A new blogging adventure

come and see me at ponder pieces!

come and see me at ponder pieces!

My words have packed up their little word suitcases and are moving!

For a while now I have wanted to expand on the topics I cover on my blog, but having named this blog Hannah READS Stuff I felt I had locked myself pretty firmly into what I could post about.

I LOVE writing about books, but I have always felt lost after watching a particularly good film, ingesting an amazing TV series, or gorging myself silly on some new cereal bar or other – I didn’t feel I had a place to rattle on about them properly and my love (or bemusement) for them floated away unrecorded.

Writing about film or TV in a blog that was set up and named to cater for books felt wrong and dirty.

My initial aim for Hannah Reads Stuff has also got a bit lost – I had initially set it up in order to read all the unread books I had cluttering up my shelves – but I very quickly slipped into writing about the new books I couldn’t stop buying and the review copies I was lucky enough to receive. This didn’t sit well with me and always made me feel like I was failing my little blog in some way.

Also, there are just too many blogs out there with similar names to mine and I needed to think of something that wasn’t all “stuff” and “things”.

So I welcome you all to join me over at Ponderous Pieces where I shall be digesting all my cultural meals and the day-to-day adventure-snacks life throws at me.  I will be reviewing most of the books, films, TV, art shows, music and other fancy trappings I ingest. There will also be room for more nonsensical light bites as well as more grumble-inducing stodge.

I am not going to close Hannah Reads Stuff as such, I have yet to decide if I’ll continue to post my book reviews here as well, but for the time being I’ll be over at PP making a meal out of things.

I hope you come and visit!

How To Stay Sane – Philippa Perry

how to stay saneSo yeah, in my last reading challenge post I said my next review would be for a book written by a female under the age of 30.

Well, that isn’t going to happen.

I had a sulk and I’m not doing it.

I picked up a couple of titles, turned them over a bit, chewed on them for a day or two, then shoved them into the charity shop bag with a scowl and possibly a go-away finger.

I was grumpy, I’d just had another birthday, one that cemented my status once and for all as an “Over-30 Something”. And what that “Something” definitely was not was “young, vibrant, voice-of-her-youth writer”.

That wonderful potential that radiates from those glorious “Under 30s” would never be mine, and in that moment I’d have rather pulled out my eyelashes than sat for a moment in its sickly glow.  Yes, I could well go on to achieve a multitude of things, but none of them would be drenched with the seemingly sweeter plaudits that come with being still in your twenties (or hell upon hell, younger).

My angst at my own situation made sitting through the efforts of young achievers feel like starving a monster just to lay down in front of its bulking, hungry mass and have it slowly gnaw and burp its way through me.

What didn’t help either was that everything I picked up didn’t seem to be any good anyway – I would go off on an internal spiraling rant about how even the most mediocre writing seemed to have been swamped with praise and  prizes.

But at least they’d written SOMETHING.

So as I sat next to that charity bag, stuffing in yet another “masterwork” from some past whippersnapper, I felt doomed to be an underachiver for LIFE. A sufferer of terminal inactivity.

So, in short, I was being an arse to myself

What I needed to read was something to give me a boost, not something that was going to stir up my insecurities. Having stupidly parted with my copy of The Antidote I was in need of another straightforward, plain speaking, mind soothing read.

Perry - does great hair and excellent glasses

Perry – does great hair and excellent glasses

Having enjoyed her down to earth advice column in Red magazine, and just digging her face in general, I downloaded a copy of Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane (part of The School of Life series).

This book is a wee treat for a frazzled mind! Perry focusses on our daily stresses and anxiety and uses easy to follow exercises to help the reader look inwards and have a rummage about. These self-observation techniques help bring your focus away from the Urgh and eases them bit by bit towards the more Ahhh things in life.

I love Perry’s writing style – it’s very clean and clear and free from “psych-speak”, this book is totally accessible for anyone who feels like those negative thoughts are starting to pile on in. And like any good friend giving advice, she lets you know that things have the capacity to get better, but offers no illusions about the amount of work you have to put in in order to make changes. The exercises at the back are thought-provoking and stimulating and though I found each one a challenge (they are meant to be) I was glad to complete them and felt a little lighter each time I tried them.

Perry has given me the tools to face ugly thoughts, analysis them and try to steer them into another place. What is even more encouraging is that Perry provides examples of what she concluded about herself during the same exercises. I really liked this touch – it shows she believes in them and makes you feel less alone and weird (“phew….she has envious thoughts too!”). Of course, no book can take the place of counselling or psychotherapy if that is what you need, but this little book offers a quick read and enough insight and suggestion to at least keep the cogs turning positively for a bit longer if that’s all you are looking to do.

But the best thing this book taught me? You can have all the youth and talent you want, but is that better than a bunch of wisdom and experience? I’m not so sure. I for one came away from this book happier, lighter and with a better handle on the things that feed that monster.

Thanks Philippa!

Being Bipolar Channel 4 March 4th at 10pm

Being Bipolar Channel 4 March 4th at 10pm

Oh! If this has caught your fancy, Perry has a documentary on channel 4 tonight at 10pm examining bi-polar, almost certainly worth a watch.

I’m going to tick that off as A Nonfiction Book on the PopSugar BUT WITH ALL WOMEN reading list….3 down….


I literally never thought the day would come when Lee released another book! But according to today that very thing will be happening this year!


At the moment I am totally excited, I’m sure as the news swells around the internet pessimism and worry will float into the mix, but as for now I’m just going to flap about and dance for a bit.

Not much else to report other than it will be called ‘Go Set a Watchman’.

I’m off to set my watch, man, for summer this year.


The Young Visiters – Daisy Ashford

Yup. I crochet what I read now.

Yup. I crochet what I read now.

And so onto my A Book in A Day challenge. For this I chose a book that has been sat on various shelves rather impatiently for a while now. Its one of those loaned books that, if I didn’t live with the owner, would be making me feel a bit prickly with shame at how long its presence has continued in my possession.

But, I have read it now and peace can be restored.

For those unfamiliar with this title I shall give you a little background. Daisy Ashford wrote this book at 9 years of age. Now, on the surface you could shrug a bit and go “well yes, impressive, but a lot of kiddywinks write little books at that age” and on the surface, a small 80 page odd story isn’t beyond the capacity of most children of around 10. However, at 9 I was writing about a gang of ducks called The Quackers who didn’t much like school but did like Santa, I wasn’t dissecting the early to late 90s society in which I found myself.

But this is exactly what Ashford does do; She has clearly cast her eye over the various society visitors to her family home and, knowingly or not, poured a massive bucket of scorn over them.

The story follows the relationships between Mr Salteena (“an elderly man of 42”) his ward Ethel and the budding affection she has for country gent Bernard Clark. It is your classic love triangle with added social climbing, basically what I think Jane Austen novels are in miniature.

Now, its hard to know if Ashford was a comical genius, knowingly decorating delicious and hilarious set pieces, or if her style of writing and choice of topics just happen to be translated by adults as satire and wisdom. But that’s really beside the point because this book IS hilarious and it IS satirical and it IS full of a whimsical wisdom (just like the Quackers Ducks series turned out to be full of existential crisis) and whether Ashford was reaching her tiny wee arm over her shoulder to give herself a pat on the back for each pithily observed interaction doesn’t matter. Because what it is is great.

This is a book about adults written by a child who was clearly jotting down what the world around her was dictating. Brilliantly all her spelling mistakes and grammatical hiccups have been left in (as I so often do here) and they only add to the charm of what is essentially a child describing, in that blunt way children do, what some adults got up to one time. And if you have ever asked a child “so what does mummy/daddy do all day?” you know the answer to this most mundane question can be hysterical and a little too close to the bone than said adult would like to admit.

But this is so much more than “kids say the funniest things” – its warm and rounded, touching and honest. I smiled from page one right through until the end (which, I might add, the conclusion of which I wouldn’t predict) and, 9 years old or not, as an author you can’t say fairer than that.

So that’s me with two ticks on the PopSugar But With ALL Female Writers List. Up next – A book written by someone under 30.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt


Book. Bird. Cushion. Bird.

Right, I’m going to get this out the way right now. A disclaimer if you will, a confession early on that hopefully leads to an understanding (*stares hard at Theo Decker* – am I right fellow readers? nudge nudge).

I didn’t read all this book with my eyes, I used my ears for quite a chunk of it.

I’d like to state my case for indulging in audiobook activity: I was reading this alongside CatrionaRoseann and BooksellerEmma, both of whom were streaking ahead of me. I didn’t want them hanging about at the finish line waiting for me, so in an attempt to catch up, I swapped the usual podcasts I listen to at work for this. I only did it twice M’Lord…..then those few times I did the washing up….and that time I put it on in bed….and once when I was in the bath.


So with this is mind, can I officially tick this off my reading challenge list as the book with more than 500 pages?

I know for a lot of people this is downright cheating and for them I can never, hand on heart, say I have READ this book. However, others have told me it totally counts so long as the audiobook was unabridged (which mine was). So, arguments in the comments please, I’m genuinely interested in this.

Anyway, with that out the way, let’s get to it.

The Blurb:

Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

I read The Secret History last year and was so dumbstruck by it that I wasn’t able to string enough sentences together to make a post. I found it brilliant and bewildering and was dazed for a week. Now, I may not be able to say exactly that about The Goldfinch, but it’s not far off.

I don’t really know where to begin with the themes; Tartt touches on nearly everything that has the potential to bruise and heal the human soul – from art to loss to unrequited love, to friendship and hope and courage and pain, from what makes people rich and poor to what makes them give up or get going, what obsesses them, inspires them and crushes them.

In Theo Decker we have a narrator who has to deal with the world and his wife conspiring against him (you think you’ve had a bad day?) and Tartt ensures we feel every colour of the spectrum for him.  For me he was the perfect narrator –  flawed, fleshy and a challenge. One minute you feel bereft for him, in fact you spend most of the first part of the book feeling your bones filling up with sorrow for the boy. Then he becomes a teenager and you begin to find him a little bit of a shit and you struggle to remember why you felt for him in the first place. Then, faced with the questions: “well how would you have reacted to all this crap? What would you have done? the world has been brutal to you, but  look at these beautiful things, make your soul hurt don’t they, enough to snap you into action? Would you fight for art if art is all you have?” I can’t wholeheartedly say that in his shoes I would have behaved any better than he did during some of this book, nor that I would develop any potential for redemption. I thought he was a brilliant character and I shall miss rooting for him inspite of myself.

What did irk me about this book is how long it is (I know I know! I listened to some of it!!). But even this has me in a quandary – it felt like hours would go by without anything having happened, but when I stroppily put the book down (pressed pause) to make a cup of tea muttering “come on Tartt, get ON with it”, I’d be standing at the kettle and through the steam would dawn this realisation “Hey! I seem to know more about the deepest recesses of the human soul than I did before! Fancy that!”

And that’s the thing, this book is crammed to the gunnels. Its like one of those massive paintings that you have to stand way back from in the gallery in order to take it all in. But step in closer and you get a turn of phrase here that stops you in your tracks, up in this corner is something that will make you think about life afresh, down here is a titbit about the importance of art, here’s how you relate to your family, that bit is what you take for granted, this is the bit where they didn’t love you back. It just goes on. I could write and write and write about it all, but that wouldn’t be appropriate for a lighthearted blog arena and you should just read the book instead.

The last pages are so awe inspiringly beautiful they will stay with me for a long time, along with the image of that resilient bird chained to the wall alone and lost. If he can keep singing, we all can.

So yeah, I liked it.

As I listened to some of it I feel I should do a mini review of the audiobook: All good, though sometimes David Pittu’s accents became a little to pantomime and over the top – all his women sounded like bad drag queens – though it’s probably very unfair to criticize a man for not being able to do an array of believable, nuanced and pitch perfect female voices.

Next challenge – A book you can finish in a day

Book Info:

  • ISBN: 9781408704950
  • Little, Brown 2013
  • Borrowed a copy got audiobook from Audible.com

2015 – When I got angered by a reading list so read it. Also, crochet.

*taps internet*


hmmm…been a while again hasn’t it? Life huh? It has no place getting in the way of books and blogging, but alas, it does anyway.

But hey! I’m here now (and hopefully you are too…) so lets see if I can still do this blogging thing now that the time is 2015.

At the start of the year people give up butter and at lunchtime choose crisps made out of beetroot over their usual tub of candyfloss. I have decided to dust the blog off and finally get to grips with crocheting.

photo(2)Yesterday I managed to make this granny square. I know, just nibble at it, that thing is tasty and fulfilling (if you too want to learn after many frustrating years of people telling you “its easier than knitting” only to find out it makes NO sense at all and having your BF come home to find you covered in knotted wool and blood, hook wedged in hand, crying “but they said it was EASIER!!!” you really must visit HappyBerry Crochet – she is amazing and I love her). So, with that luscious artefact complete it was time to give the blog a quick bash before January is out of the year for good.

Along with home-crafting aims, as January 1 rolled round, my, mainly book orientated twitter feed, began unfurling numerous book challenges people were setting themselves. I don’t usually go in for book lists (why? well I talk about the reasons here) and am happy to just set myself a GoodReads target (read 70 books this year) and be on my way.

popsugar listHowever, my friend BooksellerEmma posted a list from PopSugar that made me puke a little bit and after puking made me angry and when I’d calmed down made me want to do something constructive.

Look at the ninth challenge…

popsugar listcropWhat in all the merry universe is that?!

It made me punch the internet so hard it froze for 3/4 of a second.

So, according to PopSugar the assumption is that most people on an ordinary day, going about their business, will mainly be reading stuff by men – that female authors are such an oddity, or that reading something by one would be so whack-o unusual, that doing so is worthy of being deemed a challenge? What buckwheat nonsense is happening here?! I have scanned and rescanned that list and nowhere does it say “A book by a male author” so why the female highlighting?

I should say here that once I pointed this out to BooksellerEmma she was as incredulous as I was, she only hadn’t noticed it first time around as she was blinded by challenge sweat.

I didn’t know much about PopSugar, but judging by a very quick browse of the site it seems to be pretty much aimed at young women. So why have such a stupid thing listed as a “challenge”?

So, to show PopSugar that reading stuff by women is super easy and pretty brilliant, BooksellerEmma, CatrionaRoseann and I are going to complete this list reading only female authors. When it comes to challenge number 9 I’m just going to read whatever I want, be that by a man or a woman.

And this list will basically cover my blog posts for this year. I am going to try to crochet in to the challenge (oh yes) as many books already sitting on my shelf as possible in the vain hope of steering this blog back to its original purpose, but will also cover as many new and preview titles as I can as well.

So, just to let you know, I am currently reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which will have the very first challenge ticked by a good 200 pages or so! We’ll discuss the fact, and any possible challenge implications, that I have listened to a good quarter of it on audiobook in my next post….

It feels dirty to do this at this late stage but, Happy New Year!

A Meal in Winter – Hubert Mingarelli (Sam Taylor translator)

meal winterThe Blurb:

One morning, in the dead of winter, three German soldiers are dispatched into the frozen Polish countryside. They have been charged by their commanders to track down and bring back for execution ‘one of them’ – a Jew.

This is a quick, utterly gripping read and an almost perfect example of how saying very little can sometimes say everything.

Three German soldiers, soul-weary from participating in Nazi shooting gangs, get themselves elected one morning to go into the winter-locked woods instead. This for them is as close to a day off as they will get and they are determined to enjoy it as much as they can. However, in return they must hunt out Jews for imprisonment. It may be a day off from hollow-eyed execution, and so long as they find at least one (they rarely refer to their prey expressly) they can prove themselves worthy of another day away. But the one Jew they do find will have them questioning every action they have ever made and wondering if they would have been better off staying at camp.

As a reader, right from the beginning you are questioning what you would do in this position. Which route would you chose? The anonymity of one unthinkable job you can shoulder with other men? Or the more palpable task of having to look your (fewer) victims in the eyes, but with the knowledge your hands, for now, stay clean of blood.

This is the basic premise of Mingarelli’s small but succinct story – humans desperately struggling to find meaning in their own hideous actions – any sense of appeasement is clung to as the men try to weigh up different evils to see which one may lay lighter on their hearts. That they are having to make this decision at all will have your jaw tight with the same anxiety and helplessness.

Most of the story (I keep wanting to write play as I think it would work brilliantly on stage) takes place in a small abandoned building, where the men take refuge from the weather with the one Jewish captive they have managed to find. Hungry and cold, they set about trying to find things to burn in order to eat the small amount of food they have with them. What follows is one of the most striking examinations of humanity I have ever read. As almost everything in the place gets smashed into splinters, the minds of the men too become fractured, split and tortured.

A stranger – a Polish anti-Semite and his dog – joins them, adding to the almost silent tension of the room. More questions are asked, should he be thrown out? What level of hate do we have for him and how much compassion can we show in relation? Is the enemy of our enemy our friend no matter how distasteful we find him? And should we therefore tolerate his behaviour towards the Jew as our own intentions for him are so horrific? Do we all need to agree on a course of action or are we so far removed from consensus and accountability now that we can act independently without retribution?

The Jewish captive is held in a side room and is rarely physically in a scene, but his presence pervades everything. As a meal cooks painfully slowly over the fire our narrator is tormented by him and especially by the embroidered snowflake on the Jewish man’s hat. This one snowflake is a symbol of the humanity, dignity and love that the Nazis so desperately tried to erase from so many people.  But no matter how much the narrator tries to ignore it, faced with the fierce hatred of the Polish man and his own weakening resolve, he knows that this simply stitched snowflake may just save the man’s life – if, that is, someone dares add the question of his future to the growing list for debate.

Taylor’s simple translation holds you in the narrator’s mind throughout – these men aren’t poets and can only view their extraordinary situation in very basic terms. There are few whimsically drawn phrases here, you don’t need to be an academic to wander around this man’s conscience; You can instead very easily, and perhaps rather frighteningly, relate to this regular person trying his best to navigate a blistering array of emotions over a very short period of time. Mingarelli and Taylor do this masterfully and anyone who has read The Reader by Bernhard Schlink will find their own emotions manipulated in a similar way.

A striking story, simply told, that will have you struggling with your picture of history and, had the cards been dealt differently, questioning what role you would have played in this scene.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 9781846275364
  • Portobello Books, 2014
  • Recommended read, gifted a copy

Playing to The Gallery – Grayson Perry

playing to“Helping contemporary art in its struggle to be understood.”

Like with my previous review of Us I feel I should prologue this review with some major bias.

I love Grayson Perry. I too was raised in Chelmsford and it took an awfully long time for someone of relevent youth to emerge from its grey shopping centres, someone for me to point at and go “HIM! HE IS ALSO FROM CHELMSFORD….Chelmsford….its in Essex…well it’s actually the county town….No, lots of people think its Colchester, but its actually Chelmsford…well yes, but Chelmsford has a cathedral… actually its a city now! Crikey, a city………The V Festival? No? Well anyway, HE, that magnificent person is also from Chelmsford so it must be doing something right.”

Only other people who come from bland, grey-buildinged towns where nothing ever happens apart from one more wine bar opening can understand how almighty it feels to have someone SO set apart from the place to call upon as a fellow alumni. I’m not embarrassed by my hometown, it was where I grew up, where I met people I love and will hold on to forever, and it was a bolthole during some miserable times in London that saw me running for trains I could barely afford just to get home. My spirit may sometimes groan about the place, but I have felt monumental relief pulling into Chelmsford station.

playing to 2

But if I stay there too long, like any long-left-behind hometown, I’m reminded of its blight, its blandness, its apparent lack of a cultural identity (well one that can’t be scrapped from the high street on a Monday morning anyway). It feels small and small-minded, so close to London, but so far removed from the energy and the mix. White face upon white face bob along the strangely beige bricked high street. The people live for shopping, the theatre is kept away out of sight (and possibly harms way) and the museum is so far removed from the centre of town you become a wornout relic of yourself just trying to walk there before lunch.

That someone as spectacularly vivid as Perry could somehow have lived there, amongst the multi-storeys and the Argos fills me delight and, finally, a little pride. That he got out of the place through pottery and transvestism of all things will continue to astonish me. (Though I do find much much mirth in the fact that Chelmsford museum houses one of his pots alongside some “plain white examples of crockery from Tesco” – Chelmsford – the sublime and the ridiculous).

So, platitudes over and on to the book.

playing to 1

If you listened to Perry’s brilliant Reith Lectures last year (if not, you can listen here), then this is the perfect accompaniment. In fact it was great to sit down and revisit his very fresh and involving take on art and his theories about how tweaking the way you look at things can suddenly open up a whole world of accessibility. In fact, you could easily read it in a day and I suggest you do just that – get yourself to your local gallery (if you are lucky enough to have one), take this in your pocket and intersperse your visit with chapters and passages. I guarantee, if you are a novice art Looker-Ater than this book will make your visit (and all subsequent ones, because you will fall in love with art after this, or at the very least fancy it a lot and want to be around it whenever you can) a whole lot less daunting – hey! It may even make you feel ok about laughing at stuff or perhaps not “getting” or liking everything you see.

I don’t think it would be possible for Perry to write a book about art that wasn’t full of colour and humour (his illustrations are a hoot) that also managed to hold onto a level of gravitas and intelligence. Ok, it may not be for the seasoned gallery visitor but for budding and buzzing fans like me it was a perfect little holding of the hand.

And hopefully it will finally lead to some recognition from his (AND MY!!!) hometown, I suggest a full-colour, 11-foot statue in the high street outside McDonald’s, where all the cool kids used to sit, snog and drink before they took the seats away, dressed as opulently as you would expect from Chelmsford’s very first transvestite potter and cutting through the grey like a prism.

Us – David Nicholls

photo(1)The Blurb:

Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home. He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together. So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again. The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed. What could possibly go wrong?

Its difficult to write about Us without mentioning One Day. I challenged myself to write this blog post without bringing it up, but here we are. Not even the first sentence over and it happened. So instead of trying to dance around it I’ll get it over with:

I loved One Day. I loved everything about it – the story, the characters (even when they were are their shittiest) the settings, the tone, Nicholls’ effortless writing. All those gut punches. I mostly loved that it was a complete surprise. I hadn’t read any Nicholls before, I don’t really know why, he seems to write about stuff that interests me, but I always overlooked him. In fact, before I picked Us up, One Day remained the only Nicholls I’d partaken in (I’m not counting watching Starter For Ten), I was still healing from Emma and Dexter and didn’t want other stories to crowd them out.

But when a proof of Us (resplendently designed I must say) made its way into our house I made time for it as soon as I could. It was nudgingly implied Us could almost be a reacquaintance with Emma and Dexter, in different skin with different fates, but it was so much more than that and you should leave those initial star-crossed friends in Edinburgh where you found them and enjoy Us as something else.

For me, the Petersen’s were a whole new kettle of fish. A couple with over 20 years behind them, Connie and Douglas seem to have made it a long way with considerable odds stacked against them. When they meet at a dinner hosted by Douglas’ sister Connie is an arty, popular party girl on the cusp of, perhaps, giving both things up. Douglas is a rather stuffy, ordered Scientist, currently obsessed with his fruit fly study and who may as well have come from another planet. They seem to find something in the other that promised a balance and over time set up home together.

But when Connie’s paint brushes seem to have been put aside for good and when tragedy comes to shroud them both, it is Douglas’ simple, structured way of living that seems to takeover. Possibly jaded by years of Douglas “sucking the joy out of everything” and a renewed energy for creativity that she sees blossoming in her son, Connie decides it is time to part ways.

We find them planning a European holiday, a trip Connie views as a final, happy farewell to the family unit and a way to introduce her son to the world’s greatest artists. Douglas hopes the trip will help bond and build bridges, one last roll of the dice. Of course, only one can get the outcome they want, and with their son along for the ride, the possibility for collateral damage is threatened from the minute they leave London.

Their relationship unfolds through flashbacks that intersperse the trip, and it is here, in the minutiae of love, friendship, heartache and missed communication that Nicholls’ excels. He draws you in so keenly, over dining tables and across beds that you wish wholeheartedly that you were able to somehow pick up your phone and fire off urgent texts:

He didn’t mean it that way!

Why would you say that to her?! Any idiot can see that was entirely WRONG!

I challenge you not to feel helpless as these two, ultimately decent, people flail and fail in front of you.

But perhaps the most painful relationship is that between Douglas and his 17 year old son Albie. Albie is Connie’s son through and through – a Starbucks hipster taking moody shots of the backs of people’s heads, your archetypal teen, trying to find himself in the forms of others. Douglas, whose own teenage experiences were narrow and apparently, happily so, (“The most illicit act of my teenage years was to sometimes watch ITV“) struggles to understand his son and as a result bumbles spectacularly through their relationship. Some of their interactions are so skin-tighteningly awkward you can feel yourself turning inside out.

You will feel for both men in this situation, constantly knocking into one another, missing the implications of their actions and words. But it is Albie who I felt for the most. Yeah he’s a bit of a pretentious wind-bag, but then he’s allowed to be, he’s the child. He has time to be a brat, to still be embarrassed and let down by his parents. His father’s constant, if well-meant, putdowns are causing more damage than either of them seem to realise and as a reader you watch and wait, wincing against the give that is unrelentingly impending.

I loved this book, perhaps a notch less than One Day, but I’d probably still be in a coma if it had possibly been better. This novel takes you through so many emotions and you become almost instantly invested in the future of these three people. It is superbly touching and often very funny and as an art lover I couldn’t get enough of the descriptions of some of the grand masters that had me desperate to partake on a similar (but less emotionally harrowing) trip.

Just get it, its great.

Book info:us

  • ISBN: 9780340896990
  • Published by Hodder & Stoughton, out now
  • Borrowed proof copy

Wild Ink – Richard Smyth

WILD INK Amended 12.05The Blurb:

Albert Chaliapin is dead – or at least, he feels like he ought to be. He lives in a world occupied only by the ghosts of his former life (and his nurse, who can’t even get his name right). Then, one day, his past – in the form of a drunk cartoonist, a suicidal hack and a corrupt City banker – pays a visit, and Chaliapin is resurrected, whether he likes it or not. He doesn’t, much. Someone’s sending him some very strange cartoons. Someone’s setting off bombs all over London. Someone’s been up to no good with some very important people. This is no job for a man wearing pyjamas. Will Chaliapin make it out alive? And is being alive, when it comes down to it, really all it’s cracked up to be?

POW! How good a blurb is that? Its almost irresistible! London, mystery, black comedy, a hint of the literary – I was pals with this book the minute it fell through my letter box. Estelle Morris’ cover design is also awesome. So, well done to the folks at Dead Ink Books for all that!

But mostly well done to Smyth, who has managed to write a readable but pretty literary book. In fact, Dead Ink describe themselves as “publishers of [anti] literature”, and if I have understood that statement, then this book sums it up pretty neatly.

Its wordy, it needs your attention – there’s no “one eye on Bake Off” with this, but don’t let that put you off – its a romp of a read and once you are in cahoots with Smyth’s style you are easily swept along.

Wild Ink is drenched in cigar smoke, creaking leather chairs and whiskey glasses crashing in dark corners of waxy smelling pubs. It’s all the things I dream about when I dream about being a post-war bohemian creative sort.

Smyth’s brilliantly wrought cast of characters will bring to mind figures from the annals of literary history and Smyth clearly knows his written word. Even with an English Lit degree behind me I have to say I struggled to keep up with some of the references (to the point where I almost didn’t know what was and wasn’t conjured up by Smyth) but that didn’t stop my enjoyment (though, perhaps has me needing to brush up on my theory a bit).

This is a delicious, bounding book and perfect for the long nights that are now starting to edge in on us. You will be baffled and bemused from the start and will feel physically pulled around literary London with Smyth’s bunch of, possibly past it, boozy academics. Hilarious in places and a definite head scratcher from page one. I liked it and you probably will too.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 9780957698512
  • Published by Dead Ink Books, out now
  • Sent a copy by author, thank you very much!