2018 In Books : January

A monthly list with review-ettes of the books I’ve read, because I can’t remember everything any more.


Spectacles : Sue Perkins (Penguin)

A lovely memoir, filled with wry humour as you’d expect. I hope Sue writes more, especially about her travels. Michael Palin isn’t going to last forever (sad, but true) and that way of engaging with people she has, getting them talking and laughing, remind’s me very much of him.

The Actual One : Isy Suttie (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Another memoir (I do this sometimes, get obsessed by a particular genre). I really enjoy Isy Suttie’s slightly off kilter way of writing about life and love. Her ‘Love Letters’ on Radio 4 are super – funny, kind and touching. She’s the same writing here about her own loves, family and friendships. I laughed out loud at some of this. Also includes a very accurate description of having norovirus in a holiday cottage at Christmas.

Dragon’s Green : Scarlett Thomas (Canongate)

A YA novel with a strong female protagonist, and evil villain, magic and dragons (YA didn’t exist when I was a YA, I went straight from the selection in the kids bit of the library to John Wyndham!) . The action all happens in our own times, but with one exception; the internet and modern communications networks no longer exists. We the readers don’t know why, except it is to do with the Worldquake, and that  some kids still carry the now defunct mobile phones for the torch and calculator functions. The writer  often seems to be paying homage to Harry Potter – how can you not in this genre? – but at the same time slightly, and kindly, undermining it. AND the cover of my copy glows in the dark, which is an added delight. This is part of trilogy, and I’m very keen to know what happens next

Eight Ghosts (English Heritage)

New ghost tales from writers including the likes of Sarah Perry and Jeanette Winterson. These are spooky stories in the brilliant tradition of M.R. James and his like, all set in English Heritage properties.  By far the most unsettling tale in here for me is the one by Mark Haddon inspired by York Cold War Bunker . Maybe it’s because we lived – as teenagers in the 80s – with the threat of nuclear apocalypse hanging over us (we really thought we could die tomorrow). It’s the one that shivered my spine the most and is very unsettling.

To The Bright Edge of The World : Eowyn Ivey (Tinder Press)

As in her earlier novel ‘The Snow Child’, Ivey brings folklore and legend in to this story of Alaskan exploration in the 1880s. It’s packed with native Alaskan/Northwestern myth; the Raven looms large, and Ivey has the gift of being able to unsettle you, while making it absolutely impossible to stop reading.

Lieutenant Allan Forrester’s mission is to explore the Wolverine River, he has to leave behind his young wife Sophie, despite her desire to travel on this risky journey with him. He and his small band of men (and eventually a young Indian woman and a dog) are pioneers, but they have to deal with much more than the hostile landscape, weather and indigenous inhabitants of the Wolverine Valley. As they make their way upriver (at the wrong time of year) Sophie is pioneering her own way in life; forced to stay at home she discovers photography, setting up a darkroom on their cabin, learning how to photograph the world around her at a time when photography was pretty much chemistry, and not a thing seen as ‘suitable for a woman’.

The novel is written as diary entries, letters and newspaper clippings. Interspersed with the story of  Allan and Sophie, there is that of Forrester’s great-nephew Walter Forrester, a ‘stubborn old man’ who wants rid of the family papers to the Alpine Historical Museum. His evolving relationship wih the museum’s curator – again via letter (and email) – is a delight.

There is so much in this novel I’ll definitely read it again, it has enchanted me.



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