My book club’s choice for our last meeting was Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. It was not a book I would have necessarily chosen for myself but several of the other members were raving about it so I was certainly intrigued and looking forward to reading it.
On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames, the regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.
Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.
Is it a miracle?
Is it magic?
And who does the little girl belong to?
I found that I was somewhat ambivalent about this book. I did enjoy it and I think it is well written. I really liked the characters (especially Rita and Mr Daunt) and I was rooting for them to have a happy ending. The mixture of science and folklore was interesting too and I spent some time trying to figure out how fantastical the story was – the author’s note at the end explained a lot!
However, it wasn’t a book which made me really want to pick it up each time. I can’t really articulate why either – as I said, I did enjoy the story. I think I was letting it flow over me instead of being really invested in it.
The other members of my book club loved it though. So much so that I thought we were going to have a very short meeting indeed – we don’t tend to have a lot to say when everybody likes a book! Luckily though we did find tthings to talk about and it was a great meeting.
I would still recommend Once Upon a River to others – it is a good book, I just wasn’t in quite the right frame of mind to really love it. That was just me though and shouldn’t be held against the book. The weather, however, was perfect – absolutely pouring rain which really added to the atmosphere of the book!
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a book which has been intriguing me ever since I first saw it. It has sat in the young adult section of the bookshop for months, looking at me and clearly needing me to read it. Eventually the right time came along and I treated myself to a copy.
The case is closed. Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it. Everyone in town knows he did it.
But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the crime, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure. When she chooses the case as the topic for her final project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden. And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth . . . ?
This book was everything I had hoped it would be. I was completely gripped by the story and read it long into the night – well past my bedtime! I just had to know what happened next and I have to confess that the solution did take me by surprise.
I thought the book was very well written and I particularly appreciated the low levels of teenage angst. No longer being a teenager myself, I do often find myself infuriated by the behaviour of teenagers in books. That was most definitely not the case here and I have recommended this book to several ‘proper’ grown-ups who have also loved it.
I have also just heard about the sequel which is due out next year and I cannot wait!
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson
Publisher: Egmont Publishing
Like most of you (I imagine!) I am constantly on the look out for book shops. The lure of a book shop is almost irresistible and I love to find new ones to explore.
Some of my favourite finds though have been the mini book exchanges and charity book shops which seem to have been popping up in more and more places recently. Not only are they unexpected, they are often very beautiful as well.
How lovely is this?!
I have seen several in old phone boxes too which I love. The only trouble is that unless I know when I leave the house that I will find one I very rarely have a book with me which I can swap – only the one I am actually reading. Still, that just means another trip to find some books and that’s not really a hardship!
I quite often find that my reading slows down over the summer. There is just so much to do outside and I have been particularly busy this summer – see my alter ego Gadding About with Galahad if you want to know why!
Not that I haven’t been reading – I have made a reasonable dent in the TBR shelves I showed you in July (ten books read) as well as several extra ones I snuck in. It is just that I wasn’t reading as much as I would have liked.
However, the onset of autumn always makes me want to read. It’s partly all the back to school stuff in the shops and partly the long dark evenings when a blanket and a book by the fire seem like the most wonderful idea. Either way, I’m hoping to read a great many more books over the next few months!
As I mentioned in my last post, last week was the Appledore Book Festival. Not only was I at the book fair, I was also working at the festival itself which meant that I got to spend an entire week by the sea talking to people about books. It was wonderful.
Added to that, I also got to meet many authors which is always fun. It was particularly lovely to meet Tim Waterstone – who was one of only a very small handful of authors to come across and introduce himself to me. I was utterly charmed and of course I bought his book.
Another highlight was the event for Hazel Prior and her book Ellie and the Harp Maker. It was held in a little café and as well as talking about harps and writing she read some passages from the book interspersed with harp music. It was a delightful event – not least because she got the entire audience singing a song about how books are cool.
Books, books, books
Books are cool!
I also ate a lot of cake. This was peanut butter and jelly cake and it was amazing!
I had a wonderful week. It was hard work – almost twice as many hours as normal – and I am now exhausted but Appledore is always one of my favourite weeks of the year and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
On Sunday I had a stand at a book fair as part of the Appledore Book Festival. The day started off with pouring rain and I thought we were in for a very slow day. However, by the time we opened the sun was shining and everything was beautiful.
I ended up having a great day. Obviously selling books is good but more than that I had some wonderful bookish conversations which meant that I would have enjoyed myself if I hadn’t sold anything.
I had such a lovely day. Yes it was hard work but it was so good to have the opportunity to talk about books with so many people who love them.
I read Anna James’ first Pages & Co book – Tilly and the Bookwanderers – as soon as I could get my hands on a copy last year and since then I have been waiting impatiently for book two. I was therefore very excited when Harper Collins sent me a review copy of Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales last week.
Tilly Pages is a bookwanderer; she can travel inside books, and even talk to the characters she meets there. But Tilly’s powers are put to the test when fairytales start leaking book magic and causing havoc . . .
On a wintery visit to Paris, Tilly and her best friend Oskar bravely bookwander into the land of fairytales to find that characters are getting lost, stories are all mixed-up, and mysterious plot holes are opening without warning. Can Tilly work out who, or what, is behind the chaos so everyone gets their happily-ever-after?
The parcel happened to arrive just as I was about to start a new book. I put that aside and immediately started this one instead.
It’s been a year or so since I read the first book so it took me a little time to remind myself of the more detailed aspacts of the plot. I was also a little hazy to start with on the actual mechanics of bookwandering and I did wonder if I should have re-read book one first. However, I soon settled back into the story and I loved it.
Bookwandering – the ability to read yourself into a book – is obviously a reader’s dream. Added to that, this series is such a cosy read and it is the perfect companion for curling up in front of the fire with a mug of hot chocolate. I so much enjoyed this book and now I cannot wait for book three. Which is a shame as I don’t have much choice!
I also have to share how lovely the cover is under the jacket. I had what I thought was the perfect bookmark too!
Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books
We broke our journey home from Scotland at Berwick-Upon-Tweed. It is one of those places through which we have passed many times on the train and we thought it was about time we actually had a look around.
We stayed at the King’s Arms which for me was primarily notable for the fact that Charles Dickens had stayed there and had even given a reading in the ballroom. I was delighted by the Dickens coffee lounge but sadly disapppointed to find that it was not open when we wanted it. That didn’t stop me having a quick read though!
We spent pretty much the entire day walking around the old town walls which were so interesting. I love exploring historical sites and there is so much history there. I was just a bit sad that we could not get to more of the castle.
The museum at the barracks was also very good. I particularly liked the rooms set aside for the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regimental Museum. I found it incredibly moving and actually ended up feeling rather overwhelmed – which wasn’t helped by the fact that I am scared of mannequins. It was a fantastic museum though and I would highly recommend a visit.
I had a great time discovering the history of Berwick and I could easily have spent more time there. We did however manage to squeeze in a short boat trip which rounded the day off nicely.
What a difference a couple of days make! Two days after the Midsummer Night’s Dream performance I was back outside to see Heartbreak Production’s Private Lives.
We were in another beautiful location but this time we had steady, heavy rain for almost the entire show. It only really stopped right at the very end – the complete opposite of the last performance. We were very British though and hunkered down in our waterproofs to enjoy the show. I also copied the lady in front and kept my umbrella over my knees which worked brilliantly.
I had never seen Private Lives before and I didn’t really know the plot either. Except that a some point somebody would be wearing pyjamas!
I loved the play. We get so few opportunities to see real, proper plays that I leap at every chance I get and I revel in the intellectual experience. It was quite intellectual too – Private Lives is not very plot driven but is all about the conversation so you really have to listen. It was excellent.
The only things which jarred somewhat were the extra little scenes involving the hotel staff which the company had added in. I didn’t really understand what they were trying to achieve and I would rather have just had the play.
However, I still very much enjoyed myself and, as I said, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to see the play. The rain didn’t damp our spirits and, although it put us off eating much, our picnic became a lovely after theatre supper when we got home!
Last night I went to an outdoor theatre production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Immersion Theatre. I love the atmosphere of open air theatre so I was looking forward to it but was also very concerned that it would have to be moved indoors. It had rained for most of the morning and although it brightened up in the afternoon it was raining again when I left work. Luckily it had stopped by the time I got to the venue and they had decided to go ahead outside. They had set up inside as well though – just in case!
Outdoor theatre is not complete without a picnic!
We arrived nice and early which meant that we had excellent seats right at the front. The cast roamed through the audience chatting with us before the play started which was a lovely way to make us feel involved. Of course, me being me, I was worried about being called on for audience participation but it wasn’t a problem and I could relax and enjoy the show.
I was right in the middle of the action – this was the sleeping Hermia at the end of the interval.
Enjoy it I did too. It was an hilarious production and I haven’t laughed so much for quite some time. The actors in small travelling companies never cease to amaze me with their ability to play several parts at once – and be convincingly different characters. There were several impressively quick changes too!
By far the most dramatic moment though had nothing to do with the acting. Thisbe was in the middle of her death scene when, with absolutely no warning, the heavens opened and the rain just poured down. It was so loud! The poor actors were immediately drenched and we weren’t much better but dramatically speaking the timing just couldn’t have been better.
Sadly it wasn’t really possible to continue so we missed out on Puck’s epilogue but it was actually quite fitting to end with Theseus’ words, ‘No epilogue, I pray you; your play needs no excuse.’
This was us by the end – soaking wet but still reluctant to leave!
After that there was nothing to be done but go home, dry off and read the ending for myself.
I had the most fantastic evening. The play is almost at the end of its tour now but if Immersion Theatre are playing near you I would highly recommend going to see them. I will certainly be doing so if they are in this area again.