Book Review: Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were everything. They opened up different worlds and cast new light on this one.

She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library.

In Bookworm, Lucy brings the favourite characters of our collective childhoods back to life and disinters a few forgotten treasures poignantly, wittily using them to tell her own story, that of a born, and unrepentant, bookworm.

What I Thought:

What a lovely book! As one who was most often found with her head in a book, Bookworm is like the membership manual to a club of people like me!

It was an absolute delight to read Lucy’s own memories of the books she read, and see which I also found, but which had passed me by. As I seem to be a similar age to Lucy too, a lot of what she wrote about her childhood years applied so much to me, that it was lovely to reminisce.

From Narnia and Enid Blyton to Geek Girl, so many old and new childhood books get a mention (including my beloved Trebizon series by Anne Digby), and Lucy is completely unashamed in her passion for books. I remember well adults saying ‘ooh, you’ve always got your head in a book’ like it was a bad thing, and I never understood this insistance on being outside at playtime, when a beanbag in the library was MUCH more my style…

Rather handily, there is a reading list for each chapter at the back of the book, so you can see just how many amazing children’s books you have missed in your life, but it’s well worth going back in – although they’ll sadly never be the same as an adult.

This is a very short review, but I’m not sure what else I can say about this book, except read it. If you’re one of us, read it and you’ll have hours of happy memories. If you’re not one of us, read it and you’ll understand us just a little bit more!

Lucy Mangan is a journalist and columnist. She was educated in Catford and Cambridge. She studied English at the latter and then spent two years training as a solicitor, but left as soon as she qualified and went to work much more happily in a bookshop instead. She got a work experience placement at the Guardian in 2003 and hung around until they gave her a job.  Lucy now writes a regular column for the newspaper as well as features and TV reviews there. She has written for most of the major women’s magazines, including Grazia, Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan, and has a weekly column in Stylist magazine. She was named Columnist of the Year at the PPA Awards in 2013.

You can connect with Lucy on Twitter.

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A Blog A Day: My #YALC Top Tips

I am thrilled to be attending YALC again this year and, as I’ve been to this fantastic event several times, I thought I’d put together a few of my top tips to ensire you have a great event.

  1. Luggage

When you arrive at YALC, you might notice many people walking around with wheely cases. These people are not rushing to catch a train at the end of the day, these people have been to YALC before, and have wisely chosen to carry their books in this manner. Tote bags are ACE, but the straps do cut in somewhat when you’re buying many of the lovely books on offer.

2. Post-It Notes

It’s a great idea to mark up all your books in advance for signing with post-it notes with your name on – it saves the publicists a job, if you want your book dedicated by an author, and you can always reuse them the following day (if your note doesn’t get stolen by an author who keeps them all to get ideas for character names).

3. Hydrate

Bring as much water with you as you can stand to carry. Drinks at Olympia cost a fortune, and the taps in the bathrooms are too low to accommodate a normal drinks bottle. Similarly, food costs bomb there, so bring what you need with you.

4. Chill Out!

There is a chill out area at YALC, but the seats fill up quickly, so any perch on the floor is good. There is plenty of floor space to sit, and it’s a good idea to sit when you can, in signing queues, for example, and the panels give you a great place to sit, plus an interesting talk to listen to!

5. Timetabling

The YALC programme is positively rammed with signings, talks and workshops. You might have loads of stuff you’d like to go to, but you probably won’t be able to do it all. Make a wishlist of things you MUST go to (V. E. Schwab signing for me, to name one), and then a secondary list of things that would be great, but not essential.

6. Look Around

There are some great books and swag items to buy and grab at YALC, so make sure you take a look at the publisher stalls. They also very often have competitions and special events, so loads of chances to have fun!

7. Book Swap

There is usually a book swap at YALC – take along a book, and find yourself a new one! I usually take one or two books along to swap, and keep checking back until there is something there that I fancy, and sometimes you find a real gem.

8. Keep An Eye Out…

The green room for LFCC is (usually) up on the YALC floor, so every so often an uber-celeb might stroll through. Try and stay calm. Last year everyone saw Jason Momoa. I saw Steven Seagal – go figure!

9. Enjoy!

As a book person, you will never be more among your people than you are at YALC – enjoy the experience of getting to know some great bookish people, bloggers, authors, publicists and take time to process it all. You will have YALC hangover when you go back to real life, but take solace in the fact you’ve had an amazing few days and have loads of new books to read!

Me and my Booksy Ladies at YALC 2018
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Blog Tour: Summer at the Kindness Cafe by Victoria Walters

Welcome to Brew, a cafe where kindness is almost as important as coffee… almost!

Abbie has fled London and the humiliation of not being able to make rent after being made redundant. Her sister, Louise, unlucky in love, has thrown herself into her career at the local hospital. And Eszter, who has travelled from Hungary with her daughter Zoe, is hoping to fulfil her husband’s dying wish: to reunite his family.

This summer, three very different women are inspired by the random acts of kindness written up on the Kindness Board at Brew, and decide to make a pact to be kinder to others and to themselves.

Can a little bit of kindness really change your life? Eszter, Abbie and Louise are about to find out!

What I Thought:

I am very much into romance at the moment. The more I see in the news about the current state of the world, the more I find myself turning to the certainty of happy endings! That is by no means a spoiler of Victoria Walters’ excellent Summer at the Kindness Cafe as, without it, it would NOT be romantic fiction, and it’s the getting to the happy ending that is the important part.

Set in the fictional town of Littlewood, in the height of a warm and balmy summer (can’t help looking out at the rain mournfully as I write this!), three women find themselves touched by kindness through one small cafe.

Abbie’s arrival from London is a last resort, as she has been made redundant, can’t afford to live in the city anymore and is running from a broken heart. Her sister Louise offers her a place to stay while she also quietly nurses her devastation from a relationship break down.

As she loudly arrives at Brew, a cafe at the heart of Littlewood she also meets recently widowed Eszther and her daughter Zoe, who have come to Littlewood to heal a family rift.

Brew sounds like a lovely little place, and it’s fundamental to the town and its residents. The big feature of it is the Kindness Board, where people can write thank you messages for acts of kindness and or reunite with lost items. Louise’s story is kicked off by the Kindness Board and it features a lot throughout the book. It’s a really lovely idea and, although it could seem twee anywhere else, it fits in beautifully with the feel of the book here.

Of course there is romance, with a Lord and a vet looming large, but will the course of Louise and Abbie’s lives run smoothly when ex-boyfriends, job offers and fear of rejection rear their heads? I think you could probably guess but, as I said, getting there is the fun part, and this book really IS fun.

You can really feel the heat of a summer’s day coming off the page, and the various descriptions of Littlewood and the countryside around it bring the place to life. The featured Huntley Manor is also vividly described and you can almost imagine yourself there at times.

I don’t want to give away any more details, but suffice to say that this is a very enjoyable summer romance, and it’s definitely recommended for your summer reading lists!

Summer at the Kindness Cafe is published by Simon & Schuster.

To find out more about Victoria Walters and her books, you can check out her website. Otherwise, why not connect with her on Twitter?

This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the publication of Summer at the Kindness Cafe. Why not take a look at some of the blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content?

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Book Review: Fish Soup by Margarita Garcia Robayo tr Charlotte Coombe

From internationally acclaimed author Margarita García Robayo comes Fish Soup, a unique collection comprising two novellas plus the book of short stories Worse Things (winner of the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize).

Set on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, Waiting for a Hurricane follows a girl obsessed with escaping both her life and her country. Emotionally detached from her family, and disillusioned with what the future holds if she remains, she takes ever more drastic steps in order to achieve her goal, seemingly oblivious to the damage she is causing both to herself and to those around her.

The tales of Worse Things provide snapshots of lives in turmoil, frayed relationships, dreams of escape, family taboos, and rejection both of and by society. Skilfully painting just enough detail, García Robayo explores these themes and invites the reader to unravel the true significance of the events depicted.

The previously unpublished Sexual Education examines the attempts of a student to tally the strict doctrine of abstinence taught at her school with the very different moral norms that prevail in her social circles. Semi-autobiographical, the frank depiction of these opposing pressures makes it impossible to remain a dispassionate observer.

Throughout the collection, García Robayo’s signature style blends cynicism and beauty with an undercurrent of dark humour. The prose is at once blunt and poetic as she delves into the lives of her characters, who simultaneously evoke sympathy and revulsion, challenging the reader’s loyalties as they immerse themselves in the unparalleled universe that is Fish Soup.

What I Thought:

Charco Press is a really exciting new UK publisher, specialising in translations of contemporary Latin American literature, and I was interested to read Fish Soup, their sixth publication.

Margarita Garcia Robayo had not been published in English before this release (translated by Charlotte Coombe), but has several titles in Spanish which, I’m sure, are ripe for translation going forward.

I find translations fascinating – my own disappointing lack of languages mean that there is a whole world of books out there that I have no access to (it’s enough to have me clutching my pearls!) – so translators, and publishers willing to share translated fiction get a gold star from me.

This volume is a bind up of two novellas and a collection of short stories and, in honesty I preferred the novellas if only because their slightly longer format allowed the story to become more complete. This certainly says more about my tastes than the author’s writing ability as this seems to be something I struggle with in short fiction.

The first novella, Waiting for a Hurricane was fascinating, as it depicts a girl desperate to run away from her boring life but who, at the end of it all still finds herself trapped. It is quite a dark story, and completely unsentimental with the main character being interesting but totally unsympathetic.

In the short stories, this theme of escape occurs again, alongside many and varied aspects of the human condition – it proves very firmly that however different the cultures of your own and other countries are, some themes are truly universal.

I would definitely like to read more from Margarita Garcia Robayo and, indeed from Charco Press. A lot of my translated fiction is still based within Europe, so to receive something giving a completely different perspective is refreshing and something I would like to see more of.

Fish Soup is published by Charco Press and you can find out more about the publisher and Margarita Garcia Robayo on their website.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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A Blog A Day: North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Happy Monday one and all! I thought today I would do a bit of a ramble about a book I absolutely adore – North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

I came to North & South through the 2004 TV adaptation of the book starring Richard Armitage and Daniela Denby-Ashe but had not heard of the book before. Having fallen a little bit in love with John Thornton (and based on this adaptation, who wouldn’t?) I went looking for the book too.

Hand on heart, I do often struggle with classics and, while this book might appear to render itself inaccessible due to some of the themes in it, it really is so good!

Central character Margaret Hale is the daughter of a clergyman from the idyllic village of Helstone in the South. A matter of conscience leads the family to relocate to the bustling industrial North, to Milton, a thinly-veiled version of Gaskell’s home city of Manchester. Margaret struggles to find her way among people who have a completely different way of living than the people she is used to, and this is summed up as she offers to ‘bring a basket’ to the home of new acquaintance Bessy Higgins, to be told that Milton people value their independence.

This in itself is an interesting comment on the time (North & South was published in 1854) and perfectly sums up the privilege of the upper classes – Margaret takes it as a given that her efforts at giving charity will be received with thanks, and that she can insinuate herself into the lives of the workers in Milton because she is bringing a care package. Her eyes are opened to the fact that, however poor they may be, the workers in Milton value self-sufficiency rather than charity.

At the heart of the book is the relationship between Margaret Hale and manufacturer John Thornton. In a similar way to Lizzy and Darcy’s first meeting in Pride & Prejudice, Margaret and Thornton dislike each other on first meeting, each misunderstanding the principles of the other; Margaret feels Thornton is uncaring and exploitative, while Thornton sees Margaret as being a haughty, upper class woman. As they become better acquainted with each other throughout the book Margaret appreciates Thornton’s efforts to raise himself and his family from reduced circumstances, while Thornton comes to admire her beauty and intelligence.

Through Margaret’s eyes, too, we see the effects of a strike among the workers of Milton. For a book of its time, showing the realities of worker pitted against master is hugely progressive, especially when looking at the newly-industrial towns of the north. Dickens wrote at length about the effects of poverty in the Victorian era, but Gaskell used the character of John Boucher to great effect to show the real, human cost of industrial action at that time.

This and many other themes of power, control, the church and changing times are touched upon in North & South, but it is not a book that preaches to you. It is telling that both main characters become so open-minded as the book goes on – neither is scared to admit that their initial assessments might have been wrong, and both are willing to grow and learn. Perhaps we could learn a few lessons from them at present??

In summary, I would urge you to try North & South, even if you do not have an especially good relationship with classics. There is a lot that Gaskell’s writing can teach us today, but at the heart of it all is truly gorgeous love story which will appeal to any hopeless romantic…

My current version of North & South is this lovely one from Vintage books, but I am desperately waiting for Penguin to issue it as a Clothbound Classic – from my mouth to their ears eh??

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