Indies all over #1 | Bakewell Bookshop

I really do love a good bookish series – here’s a new one!

I’m actually a secret Londoner (not so secret if you’ve heard me recount a story to my London mates in a overexcited cockney squeal) and I’ve noticed that there seems to be some lovely info about indie bookshops down south on the blogosphere and on booktube, which is great! But I’m keen to give independent bookshops across the country some more love too.

In these posts I’ll be giving you a run-down of my favourite independent bookshops, as I live in Nottingham these will largely be from the East Midlands. However I will also be reviewing any indie bookshops I come across here in the UK and abroad as well as giving you a little snippet of nearby things to do when you’re in town. SO LET’S GO.

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Location: Bakewell, Derbyshire.

Specialism: Bakewell bookshop is quite snug but still manages to be chockful of a variety of reads. Chart toppers, children’s books, non-fiction, there’s also a little table dedicated to for books to read in your lifetime featuring classics galore.

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Any added extras?: An extremely cosy looking cafe attached so you can drink tea and eat all the cake as you read. Heaven? I think so.

Nearby things to do: Bakewell is a pretty picturesque little town, brimming with independent homeware shops, cafes and plenty of markets – so once you’ve spent an hour or two in Bakewell Bookshop there should be a few more stops on your list.

While we were there I ate a massive slice of delicious traditional Bakewell tart at Bakewell Tart Shop and Coffee House, visited another indie bookshop – this time it was Book End which sell second-hand copies, and had a look around Birdsong (which is a beautiful little homeware independent) and went to Bakewell’s Monday Market where there are stalls selling everything from fruit to handbags (I had to be dragged away from the jewellery stall). There’s also Chatsworth House round the corner if you fancy a historical jaunt.

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The best bit: This was definitely the mystery bestseller for £5 basket! My only regret is  picking up just the one book:

 

The ladies who served us were lovely too, despite some technical difficulties with their sound system… if you’re reading this, thank you ladies!

Are there any independent bookshops you would recommend?

 

Fi x

March wrap-up (& and bookish rant) | 4 mini book reviews

Hello folks!

Right I’m going to be honest, I’m always a little startled when another month is over and I feel like I have to talk about how many books I’ve read and my malignant thoughts ultimately turn to the books I haven’t read yet.Which is ridiculous because life happens! And for me reading is usually a leisurely activity I partake in because I want to alleviate pressure, not encourage it.

This month I’ve decided to be more positive, and casual, about my humble wrap-up and not race myself to finish books by remembering how much I love the reading experience! I urge you too to ponder whether you give yourself too much slack on not achieving your reading goals.

Cue mini guilt-free, somewhat carefree, book reviews because I’m a blogging superstar irrespective of how much I read and you are too:

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  1. Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Grief is the Thing with Feathers reveals the aftermath a mother’s death on the lives of her boys and the widow she leaves behind. This is told from a number of perspectives; the crow who mysteriously comes to visit once she passes away, her grieving husband and her two estranged sons. This is their story of ordinary days after everything a family knows falls out of place, and the coping mechanisms they develop to fill the unspeakable void. I believe this book was heavily inspired by Ted Hughes poem ‘Crow’ but the sombreness and wit are heavily reminiscent of Poe’s work.

What I adored:

  1. I loved the premise of this little novella – it’s quite plotless and is mostly a character study of the dad figure and what I read as his wild, untamed alter-ego Crow.
  2. The form: part poetry part prose part words to turn your world upside down. The lyricism of this reminded me of Ali Smith’s Autumn, I recommend reading sections aloud.
  3. I love that it was messy, unfinished, raw – because who ever did grieve perfectly?
  4. There are so many levels to this: sardonic humor, split-personalities, family turmoil but despite it’s lack of a firm plot it felt incredibly rich and well-paced.

Things that weren’t my cuppa tea:

  1. As with most novellas I read and love, I sort of wished it was a tad longer just because the character development potential was huge but it worked regardless!

Read if you loved: The Humans by Matt Haig (the theme of family, loss and witty magical realism), The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe (loquacious birds who take the piss, gothic themes, poetic genius) and Citizen by Claudia Rankine (a powerful narrative voice and lyricism)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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3. Paper Girls by Brian Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang

I’ve seen numerous people compare Brain Vaughan’s Paper Girls to Stranger Things and I completely agree, I’m going to admit now that I totally picked it up because I loved ST! However, I warn you it is far more fast-paced and gory than its Netflix big brother.

Paper Girls is a sci fi graphic novel which centres around four paper delivery girls who live in american suburbia. All too soon an extraterrestrial visit inverts the norms of their sleepy town.

What I adored:

  1. The characters in Paper Girls are independent young women who make no apologies for packing a lot of punch.
  2. I can already tell there’s a whole lot of backstory to come and I’m so excited to unveil what’s next.
  3. The illustrations, by Cliff Chiang , are rather lovely – recommended for fans of manga.
  4. I adore the premise, without spoiling it for you, the twist you’ll probably see coming but you’ll love regardless.
  5. Brian Vaughan writes sci fi like no one else, the flow of his words and his heaps of charm never disappoints, I urge you to read this one if you were as besotted with Saga as me!

Things that weren’t my cuppa of tea:

  1. At first, I’ve got to be honest, I did not get along with some of the traits of the characters, bearing in mind they’re 12, there’s a lot of smoking/shooting/cringey swearing…I did think the characterisation was a bit strained at first, but once you get into it you can see where Vaughan is going and released I was being a bit hypocritical!

Read if you loved: Saga by Brian Vaughan, Stranger Things, Doctor Who back in the day, and War of the Worlds/ The Sleeper Awakes/ anything by H.G Wells

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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4. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout 

My Name is Lucy Barton tells the story of Lucy a 30-something author who is visited by her estranged mother in her New York hospital bed – what follows is a series of conversations, and flashbacks, that dig deeper into their shared history than they have ever been before. This is an intricately formed and subtle book about what it means to face yourself. Strout infuses her pages with the subtexts of family trauma that ordinarily go unspoken, commented upon by her protagonist’s feverish need to write her own story, regardless of the oppositions she encounters in her personal life.

What I adored:

  1. I find books about storytelling, or writing in any form or fashion, so comforting and always great food for thought. This is one such book, it’s a glimpse into the urgency of the act of writing and writing as catharsis which reminded me a lot of Jeanette Winterson. If you enjoy realist contemporary literary fiction – this is one for you.
  2. This felt like a memoir; Lucy was likeable but flawed; imbued with a really genuine humanity, which for a work of fiction under 200 pages, is quite a remarkable feat.
  3. Again plot-less (kind of). I thought I disliked ‘plotless’ books but character studies of families and self-exploration? I’ve been digging it March, I really have.

What wasn’t my cuppa tea:

  1. I couldn’t help but want a narrative voice from Lucy’s mother and her doctor. Lucy is somewhat of an unreliable narrator, and her privacy, while essential to the plot, limits the reader’s ability to peek into certain areas of her life I was most interested in. Such a shame because this drags it down to a 4 star read for me!

Read if you loved: Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson or We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

 

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5. Homegoing by Yaa Ysai

I also read my favourite book of the month. I could harp on about forever, unluckily for you I ALREADY HAVE – read it here if you fancy!

Overall I was lucky enough to have fabulous reading month illuminated by brilliant four and five star reads I highly, highly recommend. Have you read any of these books, or anything you would really recommend from your March reads?

Let me know in the comments! Until then happy reading.

 

Fi x

 

A poem

This is a slam poem I dreamt up on my walk to work walking by the mother with red hair who I always pass at the cash and carry and all the other commuters I see regularly…except Monday was a bad health day.

I can be hesitant publishing what I write when it’s this personal but perhaps one of you can relate? This is how I feel when I’m anxious and can’t face looking passers-by in the eye (woo for accidental rhyme). I’m trying to read more poetry – are there any poets published or unpublished any of you lovely readers would recommend?

Anxiety pushes.

You push on towards me

Not seeing that we are different

I’m a footprint

You’re a typhoon, that baffles, traps

Feet stomping onwards making a

Rap

You are…LOUD

My head paces – does she, he, it know?

We are two horses in the races

And I’m just slow

Sluggish, broken down, a full-on frown

Is there a word for it?

Let down

Pressed now

Jumped up with worry

Hurrying to pass the woman with her stroller

In her rollers, on the school run

Don’t worry hun because I keep my head down

Always

Until I feel the wind she makes as her pram brushes

By, by my side

Shit…

I survived.

Fi xx

#9 Homegoing| A good book and a cup of tea

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Five stars.

Heart-breaking. Conversation-starting. This is a book that can only be properly described by compounds.

Homegoing is Gyasi’s debut novel, it starts with a fire lit by an enslaved woman called Mamee. Little does Mamee know her fire will burn message across the ages long after her own death. Mamee gives birth to two children the night the fire is lit, daughters Esi and Effia. The two experience seemingly irreconcilable lives; Effia who hailed from humble beginnings is married to a white british slave owner in a castle where slaves are kept in the deepest depths of its dungeons, while Effia whom had known luxury in the Fante village is enslaved beneath in the castle’s belly racked by trauma, a terrible stench and the pain of her fellow prisoners. The story then unravels into a unbelievably intricate family tree of the two sisters as great great grandchildren tell of slavery, punishment, privilege, politics, identity, love and terrible visions of a mysterious daughters born from flames…

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I so rarely close a book and actually can not stop thinking about it the whole of the next day and the day after that. Homegoing is one of those books, a book so very important and relevant to the world we live in. It’s a book that provides a resistance to fear, makes you deeply curious and instigates a flurry of what ifs that escape your tongue because they can’t all stay cooped up in your head any longer.

Read Homegoing for a unique breed of storytelling like you’ve never seen before and may never see again, richly researched and boldly imagined depictions of the Asante and Fante people, colonialism and the slave trade, love, hatred and what it means to be human when you are made to feel anything but. Have you read it yet?

 

Fi xx

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Ireland | Imperfect writers, quaint pubs & other-worldly beaches

A diary from our travels.

You have set yourself to music ~ Oscar Wilde

Ireland is a place that has, quite stubbornly, set itself to music – and makes little apology for it. I couldn’t help but fall in love with a country as obstinate and prone to whim as myself.

The mountains in Killarney’s National Park dance to the background score of the wind, the trees in St Stephen’s Green groove to the chirping nattering of cautious mothers, roaring fathers and over-excited children, the pubs on the main road burst with fits of laughter, jangling music that teems through the doors spilling out into ear worms that you can’t quite shake for the rest of the day and the people that populate the streets leading up to Dublin’s Writer’s Museum ebb and flow in step with the Liffey. Why? Because it’s Ireland a space that is so beautiful it has inspired prolific creatives like Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Bram Stoker and Jonathan Swift and no corner of its green towns and riotous cities can forget this legacy.

Our December visit was characterised by two sounds: the sound our own footsteps as we got a bit lost, trampled sand and carpeted hire car floor and the sound of laughter that seems to gurgle out of me whenever I’m with Huw.

We went for a stomp on Inch beach – a haven in out-of-season December – a landscape where the sea hugs the shore which embraces the sky. Huw drank Guinness and I ate all of the spicy food (there is a superb curry house in Killarney called Uptown). We watched the fading light settle over Dublin. We reclined with Wilde. We ran across beaches and soon decided were much too beautiful and entirely too cold. We struggled to get a good artsy shot of converging mountains hanging out of a moving fiat. We listened to a concert standard pianist give flawless renditions of every song imaginable. We carolled on the green.

I’d been to Dublin before however this time I really realised how diverse this country is, this time I really went, saw and hear ( albeit a small selection) of its poetry:

You may have guessed by now our visit was as a celebration of our time together as a couple: 2 years of questionable jokes, looking after each other, exploring, learning even during the hardest of times and most importantly, chowing down on excellent food. It was the perfect long weekend, if not far too short! I couldn’t ask for a sweeter man to walk across deserted beaches alongside.

Below I have photographed one of my absolute favourite titbits from our trip to the greenest land, Oscar Wilde’s Monument in Merrion Square. I think Wilde had the right idea in setting himself and his characters to music – travelling, even if it’s not very far from home, is a means to hear a whole nation’s song alongside your own.

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Have you been to the Republic of Ireland, where was your favourite stop?

Love,

Fi xx

 

 

#8 The Sun is Also a Star | A good book and a cup of tea

Nicola Yoon’s newest teen novel Everything, Everything became a bestseller for the same reason her latest read is a pleasure to snuggle up with – her writing is simply addictive. 3.5 stars.

The Sun is Also a Star follows the story of two very different teens, Natasha and Daniel, on the day they will meet for the first time. This happens to be the day that Natasha and her family will be deported back to Jamaica and the day Daniel has an interview for medicine at an ivy league college  – both are fighting their fates and one step in the right direction brings them together.

 

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Bits of sunshine from this book:

  1. Natasha is a determined black woman that young girls can look up to. Half of the story focuses on how Natasha successfully finds (and convinces) the best lawyer in New York to help her family fight their deportation. As a woman Natasha is intelligent, fiercely loyal and has a shed load of resilience. Sadly, black women as admirable protagonists in literature are still thin on the ground and I really noticed this as a black girl reader growing up: none of my favourite characters looked like me! Yoon’s characterisation of be-froed and self-assured Natasha is really uplifting step to increasing the black presence in popular lit.
  2. This book will make you feel warm inside. That’s a fact. As much as I’m not a fan of YA Romances Natasha and Daniel are a literary couple that just make perfect sense.
  3. I love that Yoon goes off on non-fiction tangents through TSIAAS! Her discussion of how politicised hair has become in the African American community stands out for me as opening several important discussions about culture, racism and inter-racial couples relationships that really need to be openly discussed today.
  4. Fate is pretty much as big as a topic as you can get but Nicola Yoon manages to present the voice of the universe without pretending to know it all. That’s a pretty admirable feat.
  5. The theme of father-child relationships adds a interesting dynamic to The Sun is Also a Star. Daniel (who often resents his Korean father) and Natasha (who blames her father for her family’s imminent deportation) both come to terms with this relationship throughout and this process is narrated with genuine heartache and introspection.
  6. This book made me cry laugh. Cry laugh.
  7. The romance plot is supplemented with a well written sub-plot surrounding a woman called Irene. THIS BIT WILL MAKE YOU WEEP.

Things that weren’t my cup of tea:

  1. I gave this 3.5 stars because I found it a breeze to read but found the characters and the plot a bit predictable. Whereas Everything, Everything kept me guessing for longer.
  2. I’m not a great fan of the ‘it all happening on one day’ format…I find it a bit of a unsatisfying cliche, almost as bad as an ‘it was all a dream’ as an ending.
  3. Young Adult romance is usually one my least favourite genres…because I am as  cynical as they come and basically middle aged. However this book made me question my stubbornness and it is fabulous if you want to get stuck into a read that highlights what a wonderful melting pot of cultures our world is.

Read if you have loved: Everything Everything, Noughts and Crosses, One Day and Me Before You.

Have you read The Sun is Also a Star? What did you think?

 

Fi x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#7 Saga Volume 2| A good book and a cup of tea

Saga Volume 2 is just as bad-ass as its predecessor. 5 great big gold stars!

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Here’s all you need to know about Saga Volume 2:

  1. Alana and Marko are intergalactic couple goals, they fight each other’s corner even in the face of the universes greatest adversities, the in-laws, in this second volume.
  2. The narrative point of view , courtesy their retrospective toddler, is sarcastic yet insightful and this narrative perspective really comes into its own in this volume.
  3. This is one of the rare graphic novel series where the sub-plot is just as good as the main story arc. Robot IV will render you angry, confused and angry again.
  4. You find out all about how Marko wooed Alana.  This is a meet-cute with blood, prisons and political erotica and it will make you vow to be as much of a sass queen as Alana.
  5. You realise how much of a softie the bad guy is. If you haven’t read the first volume (where have you been?) , Vaughan’s baddie is a trained formidable assassin called ‘The Will’. He’s an antihero and his sidekick is a cat who knows you’re lying called, you guessed it, Lying Cat. If that summary doesn’t make you want to get the first copy, nothing will.
  6. If you didn’t already know – exs are crazy.
  7. The final cliffhanger will hurt you a per usual, and you will resign yourself to hopping back on Amazon to see if they have a delivery option faster than Prime.
  8. Fiona Staples’ illustrations are as magic, grotesque, and as down-right awesome as ever. She will make you want to move to the stars.

I really hope you liked this mini review, have you read Saga or any other graphic novels lately? I would love some new recommendations.

 

Fi x

 

#6 Wonder | A good book and a cup of tea

5 stars – Wonder is charming, funny, heart-warming and transports you back to being ten years old. WONDERFUL IN FACT (SORRY I HAD TO).

This is one of those books that has buzz that proceeds it, which always worries me a bit because I always have this nagging fear that I’ll be the one reader who just does not see the appeal. With slight trepidation I picked up this book during my placement at Penguin and it was recommended to me by 3 different people who told me in serious tones how remarkable it was. I needn’t have worried because they were right.

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The story follows an ordinary 10 year old kid called August fondly know by his mum, dad and sister Olive as Auggie, he blooming loves Star Wars and he likes playing with his best friends. Except Auggie makes people run away when they see his face, he once wore a astronaut helmet for months because it made him feel more normal and Halloween his favourite (even better than Christmas) because he gets to wear a mask, just like all the other kids. The book starts with August deciding to try out middle school for the first time and shows us how he survives despite how tough life can be when, to the outside world at least, you are different.

I have very rarely admired a character more than I have admired Auggie – he is friendly, cheeky, brave and brilliant; and the story shows how all of Auggie’s brilliance influences the people that are closest to him. I love the close knit family unit in this book most of all, despite all the pressures they are under, August’s family always look out for each other and it is the portrayal of their gentle loyalty to one another that makes this book an absolute gem. READ THIS BOOK.

#5 The Gracekeepers | A good book a cup of tea

Quietly magical but too subdued in parts. 3.5 stars.

As a work of fantasy this is beautiful, Kirsty Logan creates a world spilt into two clans: Damplings who live and work on the sea and Landlockers who are fiercely protective of the small patches of earth they own. The Gracekeepers follows the lives and troubles of North; a Dampling circus performer – a ‘bear girl’ who is to be wed by the ringmaster’s son Anisel and a gracekeeper who lays those killed by the sea to rest called Callanish. Both women have secrets and that is what will eventually bring them closer together. It’s a story that draws on rivalry, rumours, death and motherhood and is worth reading just for how beautifully told it is. However the actual plot does have some niggly aspects that make it feel unfinished which is a shame.

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Pros:

The subtle affinities between North and Callanish is beautiful. You really feel for both women and the loss they have experienced because of their estranged families and the demands of the weight of their secrets.

The locations, outfits, makeup; all the visual aspects of this novel, are breathtaking – you can’t help imagine the Excalibur sailing pass you as you read it.

Cons:

This is one of those books that starts off booming; tragedy is splashed across the first chapter with North’s parents being mauled by their performing bear. What annoyed me was that this, the most upsetting element of the plot for me, is never discussed by North. She never talks about missing her parents or laments their death – it’s a missed opportunity that really irks me.

The wondrous descriptions can drag down the pace of the book and this one took me a while to get through as a result and stopped me developing a sustained fondness for all the characters.

The Gracekeepers was a real marmite read for me; I started off engrossed in it, and loved how it was written but it did feel a bit unfinished in terms of character development and pace. What did you guys think?

 

Fi X

#4 Saga| A good book and a nice cup of tea

Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples is a graphic novel that packs heaps of sexy, subversive, omg-what-is-happening-where-is-that-blood-coming-from?! punch. 5 stars all the way.

Not one for the easily freaked-out this graphic novella tells the plight of two future humanoids Alana, a prison guard, from planet Landfall (modern day earth) and her husband Marko, a foot solider from Wreath (otherwise known as the moon). We soon learn that their love in forbidden – the two planets are at war that spans the cosmos and their relationship threatens their baby’s life from birth.

OH MY GOODNESS. The comic bursts into life in hilarious action-packed fashion with Alana giving birth to the story’s narrator Hazel. In this scene Alana gets weirdly turned on by childbirth and Marko cuts his daugher’s umbilical cord with his teeth rather than use his sword which he now sees as a symbol of the war he hopes his family will eventually escape from. The wacky first chapter sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the action.

As the family search for solace at the mystical Rocketship Woods a sub-plot of the royals, assassins, and a woman who resembles a headteacher with a unicorn horn who are all out to get the young couple is revealed. And the young couple’s odds aren’t looking great.

 

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The story isn’t all sex and violence though. The fantasy is injected with amazing comic relief through the electric, unconventional love story between its protagonists: liberal husband and wife, Marko and Alana. The sassy sarcasm of the fiercely protective Alana pitted against the  quietly pragmatic persona of horned reformed-warrior Marko is magic. Both characters are given just the right human touch without detracting from any of the kick-ass awesomeness of the plot.

This is the first graphic novel I have read in a year or so and honestly its made me want to order the next volumes pronto. In fact they’re already in my Amazon basket. Read it now!