Thursday Thoughts: Does it matter what I read?

I am sure you have realised that I absolutely love reading. And I will happily give almost anything a go (although I am not really a Sci-fi fan). However, I do think sometimes people feel judged by their reading choices and that is really not wha this hobby is about. In fact, if you think you would enjoy a book you should read it.

I really enjoy YA fiction – I am not the target audience, but who cares? All that matters is that it is the chance to read a good story. And, to be honest, it is an opportunity to learn something and see things from other perspectives, and develop empathy for those who may be the target audience.

However, I also dislike some of the snobbery that comes with genres, like the idea of ‘chick lit’ or ‘beach reads’. What is wrong with books with strong female characters? After all, surely ‘Little Women’ is a perfect piece of ‘chick lit’ classed as a classic. And surely a beach read is something that helps you unwind on a holiday, and that is certainly different for all of us.

So, do not worry about the books you want to read – if it makes you happy and helps you unwind, then pick it up and enjoy the escapism.

The Courage to Care by Christie Watson

Wow – this book could be one of my books of the year. I could not put this brilliant book down. Tandem Collective gifted me a copy of ‘The Courage to Care’ and it really is a book everyone should read, especially in the current situation.

Watson shares incredible anecdotes about what it is to be a nurse and have the courage to care. We all know that nursing is not a simple job, but this really highlights all the different roles and positions, not only within the NHS and hospitals, but for patients and their families a nurse takes on. I read this book, sometimes crying, realising that all of those people who take on a caring role are very special.

However, this book also has Christie Watson reflecting on her own experiences of adopting a little boy. There was a whole lot of courage in making the decision that she and her partner can care for a little boy who needs a new start in life.

And, as Covid-19 struck, so many NHS staff were left on the front line not only supporting their usual patients, but offering to help so many more.

This book does tackle some really difficult subjects surronding physical health, mental health and difficult experiences that may be a trigger for some. It is all handled sensitively, but it may mean some readers would rather approach the book with caution.

Yet, for me this is a beautiful book that can teach us so much about those who got to work every day to care for others. And it will have you reflecting on your life, priorities and the courage you have to care – especially when it can really make a difference.

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

I was very kindlu gifted a copy of Katherine Rundell’s new book by Tandem Collective UK. This was one that I was very keen to read, as I think Rundell writes fantastic adventure stories for children. And, an early bold statement, I think this is my favourite so far.

‘The Good Thieves’ whisks you to twenties New York, an era that has always fascinated me. Vita wants to set things right as her Grandfather has been cheated out of his beloved home by a local ‘gangster’. Vita fearlessly gathers together a group of talented friends to help her carry out her incredible plan.

This is quite an edge-of-your-seat adventure as Vita and her new friends attempt to take on Sorrotore and his men. There are twists and turns that will keep you turning the page and wishing you could join them for the adventure. It is also a book that proves you should never let things put you off aiming for your dreams.

For me, this was just a beautifully crafted story full of adventure, hope and love. So, if you or someone you know loves a classic adventure story, then this is the book to pick up. Especially as the illustrations are wonderful too – really taking you on an armchair adventure.

Thursday Thoughts: Who is your Favourite Detective?

I do not claim to have read all novels starring every single famous literary detective – however, I do enjoy a good piece of crime fiction!

Before I start, I have previously done a piece about Poirot versus Miss Marple. For me, Poirot won and he would again in that debate. Yet, would my opinion be swayed if I was to throw other characters into the mix?

Well, he would be ever so slightly pipped to the post of my favourite detective. You see, for me, it is the tales from the pen of Sur Arthur Conan Doyle that can be read over and over again. The greatest detective is Sherlock Holmes, with his companion Dr John Watson. There are tales I never get bored of. I can read them, watch them, listen to them, repeatedly, without ever getting bored. I know the solution, but I still love following the adventures. I have never really been able to put my finger on one specific reason why these stories are my absolute favourite – it is not down to one thing. Conan Doyle’s writing and characterisation just bring me back, time and time again to the books. And I do believe that they are responsible for my love of crime novels.

Because, let’s be honest, if I had read the tales of the great Sherlock Holmes, I would not have read so many of the other famous literary detectives. As mentioned, I love the cosy crime of Christie’s two main famous creations, but I also enjoy the investigations of Rebus, Morse, Scarpetta, Pirie (newly discovered) and there are so many more for me to discover.

So, I am interested in your thoughts – who is your favourite detective?

The Heatwave by Kate Riordan

This month’s ‘Tasting Notes Book Club‘ pick was ‘The Heatwave’. This was not what I was expecting, and was a prime example of not judging a book by its cover.

By looking at this book, I thought it was going to be a ‘summer read’. Something easy and gentle to enjoy as the summer draws to an end. However, this book is so much more. This is a sophisticated and stylish thriller – you will be hooked as soon as you start, because the mysterious atmosphere is generated almost immediately.

Set during a heatwave in France, Sylvie returns to a family house in the south. She is keen to sell the house and, with it, hopefully leave painful memories in the past. The question is – what exactly did happen to Elodie? What is the past that Sylvie is trying to forget?

Told between the past and the story’s present, there is an excellent slow pace to the tale that builds suspense and mystery. In fact, you feel as though you are in the south of France enjoying the slower pace of life in the summer. Although, it feels there is always an element of threat hanging over the tale in its present and its past.

I think this is a book that I could have easily overlooked if I had not been part of the ‘Tasting Notes Book Club’ – so, that is another reason why book clubs are such a fantastic idea. If you are looking for an atmospheric thriller as summer fades, this is the book for you!

Circe by Madeline Miller

So, as encouraged by my buddy read of ‘Song of Achilles’, I took ‘Circe’ off the to-be-read pile. It was well overdue that I entered Circe’s world.

To begin with, this book did not grab me as immediately as ‘The Song of Achilles’. However, I think that this is simply because of my knowledge of Circe and her tale was a little weak. As the book progressed, I did get sucked into the world and the story. It was fascinating how her story became entwined with the stories of so many other key Greek mythological figures.

Circe, considered a witch, is banished by her family – rejected by those who should love her Circe builds her own life on her isolated island and possibly becomes an even greater character than if she had stayed with her family.

This is quite a slow-paced book, but beautifully written. It is also quite an eye opener as to the treatment of women in Ancient Greece. Circe certainly breaks the mould as she manages to create her own destiny and stands up to many of those who tackle her.

Just like ‘The Song of Achilles’, this book has made me want to find out even more about the great figures of Greek myth. Although, sometimes I have to admit I am unsure why some of these men (mainly) were regarded as heroes when they were really quite questionable chracters.

Still Life by Val McDermid

This was my first novel by Val McDermid (other than her retelling of ‘Northanger Abbey’) and I am very thankful to have been gifted a copy to read and discuss.

Immediately, I was sucked in, because I absolutely love a good crime novel. The book was atmospheric from the start, and I needed to know what was going to happen next and where this whole tale was going.

McDermid also creates excellent characters. I was a big fan of DCI Pirie. Do no get me wrong, she has character flaws as all good fictional detectives do. But she is someone that you can imagine sitting down with to have a G&T and a chat. McDermid’s villains in this tale are fabulous, too, as you could easily believe that they could commit the crimes of the story.

Yet, the thing I really like about this book is so simple – the title. There is so much meaning about the phrase ‘Still Life’. Not only could it point to the theme of art and a styl, but it points to the ideas of life ending – and the idea that life returns and continues. There is, in fact, so much of the book in that two-word title.

Val McDermid’s writing is charming and creates a real page-turner. I am really keen to read more of her work. Especially to find out more Karen Pirie’s earlier life.

Thursday Thoughts: Should I take part in buddy reads?

Book clubs always seem like such a fabulous idea. However, I have never quite made it to one. Terrible excuses like ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I am shy’ or ‘I don’t think I can talk about books in a sophisticated way’.

However, the beautiful bookstagram community has given a great solution to this – ‘Buddy Reads’! I have mentioned these a few times in posts, as they have got me involved in reading all sorts of books. A buddy read is a relaxed way to read books along with friends. There is no pressure, no set questions and no judgement. A few buddies simply read the same book at the same time, but at their own pace. And, as they go they share their thoughts and ideas in a group chat.

I have really enjoyed all the ones that I have taken part in with my fantastic bookstagram buddies. It has helped clear my tbr pile a little, but has also has me reading books that I may never have picked up without the little support groups. It also builds friendships with brilliant bookworms.

A buddy read removes all those excuses you may have for being part of a real book club. So, if you have always meant to pick up that book, put a little shout out and you will find bookworms more than happy to read along with you.

Thursday Thoughts: How do you make time to read?

So many of my friends look at my bookshelves and say:

‘Wow, have you read all of those?’

‘You have a lot of books.’

‘Nobody can say I have too many books again.’

Or, fairly reguarly:

‘How do you have time to read?’

This is a question that I have been thinking a lot about recently. Especially as a lockdown highlight for me has been all the books I have managed to read and enjoy. As a sense of my ‘normal’ is starting to return in September, I am trying to decide if I can keep this up. And the answer is, yes I can but possibly not in quite the same way or pace.

I have always read – all the time – since I was a child. The two places or time I always read are on any trian journey and before bed. So, as I return to my commute by train, I have made the decision to ensure I read both ways, As, at the end of the day, it can be easy to let social media take over rather than returning to my book for relaxation. That will make time for reading.

I will also – and this is a promise to myself – ensure I read every night. Even those nights I am very sleepy, I will for my own wellbeing, carve out times to read some pages, as this always improves my quality of sleep.

Just these two little things give me time to read, and I am grateful. Also, my new little reading space should be complete by mid-September, which I am sure means I will snatch some more reading moments.

However, I do always think it is not the amount you read or the pace you read at, but ensuring you enjoy reading. Life is not a competition and reading is there to be enjoyed, not to compete over.

So, allow yourself some reading time – and make sure you enjoy it!

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

August was a mont for the fabulous Victorian Sensation Book Club. This is always a highlight of the buddy reads as we enjoy some of the classics together. This month, the ‘unfinished’ novel of choice came from the pen of Charles Dickens – ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.

This is quite a strange novel to read, as at the back of your mind all the time is the fact that Dickens never finished it. However, this story has all the elements of a Dickens tale – creatively named characters, excellent atmospheric setting and beautiful writing. However, for me, this was an interesting but slightly difficult novel to read. For quite a long time, and possibly until the end, it is not entirely clear where the story is going. It was obviously supposed to be a longer book. Yet, there was a great sense of mystery surronding many of the characters. Mr Jasper, choir master, was brilliantly complex and, even with what Dickens left us, we still do not really know if he is good, bad or completely misunderstood.

You can really feel that this is a sensation novel. You can recognise that there was a mentor and student relationship between Wilkie Collins and Dickens. However, I really wish that this had been completed because, for me, it is a confused book that doesn’t quite find its way.

Although, I am now going to read and research all the ideas that different scholars and literary critics have about how this may have endedm and see if it connects with any of my own ideas.