Author · books · literature · review · signing

An afternoon with Markus Zusak

The Book Thief has remained my favourite book for the last decade since then I’ve lost count of how many books I’ve read, but nothing has been able to kick The Book Thief off its top spot.

 But there’s a new possibility on the horizon. For the first time in 10 years, Markus Zusak has a new book. And not only has he got a new book, but he’s currently on a book tour to promote it.

 When I was in Australia last year, I was gutted to discover I’d missed a talk by Markus in Sydney by one week. Then when his book tour was announced, his London talk was sold out before I could buy a ticket. Luckily my aunt’s bookshop was able to entice him north, so I took a long weekend visit to The Lake District with the added bonus of a Markus Zusak talk and signing.

 I promise I wasn’t trying to stalk him.

 Friendly and charming, Markus Zusak is undeniably a storyteller. He recounted a story he later informed us he’d told close to a 1000 times. It was about his family, his brothers and a raw egg. But it wasn’t just his storytelling, it was his ability to deconstruct a story, adding and taking away literary techniques as the tale demanded. He stopped at different points, he told us what was coming up, and yet the tale always took a slightly unexpected turn.

 His question and answer session, proved furthermore his talents; the details of The Book Thief that tie everything together, his trial of finding the right voice for a story and of course, his honesty about getting things wrong and trying again. He kindly discussed literary and writing techniques, the requirement of a good notebook and the desire to work hard.

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The New Bookshop in Cockermouth was the perfect host for this event, with plenty of opportunities to ask questions or simply have a chat with Markus.

Written in his unmistakable quirky style, Bridge of Clay is a tale of love, family, survival and a bridge.

 Review of Bridge of Clay coming soon.

book review · books · literature · review

Elenor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Of course, Elenor Oliphant is not completely fine.

Honeyman’s debut novel demonstrates the behaviour of just-about coping. An existence of life certainly, but Elenor isn’t living. Instead, she simply goes through the motions. Flat, check. Work in an office 9-5, check. Down 2 litres of vodka every weekend, check.

One thing we cannot escape is just how lonely Elenor is, she leaves work on Friday and doesn’t speak to a single soul until Monday morning. She’s not just living alone, she expects to stay alone. She doesn’t understand the social interactions, she finds small talk pointless and she most certainly, doesn’t get involved in office politics; but that doesn’t mean she can’t be sociable.

All it takes is for an unexpected friendly encounter, a twist in Elenor’s otherwise predictable routine to change not only her perception of life but her way of living. We follow Elenor along this path and her journey towards friendship. She may be a character with troubles and torments, but she’s also warm and surprisingly funny.

With a few twists along the way, this book gripped me from start to finish. I flew through it in under a week, and pondered over the characters for even longer.

book review · books · literature · review

How To Stop Time

Occasionally you can stumble upon a book that stops you in your tracks, a novel that makes you think. Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time did just that.

Haig elegantly mixes history and fiction, allowing our protagonist, Tom, to struggle with the wisdom 400 years on earth has tormented him with. It breaks down the human traits we recognise, and weaves them throughout history.

Tom Hazard was born in the late 16th century, yet he’s still alive in 21st century London. His many lifetimes span generations, from playing with Shakespeare and The King’s Men to life in 1920’s Paris. He joins Captain Cook on The Endeavour but it is the search for his daughter that truly keeps him alive.

There are large periods of Tom’s life where he is surviving. He is disjointed from the world, living his life in the shadows; neither connected to a person or a place. It’s a hard way to live and a lonely life too. But that can change with one person, a single piece of hope to carry you through the hard days. At the end of the day it’s our relationships with others that makes life worth living. Our shared experiences and in turn our shared history. A connection, a memory and a desire to live.

Beautifully written, this is book everyone should read.

book review · books · diary · non-fiction · review

Morning

Whenever I’m in doubt of what to read next, when the bookshop is overflowing with inspiration; I turn to the nearest bookseller and ask for their recommendation. Not only are booksellers a very friendly bunch, but they’re also big readers and often have a book in mind you’d never find nestled on the shelves.

I recently popped into Salts Mill (my all time favourite bookshop) and did just that. I was recommended a non-fiction book that would be hard to categorise; it’s a diary, a book of advice and wellbeing, and a little nod to nature too. With that description, I never would have picked it off the shelf. But it’s a small book, that’s beautifully simple.

Allan Jenkins uses Morning as a confirmation of what he already knows. A secret he shares with his readers. It’s effective and calming. It’s also very simple – to wake up earlier. Listen to the birds, watch the sunrise and enjoy the quiet calm before the day really begins.

It’s elegantly put together, a diary of Allen’s pre-dawn thoughts interwoven with interviews of others who wake before the sun. It’s very effective too. Although I’m yet to wake early enough to welcome a July sunrise, I am getting out of bed earlier. And more than that – I’m using that time wisely. For now this might be a little change in my routine, but I really hope it’s one that lasts.

autobiography · book review · books · non-fiction · review

This is Going to Hurt

I don’t often find myself straying from my bookshelf full of fiction, However, as soon as I’d heard of Adam Kay’s diary as a junior doctor, I was intrigued. Kay introduces an honest, raw, retelling of life on the inside the NHS: the long shifts, the lack of staff and funding but mostly the emotional toll this all takes. Despite the dedication of NHS staff across the country — the NHS is failing them.

Told with a side of dry humour Kay’s diaries are simultaneously heartwarming and devastating. It’s a glimpse into a world we rarely see. It’s not just the lack of social life, but the overtired doctors on the ward; what should be an exception is becoming the norm.

This is the shake up the NHS desperately needs, a chance for the outside world to see just how much the NHS is trying, and yet the services it provides continue to be overstretched. There are times when Kay points out more efficient methods of care, ways the NHS should be spending its money, but these decisions aren’t made by doctors, they’re made by people who rarely step foot into a hospital ward — no wonder they’re out of touch.

This book is a chance to appreciate the NHS and the hardworking staff, a chance to laugh out loud and on the next page have tears in your eyes. A chance to try and chance things for the future.

book review · books · literature · reading · review

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead’s tale is one of persistence and bravery. The Underground Railroad follows Cora, a slave from Georgia born into a life of suffering and the desire to escape to freedom.

As introductions go, Cora comes from a line of strong women, her grandmother Ajarry, stolen from her West African village, ferociously protective of her three-foot patch of earth, and her mother Mable, the only slave who has successfully escaped the plantation. When Cora is asked to escape with Caesar, part good luck charm, part companionship – the tale begins with the first trip on the underground railroad.

The journey continues to be one of suffering, small glimpses of hope and a chance of freedom — but the life of a slave can never truly be free. Hunted out by the renowned slave catcher Ridgeway, Cora may at times be physically free, but her time as a slave will forever haunt her. Aided by non-believers of the enslavement regime, the underground railroad becomes a symbol of hope, of kindness and most importantly the opportunity of freedom -— it’s a long ride to take.

An incredible tale of desire and truth, of raising the coloured question when the coloured question was at its most dangerous. It shows the strength of slaves and abolitionists alike, in a quest for freedom that can still be felt today.

book review · books · fiction · literature · review · Shakespeare

Hag-Seed

Margret Atwood introduces her Shakespearean spin-off in this clever tale; beautifully captivating the strength and hope of human life.

We begin with the Felix putting on The Tempest at a Canadian theatre festival, but things quickly don’t go to plan. While he is ousted by a colleague he goes off the grid for a quiet life, plotting revenge as he goes. His own daughter, Miranda, echoed as a ghost in his small abode follows him as he begins to work under a pseudonym.

The story opens out into a tale of hope, of humans pushed to the edge as Felix begins a production of the Tempest inside a correctional facility. Inspiring the inmates to put on the show in time for a visit from his previous colleague Tony. A slice of revenge served twelve years later… what could possibly go wrong?

A clever portrayal of human emotions wrapped around one of Shakespeare’s famous plays, it’s certainly one to read.