Category Archives: Book Elf

Help fund the 10th Leeds Brownies trip to London!

browniesOur good friend and Eagle Owl @BookElfLeeds is raising money for her Brownies. Here’s why

When we asked our Brownies what they really wanted to do this year, they told us they wanted to visit London.

We’re a Leeds Brownie unit, based in LS4/LS6, for whom money is tight, and we’d love to give our girls, aged 7-11, the trip of their lives. For most of them it will be their first time visiting London, for some their first time away from home.

We’d love to make this as cheap a trip as possible so that ALL our Brownies can join us, and for that to happen we need your help!

Funds will go initially to cover transport and accommodation costs, and to buy food for the girls. If there is any left over we’d love to have some thing special to look forward to, any suggestions let us know!

We’re travelling down in February. The girls are planning a fundraising Christmas Fair (more details as and when) and our plucky Eagle Owl Jess is going to complete the Leeds Country Way-a 63 round trip all around Leeds-all to raise money.

If you can spare a fiver, that would pay for tea for one of the girls. We’re grateful for every penny and will keep updates on things we’re planning, and let you know how the trip goes!

You’ll be making twenty little girl’s wishes come true with every donation-on behalf of them all THANK YOU for your very kind donations.

If you have a moment, please check out the JustGiving page here!

Convinced? Donate HERE!

 

PODCAST – BookElfLeeds Reading Challenge – Update

modern mrs darcy reading challenge

This year, @BookElfLeeds and I decided to reignite our reading groove thaing by completing a reading challenge. We found this awesome list by Modern Mrs Darcy – and already we’re inspired!

Jess provides us with an update of her Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge of 2016.

With 6 books read; she’s at the halfway mark already!

From historical fiction to librarian-readers-recommendations books (oooh, secret knowledge!) to coming-of-age to raunchy reading for teens – join us for a fascinating voyage of literary wonder!!

As with any other podcast that I am involved in; the usual language warnings apply (it’s really bad – mixed metaphors, noun-aphasia and swearing that would make a navy blush!)

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Visit our  Modern Mrs Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge page to see our choices (for now!)

  1. a book published this year
  2. a book you can finish in a day
  3. a book you’ve been meaning to read
  4. a book recommended by a local librarian or bookseller
  5. a book you should have read in school
  6. a book chosen by your spouse/partner/sibling/child or BFF
  7. a book published before you were born
  8. a book that was banned at some point
  9. a book that was previously abandoned
  10. a book you own but have never read
  11. a book that intimidates you
  12. a book you’ve already read at least once

If you’d like to join us with this – or any other reading challenges, please drop me an email, leave a comment or tweet one of us!


PODCASTS

PODCAST – Modern Mrs Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge

modern mrs darcy reading challenge

This year, @BookElfLeeds and I decided to reignite our reading groove thaing by completing a reading challenge. We found this awesome list by Modern Mrs Darcy – and already we’re inspired!

Click below to hear us discuss the challenge and why we’re participating; our book choices; our continuing and lasting love of libraries; random thoughts on such vital issues as stickers on books and lots of other literary-related chatter!

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Modern Mrs Darcy 2016 Reading Challenge

  1. a book published this year
  2. a book you can finish in a day
  3. a book you’ve been meaning to read
  4. a book recommended by a local librarian or bookseller
  5. a book you should have read in school
  6. a book chosen by your spouse/partner/sibling/child or BFF
  7. a book published before you were born
  8. a book that was banned at some point
  9. a book that was previously abandoned
  10. a book you own but have never read
  11. a book that intimidates you
  12. a book you’ve already read at least once

I’ll be creating a little challenge page for us to update as the year progresses!

If you’d like to join us with this – or any other reading challenges, please drop me an email, leave a comment or tweet one of us!

PODCASTS


Reading Resolutions 2015

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For the most part, I’m attempting to avoid the New Year, New Me trap – every year I get all excited and then realise that it’s the same me after all!

Just with attached guilt for failing to become a fit, healthy eating, multi-linguistic musician!

However, I do find it useful to reflect on the previous years reading habits.

For 2015

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Read 1 book every 2 months that’s just for me

In 2014, I  arrived at December and realised that across the year, I’d read exactly 2 books of my own choosing. Don’t get me wrong – I love the book clubs and the huge variety of styles and generas that get picked.

However, I miss me MY books too (even my grammar is effected!). Science Fiction; poetry; an Agatha Christie re-read; perhaps the odd non-fiction book – it doesn’t matter *what* as long as it’s something purely for me.

Focus on my TBR (To Be Read) Pile

My shelves are bulging and I haven’t read more than a third of them (that might be an exaggeration – it’s probably closer to a fifth!).

While I’m unlikely to read my 3-4 LBC books per month as well as 1 of my own choosing AND finish reading all the books on my shelves in one calendar year, it would feel terrific to get a little further through them, especially as I have some brilliant books which have never even been cracked open. Simply sinful!

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Use my local library more!

Actually, I’ve already started on this one – having picked up some poetry books to dig into.

To be honest, this is a sort of permanent fixture on my Reading Resolution – you might recall that we’ve had one or two posts about our love of libraries in the past.

Buy less. Buy Better.

My gut is simply screaming at me “NO MORE BUYING BOOKS!!! Not a single one.”

However, I know what I’m like and I have a caveat or two. Such as – if a book is particularly essential for my collection, then I’m allowed to purchase it. An example would be the most recent Shardlake book – once it’s available in paperback. It is just brilliant and as I have the previous books in the series – it would KILL* me not to have the full set!!!

Of course this ties in with the library entry – if I read a fantastic book that I know I’ll go back to and lend out and cherish – it would be silly not to have it on the shelves. A sort of try before I buy kind of thing.

Course, as I mentioned earlier, my shelves are ridiculously full, so a clear out is in order. I wonder if the TSl will be open to taking them in and finding new homes!

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Blog shorter. Blog often.

Last year – in part due to the domain change – I fell behind with my blogging. In my head, writing about books became a sort of momentous task – I built it up into ridiculous proportions!

Thank the skies for Helen (@isfromupnorth), Laura (@WoodsieGirl), our Pet Author Chris Nickson (@ChrisNickson2) and our guest bloggers who have ensured fresh reading for you all while I panicked about getting all the older ones up and running!

For 2015, I want to get back into my writing groove – more focus on the books, less worry and stress about the writing! It is after all, supposed to be a bit of fun.

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Obligatory Calvin and Hobbes!

 

*It will likely not kill me, but it would be very irritating.

The Rosie Project-Review

The Rosie Project

Every now and then I get sent books that already have a fair bit of hype attached. Some of this you can ignore as publicists being good at their jobs, but when two days after receiving The Rosie Project I read in the paper that it had netted debut author Graeme Simsion a very cool £1.2 million advance and produced frenzied bidding from publishers world wide you have to start to think-is this book I’m holding something that’s going to be big?

The answer is yes, yes it is. Look at this cover, because I guarantee in three months time you’ll be seeing it everywhere. A wonderful, life-affirming book that will appeal to millions this is the story of one mans mission to find happiness, or at least to figure out what happiness actually means.

Don is the thirty-nine year old genetics professor who knows exactly how long it takes to do anything, has his meal time schedule written on his whiteboard and only ever listened to Bach in order to calculate the mathematical irregularities in it. Living alone, with few friends, when his neighbour Daphne finally succumbs to her Alzheimer’s and tells him he should look for a partner as he would make a wonderful husband Don takes her literally, Don takes everything literally, and begins a quest to find a wife.

Potential candidate Rosie is immediately stricken off Don’s list. She smokes, she’s always late, she works in a bar and she rips up his schedule. However she is also beautiful and fun and as Don’s carefully managed and structured life begins to unravel she encorages his journey of self discovery as Don slowly figures out why exactly he feels so alone and different to everyone else, why emotions confuse him and why no one else seems to live as logical a life as his.

This beautiful book is simply told, with Don’s character spot on. Readers will be reading in quiet frustration at Don’s seeming inability to do anything as he should; in first chapter, where Don goes to lecture on the genetics of people with Asperger’s. The dramatic irony of Don telling a crowded room that most adults living with the condition have no idea that they are makes this book a clever commentary on our perceptions of neurobiological disorders and how we treat those different to ourselves.

The will-they-won’t-they romance between Don and Rosie is sweet and lingering, but it is Don’t relationship with himself that leaves the lasting impact. Everyone will compare this with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which I believe is an unfair comparison-whereas Christopher is aware of his limitations and is also a teenager with a family and social networks, even if he doesn’t necessarily participate in them,  this is a grown man with a successful life who is confused by the world he wishes to be more involved in this is a grown up book about grown ups and, rather than Christopher grown-up, Don is such a good character in his own right I hope he becomes just as famous.

The book is in places charming, hilariously funny (the comic timing to some lines is impeccable) and very very readable, the first third is the slowest but as soon as Rosie, who is a bit mixed up and annoying in places-very Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook (who will probably get the part as soon as America nicks it and gets film rights and turns them all into from California), and Don get together everything becomes nose-to-spine. If you have ever shipped Penny and Sheldon, you will love this book.

This is going to be a massive bestseller, because it is the sort of book that you will read and then recommend to all your friends, so I wanted to get in there first and say YES it is worth the hype, I loved it, I loved Don and I can’t wait for the world to meet him.

The Rosie Project is out in April, you should pre-order, it is marvellous.

Women’s Literature Festival-Womens Writing Today-Stella Duffy

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the work of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

The Purple Shroud: A Novel of Empress Theodora   I had never read any Stella Duffy, despite her being a prolific writer of Stuff I Like, before being heavily recommended Theodora by @sianushka a couple of years ago. I promptly went out and borrowed it from Leeds Library, as I did with this book, and fell in love with her.   The Purple Shroud tells the second half of the story of Theodora, who started life as a prostituted child and circus performer, became a religious convert and finally Empress of the Byzantine empire, part of the August couple made of herself and Emperor Justinian. They lived in Constantinople around 500AD and she is seen as one of the most important women in the history of the Roman empire.   The first book, Theodora, was wonderfully written and captured brilliant a sense of place and time. What Duffy does so well is to show a city and way of life very different from our own, but make her characters real people who just happen to live 1500 years ago, as opposed to some historical fiction which creates flat stereotypes of kings and queens and courtiers. Although parts of Theodora dragged, her epic religious conversion in the desert especially (though it is quite hard to write about someone sitting in a cave doing nothing but pray for weeks on end and make it sound slightly interesting…) the character of Theodora herself, passionate and prone to acting before thinking, was a delight.   In The Purple Shroud, Theodora has grown up. She has power and status, and is not about to lose. them. I liked her less in this book, she is cruel and vindictive and jealous and spiteful, but she is also wild and fun and very very bold and you can’t help but admire her. Her relationship with Justinian was something I especially enjoyed seeing evolve. The city is more the focus of The Purple Shroud, she isn’t wandering around the desert any more and the book is all the better for that. Seeing events such as the Nika riots between the various factions against the Emperor destroy the city Duffy managed to capture Theodora’s sens of loss, not just at the buildings and the dead, but of her trust for the people, perfectly.   This book reminded me a lot of I Claudius by Robert Graves, and would make a cracking TV series, just like I Claudius did in the 70s. If you like your historical fiction to be less soppy heaving bosoms and a bit more bite, this is for you.   So that’s it! All the writers on the panel I’ve now read and reviewed. I am ridiculously excited about next week, three whole days of books and feminism and lovely lovely women. If you fancy a jaunt, why not join me? Bristol is a fantastic city and well worth a visit. The festival is on for two days and includes a variety of events. See you there?!

Women’s Literature Festival-Womens Writing Today-Beatrice Hitchman

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the work of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

Beatrice Hitchman lived in Paris for a year after her MA, and then worked as a documentary film editor, writing and directing her own short films as well. Its no surprise that film is the subject of her debut novel, Petite Mort, which is published on the 7 March and which you should definitely pre-order.   Sarah Waters meets Kate Morton, and if you’re a fan of both these writers you’ll know how glorious that would be. Petite Mort is part sexual coming of age story, part mystery, part homage to the silent film but most of all a macabre tale of lies and deceit with more twists than her publisher’s logo.   When I received this book in the post (thank you), I thought to myself ‘Lovely vintage cover about earlier twentieth century Parisian film industry with title that’s a metaphor for orgasm? If you must’. Maybe part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much was that is encapsulated all my favourite kinds of fiction, but what’s wrong with enjoying what you like?   In 1913 Adele Roux, a 17 year old country girl who has fallen in love with cinema and is encouraged in her dream to become an actress by her local parish priest, runs away from an abusive father to Paris, to a life considerably less rosy than she thought she would find. Eventually finding work in the Pathe Films factory sewing costumes she finds herself under the eye of production genius Andre Durand. However Andre has his own secrets, and his wife, the great actress Terpsichore, is hiding even more. As Adele becomes more and more involved with the Durand family she finds herself in a web made up of the glittering Parisian society and the volatile world of early cinema, can she ever escape, and does she even want to?   Fifty years later and the ‘forgotten’ reel of the film Petite Mort is found in a Parisian basement miraculously unharmed. The film was supposedly destroyed along with everything else to do with the film in a great fire in 1913. Juliette, a journalist reporting on the discovered film, becomes involved in piecing together the mystery of the Pathe fire, Petite Mort itself and the history of Adele Roux.   Interspersed with this story are those of Andre and Terpsichore, the history of cinema is told along the way. Although the books main plot is rather weird and meandering in places, these little snapshots of other lives make this a macabre, but fascinating book.

This book is slow in places, and rather farcical in others, but that is for me part of its charm. The complete lack of subtlety in the title, and the wonderful blurb, “this plot has a twist we beg you not to disclose”… make this a publicists dream. But the writing itself is worthy of praise in how addictive a read this is-I finished it in two days on the bus and at lunch hour and it isn’t a short book. If you’re a fan of the early twentieth century, cinema, Parisian elegance or slightly sapphic flavours then I’d give this debut a go. I also can’t wait to see what else Beatrice Hitchman has to offer and very much look forward to meeting her at this event.

Women’s Literature Festival-Women’s Writing Today-Selma Dabbagh

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the work of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

This book, the debut novel by British Palestinian writer Selma Dabbagh, who has previously published short stories in several Anthologies and along with Festival Chair Bidisha has appeared at PalFest, the Palestine Literature Festival, described in her book Beyond the Wall .

Out Of It describes the longings of Palestinian academic Rashid, who sits on the roof of his home, the only brick building left in the middle of a field of tents, getting high and dreaming of his British girlfriend and ultimate do-gooder Lisa. As he watches bombs fall on Gaza, Rashid is secure knowing soon he will be gone, to study in London and be away from the horror of the bombings and the pressure from his family and friends who run a humanitarian centre.

Rashid’s sister Iman, meanwhile, feels torn between wanting to do “something”, not quite knowing what that would be or involve, and also flee the chaos of Gaza, and the various intrigues of the different factions and groups, both secular and religious, that compete for the hearts and minds of the people.

This book is extremely complex, and assumes an awful lot of pre-existing knowledge of the history of Palestine, the social mores of the country and how all the different leaderships and UN declarations relate to each other. Despite learning a little more about the situation in Palestine since since Beyond the Wall I started reading this and almost instantly completely lost where I was or what was going on, Wikipedia’d it, and still didn’t really know what was going on, to be honest if I was coming at this book knowing nothing of Palestine I would have got very lost very quickly, and there isn’t the gripping plot behind the themes and characters to have kept me interested.

More than anything whilst reading this book, which follows Rashid and Iman from Gaza to London and the Gulf and back again, I thought ‘wouldn’t this make a great play?’. I would love to have seen this on stage, rather than in prose, as what Dabbagh is describing and saying would make much more of an impact I think that in its current form. Rashid and Iman’s struggle to discover the truth behind their parents, who were actively involved in the Outside Leadership, who I think were the PLO but am not absolutely sure, and to figure out their place in the world was interesting but, and this is going to sound really harsh, they are my age, have lived all over the world including a war zone and still to me eyes seemed incredibly immature. I didn’t like them, and found it hard to sympathise with them.

This book is very well written, she has an excellent voice and it is an important one to hear. How exhausting it must be to live in the conditions described, and the difference between a Gaza and London or the Gulf is striking, and wonderfully done-if you ever wanted to feel real guilt about being able to get a bikini wax or walk alone when only a few hundred miles away there are people cowering in fear this book’ll do it. There were also some excellent moments of comedy-Lisa the aid worker who organises petitions and protests, but has no actual human emotions past self-interest, on stage with an elderly pipe smoking politician, would 150 years ago have probably been saving fallen women in Whitechapel, inviting prostitutes to tea in order to look even more caring about her projects. I’ve met quite a lot of Lisa’s in my time and Dabbagh gets her spot on.

I couldn’t get on with this book, but if you’re not as ignorant as me or enjoy writing that makes your head tense then you’d enjoy this. I am however really looking forward to seeing her speak, as judging from her material here she has a lot to say.

Women’s Literature Festival-Womens Writing Today-Helen Dunmore

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the word of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panel. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

Helen Dunmore

Helen Dunmore
Photo by Caroline Forbes

I first discovered Helen Dunmore as a young teen with her collection of short stories ‘Love of Fat Men’. I can’t really remember any of the stories themselves, but I do remember being transfixed by the writing, which was sensual and elegant and probably far too old for me. When I was a little older I read Burning Bright, and properly fell in love with her. The story of a sixteen year old run away, abused by her much older boyfriend, who ultimately forms a strange friendship with Enid, a sitting tenant in the house she is kept in. I remember reading her descriptions of Enid, an elderly lady, in the bath and Nadine’s body and becoming aware that actually older people have bodies, and feelings, and we are all human and touch is the same or different for everyone and how marvellous and extraordinary that is and isn’t it amazing the feeling of breath.

Helen Dunmore is a naturally gifted writer who can turn her hand seamlessly to any genre, any form. She wins poetry prizes anonymously, writes YA, young children’s books, new introductions to classic texts, historical fiction, fiction about grief, fiction about dubious sexuality, horror, romance, everything.

She is also incredibly pleasant, knowledgeable, and from Yorkshire, and I therefore love and admire and kind of want to be her. I’ve seen her speak before at the Ilkley Lit Fest, and was lucky enough to interview her on the publication of her latest book The Greatcoat, which is a spooky short read perfect for a cold night in front of the fire, and she was entertaining and witty on both of these occasions.

Helen Dunmore was also the first recipient of the Orange Prize (now the Woman’s Prize for Fiction) for A Spell of Winter, which is truly creepy, and always praises the prize and what it has done for women’s fiction, especially in bringing new writers much needed publicity.

I love Helen Dunmore, and am really looking forward to hearing her speak. If you are new to her, there are several books I’d recommend, as well as her poetry collections (as you know, poetry ain’t my thing, but LeedsBookClub would probably do well to investigate as I know they love it).

If you like historical fiction, The Siege, followed by The Betrayal.
If you like Jodi Picault style stuff, Mourning Ruby
If you like Joanna Trolloppe/Deborah Moggach style stuff, Your Blue Eyed Boy

 

Women’s Literature Festival-Women’s Writing Today-Bidisha

In the build up to the Women’s Literature Festival in Bristol on the 16-17 March, BookElf will be reviewing the word of the writers on the Womens Writing Today panal. The event will look at the issues facing women writers today, and their inspirations for their work.

Bidisha

Bidisha is a writer and critic whose writing covers a range of issues, from gender and sexuality to international affairs. Often outspoken and unfliching in her opinions, espescially regarding the treatment of women and children, Bidisha’s first book, Seahorses, was written as a teenager and she has since presented Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 and is a regular guest on Newsnight.  She is chairing the Women’s Literature Festival.

I don’t agree with everything Bidisha has ever written, but I enjoy her writing, it is sparse and to the point and doesn’t pull any punches, and she massively bigged up ForBooksSake last year, so is obviously in my good books.
Beyond the wall

This Christmas I recieved her latest work, Beyond the Wall: Writing a Path Through Palestine. This short collection of happenings follows Bidisha and a group of other writers as they try to navigate the West Bank to various locations during the 2011 Palfest cultural festival. Bidisha, as a reporter, is completely unflinching in her descriptions of how utterly claustrophobic living in an occupied territory can be, in concrete blocks surrounded by soldiers with tanks at the end of your street and nets thrown over the yards surrounding your home where settlers can throw their rubbish, including their excrement. Some of the most heart rendering stories are those of the children living in the ghettos who are routinely harassed and antagonized by soldiers until they fight back and throw stones, giving Israeli forces justification for further fighting.

What stands out most from this book is how frustrating a life living in such an area must be, being constantly searched, interrogated, having to stand for hours at checkpoints to get anywhere, how bored you must get. And no culture, or very little, other than the minimum that is allowed to you-books have to be smuggled into the country, Palestinian writers receive so very little support and cannot promote their work to a more Western audience.

I know so very little about the situation in the West Bank. I have very good friends who campaign for both sides, which causes me horror when I hear about the bombings and the desolation in the news. Reading books like this, which give small bitter tastes of the lives of the people who live in the area and those who campaign for better lives for the children of Palestine (parts of the book are a little ‘won’t somebody think of the children’, but to be honest in situations like those described they kind of have to be) makes me ashamed of my ignorance and the need to actually occasionally read the papers and the blogs rather than live forever in my nice warm cave of ignorance.

A version of this piece was orginally published on jesshaigh.wordpress.com

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