The Book Lover’s English Adventure

Books, Life

Earlier this year I took a little holiday back to my English homeland and went on a road trip with a friend. Due to crazy work schedules, jam-packed lives, and my parents springing a family weekend trip on me, our plans prior to the trip got about as far as deciding to hire a car and head to Cornwall. And so began a road trip that ended up being a little literary tour around the South West of England. So, if you’re ever wondering where to go outside of London for some culture ‘n’ that, take a read.

 

STOP ONE:
Who left those stones there?
Ok so this one isn’t literary but it is historical/cultural! Our trip started bright and early one Monday morning, trading the busy London streets for the rolling (rainy) countryside surrounding the A303 as we headed towards England’s south west coast. What neither of us realised was that we were about to drive passed one of England’s oldest landmarks (apparently we’re not very good at map reading). Suddenly my friend pointed out the odd shaped stones in the distance and it took us both a moment to twig it was Stonehenge! So naturally, we stopped and took a wander. Stonehenge

Honestly, from the road these stones don’t look that amazing, but up close and with a bit of historical context added to the mix from the exhibition and audio guide, they’re pretty darn impressive.

 

STOP TWO:
A town twinned with fantasy
Unless you happen to be an avid Discworld fan like my holiday pal and I, you might not have heard of the town of Wincanton. It’s a quaint English market town somewhere in Somerset with a few little cafes and shops. For many, its a pretty insignificant place on the map. However what makes it special to book nerds like me is its rather unusual twinning with a fictional fantasy city. You see, Wincanton is twinned with one of the most notorious cities of the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series – Ankh-Morpork. 

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As TP fans, obviously we made sure to stop here and discovered that not only is Wincanton home to the Discworld Emporium (the only official merchandise store/Discworld pilgrimage site) but it also happens to have a few Discworld street names lurking in one of the housing estates if you look hard enough.

 

STOP THREE:
Misty cream teas on Dartmoor

After a night in Exeter we continued on our journey to Cornwall by driving through the notoriously misty Dartmoor National Park. Situated in south Devon, Dartmoor’s foggy hilltops have inspired many a tale – most famously the escapades of a certain deerstalker-wearing private detective, Mr Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles is set on Dartmoor, and the old Duchy Hotel, where Conan Doyle was a guest and supposedly inspired to write his story, is now the main Dartmoor visitor centre.

Cream teas on Dartmoor

The moor itself, spans an impressive 954km² of grassland, hilltops and diverse landmarks. So, if you’re not caught out by the cold, misty rain like we were, you can go hill walking, ride through the moor on horseback or enjoy a spot of whitewater kayaking before retiring to your hotel to keep writing your novel.

We managed to pick the one day with terrible weather to visit, so we took shelter in the visitor centre before enjoying the most delicious cream tea in a little nearby café.

 

STOP FOUR:
A legendary King on a clifftop
Laying Claim to the LegendAny fan of historical tales of Knights and magical swords will be more than familiar with The Legend of King Arthur. Me? I did an entire module at university about the ancient and modern interpretations of the legend so I’m a bit of an Arthur Nerd. So while planning what to do with our second day in Cornwall we realised our road trip could take us to the ruins of Tintagel Castle – the place that claims to be where it all began, with the conception of this legendary King.

These rugged cliffs don’t just house a castle ruins, they look out over the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean and give some spectacular views. We decided to climb the steep old stone steps to the castle and take a wander. And our reward once we got to the top? Discovering a statue of the legend himself. So of course we posed for a selfie with it!

Meet Dave

The story goes that the people at English Heritage thought it would be cool to have a statue up there so they commissioned it and had it helicoptered in. Rather than being an artist’s impression of King Arthur, it’s actually modelled on one of the gift shop staff, a 6ft tall bloke called Dave. How do we know this? We asked the guy at the ticket booth.

 

STOP FIVE:
Roaming through Regency in Bath

On the final day of our trip we woke up in Bath. Bath is a town known for its hot springs and architecture, but it was also briefly the home of 18th century novelist Jane Austen.

Regency Fan LanguageIt’s widely accepted that Jane’s time in Bath heavily influenced the novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. By this point in our road trip we were aiming for a final literary adventure to complete our set, so, naturally, when we discovered there was a Jane Austen Centre we knew exactly where we were headed! We took a very quick and slightly damp stroll through the city, admiring Georgian houses and the impressive Bath Abbey on our way to 41 Gay Street, the home of the Jane Austen Centre. Once there, we joined a short tour through the house guided by various characters from her novels who told us about Jane, her family, and the society she was a part of. Finally, like all good English literature fans, we took the opportunity to dress up in period costume and pose with Mr Darcy!

Awkwardly posing with Mr Darcy

 

Overflowing with books

REVIEW: This is what I thought of Us by David Nicholls after I finally finished reading it

Books, love, Reviews, romance

As some of you may recall, earlier this year I challenged myself to read four of the unread books on my bookshelf this year. It seemed like a reasonable task, way back in March, however now – as we prepare to enter the 9th month of the year (HOW is that possible?!) – I’m not so sure I’m going to make it. Particularly as I only just got round to finishing Us by David Nicholls. That aside, here’s my review of Us. Enjoy!

Us – David Nicholls

My copy of Us

Battered: Four months of bag life took its toll.

You may find the name David Nicholls familiar – he is after all the author of One Day perhaps one the most beautiful yet totally heart-wrenching romance novels I’ve ever read. (It was turned into a pretty decent movie too, although unfortunately featuring a painfully bad northern accent from Anne Hathaway.) I LOVED One Day so I picked up Us hoping to love and laugh and cry as I had with Nicholls’ previous novel. And I did – in a way – but for me, Us was not the book I hoped it would be.

The novel is narrated by Douglas Petersen, a man in his early- to mid-fifties, married to a flamboyant, artistic woman called Connie, with whom he has a teenage son by the name of Albie. Douglas is in the throes of preparing for a Europe-wide summer holiday with his family – they decided on it months ago – when Connie turns round in bed and tells him she thinks she wants a divorce. We are then taken on a journey, narrated by Douglas, covering Douglas’ last ditch attempt to win back his wife on their European tour and interspersed with memories of how he and Connie came to meet, fall in love, get married and navigate life’s challenges together.

One of the things I absolutely loved about this story was that it is written from the point of view of a middle-aged, slightly insecure man – not something that often happens from what I’ve read. Douglas is well aware that in dating and marrying Connie, he has been punching above his weight, but he is happy and frankly besotted with her. He cannot imagine life without her. As we travel through their memories, learning about the trials and challenges they have faced together, it’s hardly surprising that Douglas adores his wife. He never thought he would end up with someone quite like her.

While this narrative style drew me into the story in the first place, it became the device that also made me struggle to complete the novel. I reached a point in their rather haphazard adventure and Douglas’ humour where I was bored of Douglas, bored of his obsession with Connie, bored of his exactness and irritated by his insecurity and his desperation to try to save his marriage. Even though I was amused by his perception of the world around him and his melo-drama, I desperately wanted to slap Douglas ’round the face. That said, I still found myself willing them to win, to remain together in the end, but also waiting for the gut-wrenching plot twist Nicholls often deals out.

But the plot twist never quite came. Not really, or at least, not in the way I expected having been utterly destroyed by One Day. In Us, through Douglas’ eyes, we are told some pretty heart-breaking stories about their past. The affair, the child that was lost, the ways in which they navigated many of the turbulent times that come in any relationship. And for that I am grateful to Nicholls for doing what he does so well, which is painting a realistic version of life full of love and hate and sadness and suffering and happiness and joy.

Nicholls has a skill of taking you through the very truth of everyday human life. His “romance novels” are more “real life novels”. I genuinely adore that about his writing. And because I love that about his writing I wish I could give Us a more glowing review but, honestly, by the last third of the book I found myself only finishing the story because I needed to have closure on what happened to Connie and Douglas and their son. I was too invested into the characters to be able to leave them –  which says a lot about Nicholls’ skills in character development. I needed to know how things turned out – rather like we needed closure in Lost even though, if we were honest, we’d lost interest long before the end.

So yeah, Us, it was ok, but it wasn’t the novel I was hoping it would be.

books

Books and books everywhere; but not a word was read

Books, Life, Reviews

This is probably not the post I should be writing. Nor is it the post I planned to write next. It is, however, the one that is currently forcing words out of my head, through my fingers and on to the screen, so let’s see where it goes.

I LOVE BOOKS!

61TWsgq-XlL._AC_UL320_SR230,320_Ok, that’s probably not a surprise. Especially if you know me well. I have been having a love affair with books since I was a small child. And it has been a long and great affair. So great, my parents used to use the threat of not being allowed to read before bed as a disciplinary tactic. One of my earliest memories of school is sitting on the Reading Carpet reading Stories for 8 Year Olds when I was barely six. It didn’t have many pictures but I didn’t need them. My imagination was in overdrive as I read about Ancient Greeks fighting over golden fleeces, Arabian thieves in a hot bit of bother, and Arthurian legends battling a green knight. I quite enjoyed that book and all its many stories.

My love of books has continued into my adult life – despite taking a battering during my university years when I’m not sure I ever managed to finish even one of my reading lists! I love books. LOVE THEM. I love the way they make me feel, the way they invite me to explore the worlds within them. I spend hours perusing bookstores looking for gems I might like to read. And inevitably, I buy them. And buy them. And buy them.

I HAVE A CONFESSION

I don’t read these books as fast as I buy them. So they arrive in my house, they sit on my bookshelves, or in piles on the floor or in my Kindle library, and they wait. They wait and they wait. Their pages wait for my eyes, hoping I might pick them up and see what’s inside.

As I ate my breakfast this morning, sat in front of my bookshelves, I realised just how many of the books hanging out on those shelves I’ve half read or never even opened. I counted nine. NINE. Nine books I haven’t explored. That’s not including the ones that I know I’ve started and forgotten about or the ones lying quietly on my Kindle. Yet I still go and buy more. Just last week I was eyeing up three new ones in a local bookstore. I think maybe I have a problem.

It was that revelation that inspired this post. Not that I may have a problem with buying books, but that I have so many I haven’t read. Granted at least half of the nine books I haven’t read on my bookshelf were gifts, but still, most of those were gifts I asked for!

With these many never-opened tomes in mind, I decided I’m  going to set myself a new reading challenge. Now, every year for the last six or seven, I have set myself a reading goal using GoodReads Reading Challenge function. I never quite make it, but I do at least read something. Since 2012, my goal has been 20 books. This year I dropped it down to 15 in the hope I might actually manage to reach 2017’s goal! So as part of those 15 books, I’m going to attempt to read at least four of these never-opened paperbacks (they are nearly all paperbacks) sitting on my shelf. What’s more, I’m going to list them (all nine) here and give each one I do manage to read a little review.

THE UNREAD NINE

US – David Nicholls

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Soul Music – Terry Pratchett

The Light Fantastic – Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd’s Crown –  Terry Pratchett (the last Terry Pratchett Discworld novel, which I have put off reading because I don’t want the stories to end. I have a silly idea that involves reading all the Discworld novels in order to then finish with this one, so it probably will remain unread for a while)

Prisoners of Hope – Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R King

Ok, dear readers, help me, which one should I read next? (I will start it after I’ve finished the book I’m currently reading – Perfect by Rachel Joyce in case you were wondering). Also, if you want to join with me on reading any of the books that have been gathering dust on your shelves, or even fancy picking up one of these – feel free!

Lastly, before I sign off, it might amuse you to know that as I finished this post I received an email with the subject line Amazon.co.uk recommends “After You Left”…, which is basically an email full of recommended books and may as well have had the subject line AMAZON SAYS BUY MORE BOOKS!

Somewhere Only We Know – Review

Books, Erin lawless, love, Reviews, romance, summer

Somewhere Only We Know – Review

There’s a saying that true friends leave a mark on your heart and stay with you forever. I believe the same can be said of great characters and a good book. With this latest offering, Lawless’ presents a unique twist to the conventional romance novel, and enables her protagonists, Alex and Nadia, to leave an indelible mark.

From the moment Nadia’s and Alex’s lives collide, I was captured by them and couldn’t put the book down. By the end, I felt I was a part of this group of friends and their London. (I want to go with Nadia and Alex to a night at Bodeans!)

Although the central story is about boy meets girl, there’s so much more to Somewhere Only We Know. Once again, Lawless has written a believable love story that isn’t just about the two central characters falling for each other; it is also about their friends and the challenges they have – because when you fall in love, everyone else’s drama is still going down. It is this, that, for me, makes her latest book so relatable and enjoyable.

I loved being part of the emotion and adventure – discovering London through the eyes of Alex and Nadia, and ticking off points on Nadia’s Bucket List; all the while experiencing the same moments of trepidation and anxiousness for Nadia’s impending deportation appeal. Lawless did an expert job of letting her characters get on with life and love, leaving you to forget the problems of the future until something bought it crashing back into the fore.

With summer fast approaching, this is a great holiday read to pop on your Kindle or e-reader and enjoy by the poolside. Go get it today!

Rating: 5/5

You can order it on Amazon  now!

Review:The Last Train Home and other stories by Erin Lawless

Books, Erin lawless, Reviews
The art of the short story is one that, when mastered, produces artfully compact, tantalisingly brief episodes with characters and settings. It is a dreamlike – or nightmarish – encounter with characters that have, at one point or another, chosen to etch themselves in the minds of their creators. To create one good short story  – let alone several (The Last Train Home contains 16 beautifully formed pockets of life) – requires an ability to form characters in a mere sentence and an enthralling storyline in less than half a paragraph. Short stories are essentially dreams captured on paper.
Thankfully this is a skill Erin Lawless possesses. In The Last Train Home and Other Stories, she somehow manages to capture her audience’s imagination within an instant over and over again.
While many of the stories featured in The Last Train Home seem to follow a similar formula involving a two person interaction, Erin Lawless has succeeded in making the reader feel as though they have just consumed several different bitesized tales. Perfect for a quick delve into fiction on the commute home.
And while each story is self-contained, there’s certainly room for some of these snippets to evolve into novellas, serving as prologues or key chapters in a longer creation.

The Last Train Home is a collection of short stories, self-published by author Erin Lawless. It is available as a Kindle ebook from Amazon at a snip for just £1.84