20706317What’s it all about?

So Harry August is one of a relatively small group of people who live their lives, die, and are born again in exactly the same place and time, to live more or less the same life all over again. Unlike other forms of reincarnation individuals like Harry remember the details of all of their previous incarnations. While waiting to die at the end of his eleventh life he is visited by a young girl who tells him that the end of the world is coming, faster than expected, and that he is the only person who can do something about it. Cue lives twelve to fifteen.

Why did I want to read it?

I think I must have seen a review or two about The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August because I remember downloading it, but unfortunately can’t remember where I heard about it. I know it was a Richard and Judy book thingy choice but I’m pretty sure I found that out afterwards. I decided to read it now because I was due to attend a book event for the launch of Claire North’s new novel, Touch.

What did I think of it?

Quite simply I couldn’t put this down and have been recommending it all over the place since I finished it in the middle of the night last weekend. Harry is a complex character and not entirely likeable I think, though of course you become very attached to him as you live his various lives with him. Seeing how he makes use of his knowledge of the future (only partly to make money on which to live), how he connects with others like himself, the friendships he makes and how he deals with the problem with which he has been presented is just fascinating.

It’s beautifully written, more complex than the structure might suggest, and has a very satisfying conclusion. I don’t want to say too much more about the story than I already have because seeing how it all works out in his various lives is one of the great joys. I will say that to me it shares similar themes with Life After Life, All You Need is Kill and parts of The Bone Clocks, but only tangentially, and is very much it’s own book.

Claire North is really delightful in person, and I had the chance to ask her about the writing of the book and how she kept track of Harry’s lives and in particular what age he was at any particular time; I was thinking wall chart but delighted to find a spreadsheet was deployed. But all of that sits in the background and Harry’s journey is very immediate no matter which of his lives we happen to be visiting at any one time.

I loved this and would urge you to give it a try if you haven’t done so already.

KingsMarch_zps31f8f79eSo as if there wasn’t enough going on at the moment, I’ve decided to take part in the challenge/event, hosted by Wensend and Fourth Street Review, with the aim of reading as much Stephen King related stuff as possible during the month of March.

As the hosts say:

All you have to do to participate in this event is to post about at least one thing King-related. You are free to read as many King books or watch as many King movies as you want, but you can also stick with just one book (some of the books are real chunksters).

I am a huge King fan, and have been since I read Carrie when I was 15 (just as it came in paperback over here in the mid 1970s). So, given everything else on my horizon I’m going to commit to reading as many of the following as I can before the end of the month:

  • a Carrie re-read – this is long overdue
  • one of his most recent novels, Revival, which I gather has more than a little Lovecraft about it
  • Mile 81 – an original eBook
  • In the Tall Grass, another eBook, written with his son Joe Hill

That should be doable, I think :-)

sunday-salon-2So here we are; March and (hopefully) the first signs of Spring. Time for a round-up of February.

Challenges:

My tally for the TBR Double Dog continues to stand at eleven books; I haven’t finished anything since my last Salon post because of Life and most particularly Work.

In progress

This week was dominated by staying up all night to watch the Oscars and subsequently slumping for most of the following day (which I had taken off.) I have been dipping in and out of the books shown on the blog sidebar; I’m hoping to finish a couple soon and have a small pile pulled from Mount TBR to select from next.

Events

I attended another bookish event at my local Waterstones, a reading from her new novel Touch by Claire North (who wrote The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August which is the last book I finished and which I shall review shortly. It was a really fun evening, Claire is very bright and engaging (and young; she published her first book at 14 and writes under three different names); her new book sounds very intriguing (and I got a signed copy!)

The Jane Eyre Update

Now  that Jonathan Strange had been set aside for now (if not for good) I am going to be reading Jane Eyre as mentioned in my last salon post. Haven’t started it yet, but I have A Reading Plan. I’ve promised myself that I will not persevere if I’m not enjoying it. I have a long-standing problem with reading Charlotte (as I do with Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy) but perhaps this will break my duck.

New Books

So the book buying embargo is continuing to hold. More or less. I had pre-ordered The Death House which I reviewed here having read the bound uncorrected proof but I know I will want to read this one again and so downloaded it on publication day. I also bought Touch (as mentioned above) because you really do have to buy the book if you want the author to sign it :D

BUT – I did break the rules and buy a copy of Goth Girl and the Pirate Queen on Kindle because World Book Day plus I love Chris Riddell and….. just because. But I do intend to persevere into March with the ban for as long as I can….

That of course depends on how awful work is going to get over the next two weeks; the potential for horror is definitely there and book retail therapy may be required!

sunday-salon-2My reading week started off very slowly but momentum picked up at the end of the week and I have now read two completes novels, The Death House by Sarah Pinborough (reviewed here) and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (which I only finished earlier today so I am still contemplating what I thought of it, apart from it being really excellent of course).

Challenges

My tally for the TBR Double Dog stands at eleven books so far. And I haven’t yet started the Cornflower Book Group’s April read of Jane Eyre, though I’m going to take some time out today to plan my reading so that I don’t get overwhelmed or, just as importantly, left behind.

In progress

My current reads are as always shown on the blog sidebar; I am currently working my way through an anthology of sci-fi short stories called Irregularity, which I am really enjoying.

The Jonathan Strange Update

I have finally taken the decision to set Jonathan Strange aside and will write a DNF post about it in the next few days. I am actually very sad about this and not totally giving up on the possibility that I may actually be able to finish it one day.

New books

The book buying embargo is still holding but several books came into the house this week, still technically not breaking the terms but ooh, probably stretching it a bit. One is the new Mary Russell novel by Laurie King, Dreaming Spies, which looks really good but in honouring the terms of the TBR dare as well as breaking with years of tradition I have not only set aside but actually let the Book God read before me. I am stunned by the extent of my own magnanimity :-)

And on a trip to Manchester I was given a gift by my friend’s husband; a copy of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists which to my shame I have never read.

I also went to a bookish event on Saturday night to see/hear Den Patrick and Jen Williams talk about their new novels, The Boy Who Wept Blood and The Iron Ghost respectively. A really enjoyable discussion but of course if you want signed books you have to buy them, and as they are both second novels in their sequences then you have to buy the first volumes too, so we walked out four books the heavier. I’m not calling that an embargo breach because The Book God paid for them. Rationalisations, don’t you just love them?

Climbing up the TBR pile

A few of books we already have in the stacks came to my attention this week and have made their way to the top of Mount TBR:

Odds and Sods

One of the things I’m trying to do this year is sort out my study which is so cluttered with books and papers that I would be ashamed to share a photograph of it with anyone. In moving books around to make space for other books I came across a couple which I have apparently had for ages  but have no memory of whatsoever:

  • Encyclopaedia of Snow by Sarah Emily Miano – apparently I read  this in 2004 and thought it was OK but it isn’t triggering anything in my brain at all
  • The Murder Room by PD James, which it looks like I’ve had for years but don’t seem to have read. I can’t possibly have had a James novel for that long without reading it, surely? I shall have to investigate.

Hope everyone has a great reading week!

23566382What’s it all about?

Toby is one of a group of young people who have been sent to The Death House because blood tests have identified them as being Defective. They are watched over by a team of nurses headed the disturbingly efficient Matron, looking for the signs of sickness that will lead to removal to the Sanitorium from where no-one ever returns. Toby is doing what he can to cope, mostly withdrawing from everyone else, but then some new youngsters arrive, and one in particular changes everything.

Why did I want to read it?

I really like Sarah Pinborough’s work and look out for anything new that she publishes. I have a little virtual stack of her eBooks (if such a thing can be said to exist) and really enjoyed her Jack the Ripper inspired (terrible shorthand but you know what I mean) novels Mayhem and Murder (reviewed here and here).

IMG_0295Also (full disclosure) she personally handed me an uncorrected bound proof of the novel at a book event a few weeks ago in this lovely packaging, and now that I’ve read it I’m going to carefully wrap it up again as I have already pre-ordered for my Kindle app and will get it on publication day (26 February – go and buy it!)

But enough of that because I suspect you want an answer to this question:

What did I think of it?

I normally try not to write blog posts immediately after reading a book because I like to let things percolate and settle before I try to articulate what I thought, but I knew I was going to have to write about The Death House soon because it was just so extraordinary and had such an impact that I didn’t want to forget how it made me feel.

And boy were there feelings.

So. To me this is a book about love and life and grief and coping and doing the best you can under awful circumstances. It’s about having to grow up too quickly. It’s about fear and dread and getting through the day. And ultimately it’s about love and connections and friendship.

All of the youngsters are distinct individuals and totally believable but of course Toby and Clara in particular stand out, though I loved Louis and Will as well. The adults are not so well drawn but that’s deliberate and make sense as under the circumstances I would think they would be very wary of giving anything away to their charges (and when that does occasionally happen there are consequences) and so we see them as the children see them.

One of the strengths of the novel for me was that not everything was spelled out. We aren’t told what the condition the children have actually is, though we know it’s been around for a long time, only strikes the young and presents itself in different ways with each individual. We don’t know where the Death House actually is, except that it’s clearly isolated, and most importantly we don’t know what happens in the Sanitorium (except that no-one comes back). I thought this was all very effective because it’s the relationships that matter.

I had started to read the book soon after I was given it but realised that this was something that I wanted to take care with, so I stopped for a bit because life and work were clearly going to get in the way, and when I sat down to read it I finished it in a single sitting. It’s totally compelling and then it kicks you in the stomach with an event that is so sad that I couldn’t stop myself from crying (luckily I was at home and didn’t repeat the embarrassing experience of reading the end of The Time Traveller’s Wife on a bus and having to stop because I was making a fool of myself) and when I sort of recovered I went through it all over again with what I think was a perfect ending to the novel. It reminded me a little of Never Let Me Go (but only a little, it is very much its Own Thing).

I really do urge you to read this. It’s just wonderful. I will be reading it again soon, but envy anyone who is coming to it for the first time.

10950697_10153076729134664_1858964010029395326_oFor once I actually got to an exhibition close to its opening date rather than turning up just as it’s about to shut down, but John Singer Sargent has always been one of my favourite painters and I wanted to get there as soon as I could. So yesterday, on a sunny Sunday afternoon and undaunted by no trains running on our line due to planned engineering works we braved alternative means of transport (OK, the bus and tube) to get to the NPG.

I was particularly interested in this selection of Sargent’s work because of its focus – Portraits of Artists and Friends – so we weren’t looking at the society portraits for which he became renowned but works, commissioned and otherwise, of other artists in a variety of fields from painting to theatre to music to literature. It was a wonderful chance to see paintings I’d seen rarely or on through reproductions, and it was a real delight. I would have lingered s bit longer but the exhibition was packed and it was also *whispers* a bit warm in the galleries but I may very well go back again to savour my favourites, especially the magnificent Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth.

I don’t have much in print form about Sargent (though quite a good  selection of postcards), apart from the following:

  • Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends which we bought in the gallery shop and which does not break the book buying embargo as (a) it was a joint purchase with the Book God and (b) I consider it to be a catalogue, albeit an enormous hardback one (I know that’s a rationalisation but as Jeff Goldblum says in The Big Chill “I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalisations”);
  • Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davies which tells the story of the scandal around one of his most famous portraits and which sadly I read before I started this blog and don’t really remember what I thought of it;
  • John Singer Sargent: His Portrait by Stanley Olson which is unread in the stacks somewhere but about to be rediscovered (though sadly doesn’t seem to be available any longer);
  • Sargent: Portrait Drawings showing drawings in pencil, charcoal and pastels and just beautiful.

Oh and before we went to the exhibition we had a peep at The Real Tudors, a fine collection of portraits in a free display, brought together in advance of an extended exhibition in Paris. The fact that Wolf Hall has been on stage recently and currently on TV made this very popular as well. Much to enjoy.

sunday-salon-2I did actually manage to finish a book this week although it was another very busy time at work and I’ve ended most days in a bit of a heap on the sofa. But I was enticed into finishing The Ninth Life of Louis Drax and have already published my review so yay for me!

This afternoon I also read a standalone short story, The Kiss by Kim Curran with whom (full disclosure) I have occasional Twitter interactions. It’s a lovely story and you should check it out (written especially for a previous Valentine’s day I believe).

Challenges

My tally for the TBR Double Dog stands at nine books so far. And although it’s not actually a challenge I am taking part in the Cornflower Book Group’s April read which is Jane Eyre, a novel which *gasp* I have never read, always preferring Anne and Emily over Charlotte. But it’s about time I gave it a go, I think, I just need to plan the reading out carefully so I don’t get overwhelmed and/or bored and/or left behind by everyone else (I have previous form in this regard, see my first attempt to read Wolf Hall).

In progress

My current reads are as always shown on the blog sidebar; I am currently immersed (and hoping to finish this weekend) The Death House by Sarah Pinborough in uncorrected proof as it doesn’t actually get published until 26 February. It is very good indeed.

The Jonathan Strange Update

The least said about this the better…..

New books

The book buying embargo is still holding but two books came into the house this week, technically not breaking the terms. One is Jane Eyre which I already own in physical form but have been entirely unable to locate so I bought an inexpensive e-book version for ease of reading. The other is Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar which I got as part of the ticket package for attending the Bloomsbury Institute conversation with her about the book in March. My conscience is clear :-)

Climbing up the TBR pile

A couple of books we already have in the stacks came to my attention this week and have made their way to the top of Mount TBR:

  • The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan, because the author EJ Swift (her blog is here and I had the pleasure of meeting her recently) was recommending it on Twitter and it’s one of the few of Egan’s work I haven’t read – previous reviews are here, here and here;
  • Again on Twitter I saw a reference to the Internet of Things which mentioned that the inevitable outcome had already been identified by Philip K Dick in 1969 in his novel Ubik, so of course that had to come off the shelves as well; and
  • the Book God has been encouraging me to read the books by Max Allan Collins, and suggested I might start with Bye Bye, Baby which is all about the death of Marilyn Monroe (I have a soft spot for her) – not sure about this, I need to be in the right mood for hardboiled…..

Hope everyone has a great reading week!

IMG_0220What’s it all about?

Louis Drax is nine years old and has been prone to accidents and illnesses throughout his short life. The latest incident (plunging over a cliff on a family picnic) has left him in a coma with a mystery needing to be solved – how did the accident happen? His father has disappeared, his mother is suffering from shock and isn’t really giving a coherent account of the events, and of course Louis himself can’t tell. Or can he?

Why did I want to read it?

I do like a really good psychological thriller, and I had read and enjoyed one of Liz Jensen’s other books, The Rapture, which I reviewed here. I spotted that it is being made into a film and that’s always a bit of a hook for me (if I already own the book that is).

What did I think of it?

I really enjoyed this. I liked the fact that we saw some of the story from the first person perspective of Louis himself, although it took a few pages to realise that he was already in his coma. I also liked the growing supernatural element, though I’m not sure if that’s the right word (I’ve seen references to sixth sense instead). I did like the other voice in the story, that of the doctor Pascal Dannachet who is treating Louis and gets sucked in to the mystery to his eminent detriment. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot as it’s nice to see it develop in front of you but I will say that I guessed a couple of the plot points (and I never liked his mother).

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is pacily written and easy to read in the best way. I will be searching out more of her books.

2509832What’s it all about?

The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows is an original sci-fi anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan and winner of the Aurealis Award, which I had to look up and discovered it’s an annual award given for excellence in speculative fiction (covering sci-fi, fantasy and horror). As the blurb says, Strahan asked the contributors to “look past the horizon of the present day”.

Why did I want to read it?

Well, I didn’t actually know that I wanted to read it  as such, but last year I was lucky enough to get tickets to see Neil Gaiman’s performance/reading of The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains, and one of the other stories he read was the hugely entertaining Orange, which I wanted to hunt down and experience myself, and this is the collection it was written for (for which it was written?), (whatever). Of course it’s now been included in his new collection Trigger Warnings but I’m glad I found it here first because this is a really cool anthology.

What did I think of it?

Short story collections are always strange because they can’t help but be a bit uneven, whether they’re by a single author or a number of different writers; we have sixteen of them here. But I thought this was a really strong bunch of stories; a couple of them were definitely not to my taste in terms of theme but none of them were poor or badly written (IMHO at least) and I enjoyed dipping into this over several days. There is a wide range of futuristic subject matter covered, some set classically in space and others set here in contemporary (or near contemporary) Earth. Stand-outs for me (in addition to the aforementioned Orange, obvs) were:

  • Cheats by Ann Halam – immersive gaming, using code to travel between worlds
  • The Dismantled Invention of Fate by Jeffery Ford – love and fate in a tale inspired by the work of Michael Morrcock
  • Sundiver Day by Kathleen Ann Goonan- loss and grief and possibilities, with added cloning
  • The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice by Alistair Reynolds – cyborg space pirates!
  • Infestation by Garth Nix – alien space vampires and their hunters!

A really enjoyable collection, very much worth your time.

sunday-salon-2It’s been a very quiet reading week due to social stuff (mostly a very boozy chat with London and New York friends about books in a swish hotel on the South Bank) and lots and lots of work, plus quite a bit of movie watching.

Challenges:

I’m currently involved in two challenges:

  • the TBR Double Dog – finished my eighth (and first physical) book of the year today, and took delivery of the new Neil Gaiman (pre-ordered last year so technically OK) – feeling virtuous
  • the 2015 Horror Reading Challenge – nothing new this week but a couple of interesting things on the horizon.

In progress

My current reads are shown on the blog sidebar; pleased to have finished my first book of the month and I am definitely in a short story mood.

Events

Nothing literary this week (apart from boozy night out mentioned previously, where two of us ganged up on a third to make them see they MUST read Wolf Hall) though I have things of interest coming up in the next few weeks.

The Jonathan Strange Update

Shock horror! I have read a bit more of this and am now on *gasp* page 148 so nothing to get too excited about but it is progress, people, and not to be sniffed at!

Abandoned

Nothing abandoned since my last post.

So let’s see what this week brings…..

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, entering my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

The Sunday Salon.com

My Tweets

  • Thoughts on reading The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August wp.me/p2WX9-1sl 7 hours ago
  • Tired beyond the capacity for rational thought. Expecting to experience a bout of insomnia as soon as my head hits the pillow. 16 hours ago

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