Friday Teasers

It’s boiling hot here – in a steamy sort of way – and we’re expecting family for the weekend, so rather than a real post, a few teasers for reviews I’ve written over on SNB that will take you to the best books I’ve read over the past few months.


The one I wanted as soon as I saw it, received through the post with glee and loved it as much as I’d hoped.


The one I thought had the best writing – on average three brilliant sentences a page.


The one I didn’t think I’d like, put off reading until the very end, and then found gripping, poignant and altogether amazing.


The one that was sheer quality and class from start to finish.


The one that had the best twist.


The one that was both brilliant and irritating that I wished I could discuss with other readers.


The one that was very funny, and very, very sad.


The one that was the best comfort read.


Hope you all have a lovely weekend!


The Very Inspiring Blogger Award


I was immensely chuffed to find that two dear blogging friends – Susan and Annabel – had nominated me for this award (and I would nominate both of them right back if they hadn’t done this already!). It’s even more touching because I’ve been a rather intermittent blogger these past few weeks. Though that’s just been the force of circumstances, I hesitate to add. I love my blogging community and would be lost without you all and your brilliant posts and wonderful comments here.

So this award comes at the perfect time to celebrate blog friends. These are the rules:

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated (15 is a few too many for me, particularly as several of the ones I would have included have nominated me so I hope 10 will do)
  • Optional: display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you

I’ll give a special shout out to my other fellow editors at Shiny – Harriet and Simon – who are just wonderful, and then my nominees for this award (I’m supposed to have 15, but it just had to be 16 and there could have been more!), in alphabetical order:


Acid Free Pulp – just love these intelligent and thoughtful reviews.


A Gallimaufry – Helen makes me laugh every time; she is pure delight, and finds the best art, too.


A Work in Progress – should be on everyone’s Top Five Perfect Book Blogs list.


Beauty is a Sleeping Cat – great reviews and the best community readalongs.


Dolce Bellezza – one of the biggest, warmest hearted bloggers I know.


Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings – I am in awe of Karen’s seemingly effortless, wonderful reviews, and her secondhand finds!


Listenwatchreadshare – fantastic writing about books and life (and moving house!)


Mrs Carmichael – like having a drink with your funniest friend; the best family and travel adventure tales ever.


Necromancy Never Pays – brilliant reviews peppered with poems that I have a) never heard of and b) find hugely intriguing.


Novel Readings – such intelligent analyses of books; you feel smarter just being there.


Reading the End – no one reviews like Jenny; she is such an original and hilarious.


Ripple Effects – gorgeous photography and amazing film reviews; I get all my viewing recommendations here.


Shelf Love – Jenny and Teresa cover such an amazing range of books between them; and yet often they seem to be reviewing a book I’ve read or want to read.


Smithereens – what book blogging is all about, real passion for books and writing, squeezed into daily life.


So Many Books – one of the all-time great book blogs; classic and timeless.


The Curious Reader – mostly life, padded with books, and always wise and loving. I just wish blogger would let me comment more!


The Modern Idiot – social and political comment, a laugh, a rant and full-on passion all the time.


Thinking in Fragments – dangerously full of crime fiction I want to read! And deliciously readable reviews of all kinds.


And while I’m at it, I have to send love to Lilian and Pete, who do blog, but not often enough (because they are particularly busy!).

I’m supposed to add seven facts about me. But guys, I’ve been blogging for 8 years here – I don’t think there’s anything you don’t know by now! Though if there’s anything you want to know, you only have to ask.


Issue 2 Is Out!

Yes, our second, summery edition of Shiny New Books is live today!


I learned one or two intriguing things over the past few months:

1. It is possible to say ‘yes, please’ to too many books.

2. I was surprised by how hard it is to judge books from their blurbs. This shouldn’t have come as a shock, but still, the books I put off for a bit, uncertain whether I’d like them or not, turned out to be without fail the most amazing of all.

3. I have outrageously talented blog friends: take a bow Jodie, Susan, Andrew, Danielle (and again), Tom, Rowland, Helen, Jean, Denise, Karen H, Karen L. and Max.

4. The best way to spot typos is to read over Mr Litlove’s shoulder, having said something like: ‘This is fantastic, you must come and read this!’ I am thinking of hiring him out to others in need of such an invaluable service.

As ever, we’ve had a fabulous time putting it together. A big cheer please for Annabel, Harriet and Simon, who did all the difficult stuff while I drowned slowly in review copies! Do go over and have a look at the wonderful reviews and features on offer. Last time, we had over 14,000 hits in our first week, and it would be great to better that….

A Photo, Two Links and a Mystery

Well this must be a first: I don’t think I’ve ever posted a proper photo of myself on this site and I wouldn’t break the routine now if it weren’t in honor of a very special event. Last week, the editors of Shiny New Books all met up in Piccadilly, London, for tea and, of course, book shopping (just on the wild offchance you might be curious, the books I bought were: Fin & Lady by Cathleen Shine, The Carriage House by Louisa Hall and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer). Here we are, having more or less talked ourselves to a standstill.

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Harriet, Annabel, Me and Simon


We’re now in the thick of reading and reviewing for our next full edition, which will be out at the start of July. But before then, we’ll be updating our spring magazine with a few more reviews and features – our newsletter will contain the full details. I’ve been busy piecing together the life of crime fiction writer, Celia Fremlin, whose novels have recently been re-issued by Faber & Faber. It’s been rather exciting as no biography of her exists, so I’ve been trawling the web and the libraries for information, and swapping opinions with Harriet, who’s reviewing the books. Hitchcock adapted Fremlin’s first novel, The Hours Before Dawn, for one of his television programs, and you can still watch it online. I can see exactly why her stories appealed to him – domestic settings, creeping menace, women in peril, psychological terror. You can read all about it in May.

On that note, of really good books I’ve read for SNB, I thought I might point you in the direction of a couple of non-fiction reviews of mine.

mad girls love songAndrew Wilson’s new biography of Sylvia Plath, focusing on the years before she met Ted Hughes, was one of those books that I felt ambivalent about reading. I’d read biographies of Plath before – what could he do to surpass the wonderful Janet Malcolm bio, The Silent Woman? Well, he doesn’t surpass it, but the book was highly engaging, full of detail about Sylvia’s obsessively competitive nature, and her strenuous dating regime (one summer she dated 21 boys and rated them all with a star system). I was reading about the psychological factors involved in manic depression just the other day (as you do), and realised that the classic ‘storyline’ of the illness exactly fit Sylvia’s profile – a mother who singles out one of her children to be special and raise the family’s status, confusing the child with her mixture of love and fierce disciplinary strictures and becoming irrevocably mixed up with the child’s goals, so the child is no longer sure to whom they actually belong. Scary stuff.

‘In Andrew Wilson’s fascinating account of Sylvia Plath before she met Ted Hughes, she comes across as the Britney Spears of the poetry world. There’s the same economically-challenged background, of which she is slightly ashamed, with ambiguous relationships to her parents, the same precocious talent, and the same crazy ambition….’ Read full review.

falling into the fireAnother book I loved was Christine Montross’s Falling into the Fire, a portrait of her work as emergency admissions doctor in a psychiatric inpatient ward. The publicist who sent me the book warned me that I’d wince at the stories, and oh my, she was not kidding. The book opens with an account of a woman who eats light bulbs, screws, medical instruments – every hospital room has to be stripped clean before she can be put in it, or else she’ll eat the contents. But drama and sensation aside, what I really appreciated in this book was the careful consideration of medical ethics that is the reason Montross tells these stories in the first place. What actually happens to the impossible psychiatric cases? Who is responsible for these suffering people and what can be done to help them? I found it an engrossing and complex work.

‘I begin to wonder whether there is an entry in the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) for readers like me, who find themselves fascinated by accounts of people struggling with the different illnesses it defines. I’ve long been a reader of ‘shrink lit’, books based on psychotherapy, and now I’m branching into the popular literature on psychiatry, for which Oliver Sacks is the main torch bearer. Following in his footsteps with great compassion, intelligence and a wealth of completely bonkers patients is Christine Montross… Read full review

However, I’ve been complaining of late about the string of small but unpleasant catastrophes that have afflicted me recently, and now the universe has really stopped pulling its punches. I’ve realised that over the past 10 days or so, I’ve lost five books in the post. I’m going to the village post office for the second time later today to be put in touch with the local customer service rep to try and get this sorted out. I’d like to be all Nancy Drew about it – this is after all the tale of The Postman Doesn’t Ring Once, Let Alone Twice. But actually I’m just cross. People are sending me books, and they are not reaching me. What sort of heinous crime is this?