A spark of genius: The Driver’s Seat

Muriel Spark has been one of those literary icons that has for a while been orbiting the periphery of my brain, but until recently I knew only two concrete things about her: that she wrote The Prime of Miss Brodie and that she was Scottish. Thankfully there are lots of well-read people out there who want to expand the minds of people like me – and to do this they’re capitalising on the fact that this year Muriel would have turned 100.

As a way of raising the profile of Dame Muriel, Scotland is celebrating this centenary with its #murielspark100 fiesta, as is Heavenali with her #readingmuriel2018 event. It was Madamebibliophile‘s review of The Driver’s Seat in particular that propelled me to read this novella …. and wow, what a book.

‘Ali Smith is just the best’: A fire-side chat about Winter

In the heady days immediately before Christmas, Jan@whatIthinkwhenIthinkaboutreading (one of my favourite bloggers but whom I’ve never actually met) and I decided to do a joint review of Ali Smith’s most recent book Winter.  We read the first of her seasonal quartet, Autumn, at around the same time (see here for that review), both loved it and through instant messaging found ourselves having something akin to a fire-side chat about Winter.

As a result of the time it took to get the internet connected in my new house (think of light years), I’m only now able to post this.

As you’ll read, at the time we chatted I was knee-deep in moving house, starting a new job, living in a new town for half the week, with patchy internet. As a consequence my thoughts are sketchy and superficial. Meanwhile, Jan poured forth insight after insight about Winter.  She puts me to shame.

The fact that I was in Melbourne and Jan was in her native Manchester added an interesting layer to how we each appreciated Winter. We also chatted about A Christmas Carol, Christmas shopping strategies, Brexit (of course), summer storms, SI units and whether Smith is a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’. And we both come to a similar conclusion about whether Winter lives up to Autumn

Best books of 2017

Sneaking in with only hours left of this year, I’ve complied my ‘best of 2017 list’.  It was a great year for books (and audiobooks); whispers and snippets of many of them are still rattling around in my head.

I’ve actually surprised myself with this list, and in particular with the ranking of the books. On any given day the list could’ve looked different (how did Sarah Waters not end up in the top spot? Where is Pachinko? Anything Is Possible?).

However, given 2017 is ebbing away as I type, without further prevarication I give you my favourite four audiobooks and my best ten books of 2017.

The Soulweaver: The movie

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that I have a very talented friend called Heidi Catherine, who is especially clever because she has written a book (which is more than enough in its own right). In addition to writing it however, Heidi has also succeeded in getting it published!

Heidi’s book is The Soulweaver, a fantasy/romance, which beautifully explores how life and love continue after death. It’s a fantastically original and deeply engaging storyline; through a series of interwoven narratives it probes the different ways love can manifest – as an ardent lover, as a soulmate, as a parent and child – and how this love can survive throughout time.

The Soulweaver begins with a cracker of an opening paragraph:

Hannah’s life began the day she died. It had happened before – both the dying and the beginning. She didn’t know it though. All she knew was now.

 

And from there we learn that Hannah, like millions of others, is an ‘old soul’ who has been returned to earth numerous times to live life again. Over the course of the novel, Heidi’s easy-flowing prose, thoughtful structure and creative imagery expertly leads us through Hannah’s journey, which this time takes an unexpected turn.

The book is split into five parts, chronicling the story of its five central characters: Hannah, Lin, Mathew, Reinier and Shen. This particular approach reminded me of the ‘Rashomon Effect’ in films where the story unfolds from each character’s perspective, sometimes (deliberately) in contradiction to other characters’ viewpoints.  Naturally I started thinking what if – as a consequence of knocking J.K Rowling and Paula Hawkins from the bestseller list – The Soulweaver was turned into a film?  What would it look like and most importantly, who would play the romantic leads?

Thar she blows!: It’s got to be Rush Oh!

I’m dying to give Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett the glowing and fulsome review that it deserves. Rush Oh! is a gem of a book; ranking up there as one of my favourite books of 2017. So, I should be writing a review that lists its virtues, at length. However, for various tedious reasons (new job/ moving house/ Christmas) my time is compromised, and this mini review will have to do. The most important thing is this: if the sound of this book tickles your fancy, beg, borrow or buy it as a priority.