Thoughts: Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel

Another unlooked-for treasure, this was my treat after reading Covet. Station Eleven is beautiful, in the kind of painful way that only hack writers like me know: I wish I’d written this and now I can’t because it already exists in the world.

As usual, accept my heartfelt recommendation to read this book before reading my idiot thoughts on it. I’m not so worried about spoilers, but it is a great book.

Continue reading

Thoughts: Covet, by J. R. Ward

This is the second of the books that Spuggy brought back from the free bookshelves, and somehow turned out to be even worse than Heart of the Dragon. I know. I hardly thought it possible myself.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Continue reading

Thoughts: Born Survivors, by Wendy Holden

I went through a sort of phase a couple of years ago where I must have felt like my TBR list wasn’t long enough, and I started asking people for recommendations. I was visiting Spuggy’s grandparents one Christmas or New Year, and I asked his grandma what she was reading on her Kindle – this book, of course – and it didn’t seem like the kind of book you say no to, so it went on the list. And see, I keep my promises, even if it takes me years.

Continue reading

Thoughts: Paper Towns, by John Green

My sister was reading this when she came over to visit, and was kind enough to pass it on when she was done. The other John Green I’ve read are An Abundance of Katherines and The Fault in Our Stars, so I think I have a pretty reasonable grasp of his oeuvre, and for the most part I have to say I like it.

Sure, there’s the occasional mawkish moment (the Anne Frank house…) and sometimes the quirkiness is too quirky for its own good, but in general, yep, I like it. His writing is easy to read and comes with thoughtful questions beneath the stories. I know it’s fashionable to backlash against anything that’s been popular for too long (especially anything with a progressive or left-wing bent), and so I’ve seen Green castigated for being too successful in a female-dominated sector of publishing, among other things. On one hand, we need to get teenage boys into reading, but on the other, male YA authors aren’t allowed to do too well.

Another thing people say a lot is that teenagers don’t talk like John Green characters. Well, I hate to break it to you, guys, but we don’t talk like Buffy characters, and yet that dialogue is considered a high bar for anyone who wants to write wit.

Specific to Paper Towns, I’ve seen him accused to perpetuating the manic pixie dream girl trope, which is something like complaining that there’s sexism in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Of course it depicts a manic pixie dream girl. That’s what the book is about.

Let’s dive right in.

Continue reading

Sparrow Songs: Metal that’s not about death

It’s been a while since I did one of these posts! So, one image that people have of metal music is “Oh, it’s all screaming about death and Satan and so on”. But this is not true! So, in this blog post I’m going to just post some metal songs about really random topics. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Thoughts: How to be Both, by Ali Smith

This was originally not on my list but had been on my radar, and when a friend offered me a copy, I considered it a sign. Before continuing, I’ll explain the structure of the book a bit. How to be Both is essentially two novellas, connected enough to warrant the one book but separate enough that some books are printed with one story first and some the other. You won’t know which order you’re reading in until you start, and that will colour your reading. You can read it again in the opposite order, of course, but I think the first reading will already have shaped your perception of the book. To be both a person who read George’s story first and a person who read Francesco’s story first is one both we cannot be.

So that’s the first thing. I read George’s story first, which means that that’s the person I am, that’s the perspective from which I write this post. The second thing is that I’m going to be extravagantly spoilery, because to not spoil this book is not to be able to talk about it, and these posts are much more “spaces for me to talk about books I read” than they are “helpful recommendations for other people”.

You have been warned.

Continue reading

A map of every town in It’s Grim Up North

Where does the North begin? This debate has been raging on the Wikipedia talk page for Northern England for over a decade. Well, luckily the answer has already been given to us by… the KLF. In 1991, the band – then going under the name “The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu” – recorded a ten minute techno song “It’s Grim Up North”. The majority of the song consists of town names being delivered in a Scottish monotone over a pulsing techno beat, ending with the phrase “are all in the North”.

I’ve taken the song lyrics – using Wikipedia’s interpretation of ambiguous lines (so “Cheadle Hulme” not “Cheadle” and “Hulme”, but “Accrington” and “Stanley” not “Accrington Stanley”) and ignoring the fact that Leigh appears twice – and mapped them all.

So, what is in the North?

Continue reading

Urban birdwatching in Frankfurt — Urbane Vogelbeobachtung in Frankfurt-am-Main

If you follow me on social media, I’ve probably been driving you mad recently with lots of bird pictures. Lots and lots of bird pictures.

In order to have them all in the same place – and not just have them on a social media site that could disappear and/or use them to hack an election at any time – I’m going to put a little list of all the birds I’ve Frankfurt, and where I’ve seen them! (Und auch auf Deutsch!)

Continue reading

Thoughts: Heart of the Dragon, by Gena Showalter

Oh my goodness, where do I start?

Let’s start at the beginning. Once upon a time, a husband found two incredible-looking books in a free bookshelf and brought them home to his wife. One day, the wife picked one up and read it, hoping for some frothy, trashy* fun.

This is what she actually got.

Continue reading

Thoughts: Hild, by Nicola Griffith

After the high-speed frolic of Golden Hill, the syrupy slowness of Call Me By Your Name and the spare elegance of Lady Into Fox, Hild was a thick, soft blanket, and I sank gratefully into it. Another impulse book, because it’s about St Hilda of Whitby, and I’m not used to reading historical fiction set in my part of the world.

Hild was a big, immersive doorstop of a book (though in Kindle form) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Some things to bear in mind.

Firstly, this book is set in the 7th Century. Griffith has done a lot of research, but she’s also used some artistic licence to fill in gaps and add to the atmosphere. If this is not your thing (and especially if you’re a scholar of 7th Century England and can see the joins) then this might annoy you.

Secondly, if you’re reading it on Kindle, then be aware that it skips the map. The map is useful to keep straight what’s going on, because Hild travels a lot and the place names are pretty different from what they are today. Even if you aren’t the sort of person who follows a story on a map as it unfolds (I’m not at all) I think it helps to at least glance at it and have an overview of what the world looks like before you start.

Thirdly, this is the first book of a trilogy, and it doesn’t take you up to Hild’s famous stint as Abbess of Whitby, so be aware of that. I found myself a little worried at times about the pacing (not that it’s slow, but that it covers such an early part of her life) and wondering how it was going to get everything resolved in time. Spare yourself similar worries – there will be more. Let yourself trust the story.

Continue reading