24 November, 2015

World Book Night 2016

It has become something of a tradition on this blog to let you know when the books have been announced for the next World Book Night. Well, they have!

Each year, on the 23rd April (Shakespeare's birthday), people around the UK volunteer to give out books to people who - through opportunity or finance - don't regularly read books. I'd love to do it myself but I've never thought of a place where I would make a difference by handing out books, so I've left it to others... so far at least!

The books to be given out for World Book Night 2016 were announced today. In 2013 I'd only read four off the list, in 2015 it was just two. In this current list, I am ashamed to say I have not read any! How many of these have you read? Would you recommend any?

  • Perfect Daughter - Amanda Prowse
  • The Rotters' Club - Jonathan Coe
  • Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo
  • Too Good to be True - Ann Cleeves
  • Treachery - SJ Parris
  • Last Bus to Coffeeville - J Paul Henderson
  • A Baby at the Beach Cafe - Lucy Diamond
  • I Can't Begin to Tell You - Elizabeth Buchan
  • Someone Else's Skin  - Sarah Hilary
  • Whispering Shadows - Jan-Philipp Sendker
  • Love Poems - Carol Ann Duffy
  • Reasons to Stay Alive - Matt Haig
  • Am I Normal Yet - Holly Bourne
  • Band of Brothers - Stephen E Ambrose
  • Now You See Me - Sharon Bolton

You can see descriptions of the book on the WBN website, here. I am most drawn to The Rotters' Club and Last Bus to Coffeeville, although in my current mental state of mum-of-two-boys-under-two the ones described as easy-reading women's fiction hold a lot of appeal to. Which do you like the sound of?

18 October, 2015

The Best Book I've Ever Read

Photo from Wikipedia.
The other day I saw a quotation from The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Straight away I thought to myself, That was the best book I ever read. This startled me. Had you asked me what the best book I've ever read was, I would've told you that it was impossible to choose. And yet my subconcious appears to have made a decision to nominate the 1989 Booker Prize Winner on its own.

If we had discussed this topic without my subconcious getting involved, I probably would've mentioned lots of books which I admire greatly. There would've been the well-deserved classics (A Tale of Two Cities, Emma, 1984, The Grapes of Wrath), the modern sensations (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Room, One Day, Gone Girl) and the books that have caught my imagination at various ages (The Secret Garden, The Stand, The Eyre Affair). I might even mention books by authors like Agatha Christie, who is most emphatically NOT the best author I've ever read, but who I adore anyway. None of them, however, would be THE best book I've ever read. I'm not even sure what that means. What do you think?

Do you have one book you consider the best book you've ever read? What would make you give a book that accolade? Here are some suggestions of criteria, please add your own!

  • a book that changed your outlook on life
  • a book that made you actively do something
  • a book that made you cry
  • a book you remember vividly years after reading it
  • a book you re-read time and again
  • a book that you share with all your friends

The Remains of the Day doesn't fit any of these criteria for me - except perhaps remembering it well, although it's only a couple of years since I read it. I was just blown away by the simplicity, the tragic beauty of the story. Have you read it?

This whole train of thought reminded me of a series I did on the blog once, where guest authors wrote about a book that meant something special to them. Among the authors mentioned were Enid Blyton, CS Lewis and Geore RR Martin. I'd love to do some more blog posts in this series, so please let me know if you'd be willing to contribute. The title would be 'The Book...' and you can finish it any way you like ('... I couldn't put down' / '... I'll pass on to my children' / '... that got me through tough times' etc.) You can check out this one by Roanna Price as an example.

In the meantime, I'd love to know what you think the best book you've ever read is!

07 October, 2015

BBC National Short Story Award - The Result

Yesterday, the results were announced for the 10th BBC National Short Story Award. The five shortlisted stories were broadcast on the radio a couple of weeks ago and I wrote micro-reviews of them all. My conclusion was that there was a good reason they were all on the shortlist of such a prestigious award! I didn't like them all equally, but I did think they were all beautifully-written.

The runner-up, and the winner of the Student Choice Award, voted for by 16-18 year-olds across the UK, was Bunny by Mark Haddon.

The overall winner with a beautifully emotional and simply-told tale of a clairvoyant asked to help a family whose daughter is missing, was Jonathan Buckley's Briar Road.

My favourite stories were probably the ones that made me laugh as well as think - Broderie Anglaise by Frances Leviston and Do It Now, Jump the Table by Jeremy Page, and I was perhaps most impressed with the writing of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel. So that shows how much I know!

Which was your favourite story?

28 September, 2015

Do It Now, Jump the Table by Jeremy Page - Review

This year I am listening to and writing micro-reviews for the five shortlisted entries in the BBC National Short Story Award. Why not listen along with me?

The final shortlisted story is Do It Now, Jump the Table by Jeremy Page, where a young man meets his girlfriend's parents for the first time and is determined not to be taken aback by their alternative lifestyle.

I think this was probably my favourite story of the whole list. It was a simple story - not a thriller or a plot full of twists - but it was sharp and funny, and somehow a little sad at points too. The premise was that blend of an ordinary situation with a spin on it that made it quirky but not bizarre. I wasn't on the edge of my seat, but I wanted to find out where it was going. My only criticism of the entire thing was that I felt the last couple of lines were unnecessary. The point being made had already been made much more subtly - I didn't need it spelled out for me and I would've preferred to be left to fill in the final thought for myself, rather than being spoon-fed. Apart from that though, I thought it was great.

I've been trying to think how to rank the five stories in order of how good they are in my opinion, but I find it is impossible. At this level of competition, all the writers are so good, I am in awe of all of them and couldn't say who was the best writer. I was instantly impressed with the quality of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel, but would I say it was better than say, Broderie Anglaise by Frances Leviston? Perhaps. I'm not sure. All I can say is that I am surprised at just how much I enjoyed all the stories. In previous years there have been at least a couple which have left me completely cold - sometimes including the winner - whereas this year I was interested from start to finish with all of them.

If I had to choose, then Do It Now, Jump the Table would be my choice of winner - purely on how much I enjoyed it. Perhaps followed by Broderie Anglaise. But any of them would be worthy winners. Maybe it's not a coincidence that those two were the ones that made me laugh? Anyway, I'd be glad to know what you made of the stories - have you got a favourite?

The winner will be announced on BBC Radio Four at 7:15pm on Tuesday 6th October.

25 September, 2015

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel - Review

This year I am listening to and writing micro-reviews for the five shortlisted entries in the BBC National Short Story Award. Why not listen along with me?

The fourth shortlisted story is The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel. The story takes place in a flat overlooking a hospital where Mrs. Thatcher is due to emerge from minor surgery. The main character lets in a "plumber" only to find he is really a sniper. You can listen here.

There was something perverse in me that wanted to dislike this story. Hilary Mantel has won the Booker Prize twice for her lengthy novels. It seems unfair that she should be such a good short story writer as well. As this particular story had already become famous, the judges knew who had written it before reading. Surely then, they had only shortlisted it because of the name attached? No. Hilary Mantel's talent shone through.

The thing that struck me straight away was the detail. The scenes are drawn so carefully, with tiny details that give the story colour without slowing the pace. There is a strange, almost flippant, tone to the narration, but somehow that seems to work too. I loved that such a dramatic situation was told without drama - drawing me in by weaing the story around me, rather than setting off fireworks in my face.

As with Broderie Anglaise, this story has the kind of ending that occurs a few scenes before you're expecting it. With both stories, some of the events the narrative appears to be leading towards haven't happened by the time the music stops, as it were. However, I think in the case of The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, it works really well. I didn't feel cheated of the main event. I'm not convinced I'm smart enough to get all the nuances and subtleties of what was being said, but as a story it worked for me and I appreciated the quality of the writing - slick without being fancy. It wasn't the most entertaining of the stories so far, but I think it's the best-written one. One more to go!