but, perhaps unusually, I just liked it.

  7. A History of the World in 12 Maps (Jerry Brotton)
  8. I’m a fan of maps. There, I said it. So I knew I had to own this book as soon as I saw it on a display table in Waterstones. I would be happy to look at the maps themselves for hours, but the history of the world through the lens of map-making was interesting, if a little heavy at times (definitely not a beach read!). From cuneiforms to Google Earth via the Mercator projection, this is a book for map fiends and history buffs.

  9. Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edgar Allan Poe)
  10. I am working my way through this slowly – every time it is dark and stormy outside, I grab a glass of wine and take it to my reading room. I have read the first four tales and they certainly are atmospheric and strangely chilling. So far I have encountered ghostly tempests, extreme mental instability and sort-of live burials. The writing itself makes me feel as though I am slowly losing my mental coherence…

  11. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  12. Finally one that I HAVE seen the adaptation of. Unusually for me, I actually saw the film before I read the book and I thoroughly enjoyed both. The American Dream examined from the inside out. Unlikeable characters (something else I’m a fan of) and the glamour of the jazz age, in the form of a sub-200 page book.

  13. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs)
  14. If you read my blog post on facts I discovered during the course of my book research, you might know I am fascinated by weird and wonderful historical photos. That this book is based on a set of such photos already makes it great in my opinion. Very mixed reviews, not as scary as the cover might have you believe and described as “the hipster Harry Potter” by one reader on goodreads.com. Not perfect by any means, but I did it enjoy it.

  15. The Last Asylum (Barbara Taylor)
  16. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I do read a lot about insanity, mental illness and the perception of such matters throughout history. This book weaves a look at the latter with a personal account of asylum incarceration in 1980s London. A thought-provoking but, at times (on the memoir side of things), frustrating read.

  17. The Girl in the Photograph (Kate Riordan)
  18. I read this book on the beach in Barbados and would pretty much regard it the perfect beach read – absorbing, not too taxing and just the right amount of creepy. The story centres on a British country house and the intertwining of the lives of two women who lived there, one in the 1890s and one in the 1930s. Another relatively slow paced read that gives you time to get to know the characters.

  19. The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)
  20. I would NEVER have thought to pick this book up in Waterstones – it is the first in a fantasy series, which isn’t usually my kind of thing. My husband told me to read it and I am so glad I did. It features the usual fantasy stalwarts of a kingdom at war, unexplained sorcery and a wide cast of characters (but, sadly for me, no map). I found the writing style quirky, and every character flawed, and, therefore, interesting. However, I haven’t braved the second of the series yet as I find fantasy epics a bit hard going at times and so tend to space them out…

Have you read any of the books above? If so, feel free to let me know what you thought of them!


10 books that have stayed with me

books that have stayed with me
Why do some books never leave our brains? (From pixabay.com)
Back when the ice bucket challenge was doing its shiver–inducing rounds and people were daring to bare (their faces, that is) for charity, there was something less well publicised being sent from Facebook user to Facebook user.

“Ten books that have stayed with me.”

I was pretty gutted that the latter never found me, particularly as the no make-up selfie did (and just after a gym workout, when pale people like me tend to be an alluring shade of blancmange-pink). So I put together my own list. Perhaps not sad in itself, but a little moreso given that “the ten” has just been festering in my brain ever since, begging me to re-read it. So I decided it’s time to share this list with others.

Why do books stay with us?

I believe that books stay with you for a variety of reasons, not necessarily because they are the books you enjoyed most. Perhaps a book might stay with you because you so DIDN’T enjoy it. Perhaps your subconscious is crying out for you to read it again because there is something it feels you can learn from one of the characters. Maybe you just happened to read it at a time of life you remember very distinctly and the book has knotted itself inside your memories. This is why a list of my 10 FAVOURITE books would probably be pretty different to the list below, as hinted at on my “about” page.

I will only let you read on if you promise not to laugh at some of the entries. Cross your heart and hope to die? Okay, here goes…

The 10 books that have stayed with me

  1. House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski)
  2. Completely unlike any other book I have ever read. An adventure within a story within a story. Look it up.

  3. Ten O’ Clock Horses
  4. Ten O’Clock Horses – flying horses that would sneak into your bedroom at, um, 10pm, and steal you from the safety of your duvet – appear to be a very popular bedtime threat.  Try as I might, I can’t find a compendium containing this story anywhere online, but I’m sure I had a copy somewhere. I was convinced they really existed for a very long time…

  5. The Enchanted April (Elizabeth von Armin)
  6. A month in the Italian Riviera in the 1920s. Not a lot happens, but this book really made me want to experience that not a lot, particularly when I am need of a holiday, like now…

  7. Harry Potter (You know who (no, fellow HP fans, not Voldemort))
  8. Okay, so this one, being a series rather than a single book, is cheating slightly. But. Harry. Potter. Need I say more? These are still the books I turn to when I am in need of a spot of comfort reading, and only last night I shouted “Accio phone!” when I couldn’t reach my mobile (it didn’t work).

  9. Any of the Baby-Sitters Club “scary” ones (Ann M. Martin)
  10. I spent many a rainy day in the school holidays curled up on my bed with one of these in my hands. I remember so vividly how it felt to be deliciously frightened with a storm caterwauling outside my window. This is probably the reason I feel an urge to retreat to my “reading room” with a ghost story and a glass of wine whenever the rain starts up…

  11. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Edward Albee)
  12. Perhaps another cheat option, being a play. I studied this in drama at school and have never forgotten the scathingly witty dialogue and the endless opportunities to dissect the characters’ psychology. Just the other month, I found my school copy on my bookshelf (sorry, drama department).

  13. Room 13 (Robert Swindells)
  14. This is the book that, as a child, I wished I had written. A school trip. A creepy guest house. Vampiric activity. Even (spoiler alert) a cunningly blank chapter 13. What more could a child want?

  15. Dracula (Bram Stoker)
  16. One of the few books on the list to also be one of my all-time favourites. I love the atmosphere, the cast of characters and the mix of straight prose, letters and diary entries.

  17. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
  18. As much as I enjoy Dickens at times, I found this book dull. I read it on holiday in Florida as a teenager, and even now, palm trees and golf courses occasionally bring to mind the seemingly neverending hours I spent trying to get through this massive tome. I think there might be a small part of me on a sunlounger in a parallel universe still trying to work my way through it…

  19. Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli)
  20. Technically a young adult book, but a great lesson nonetheless. Be yourself, even if yourself is weird.

It’s probably no coincidence that the majority of these books were ones I read in my formative years, when my literary tastes were being shaped into what they are today. It’s probably another non-coincidence that I am drawn to writing books with a spooky or psychological undertone given what I grew up reading. And it’s probably no coincidence that I still breathe an inward sigh of relief as the clock on my phone hits 22:01 and I realise I’m safe for another night.