Back soon!

Hello dear readers, you may have notice that there have not been any new posts here for a while – and I must apologise for that. Getting married took over my life, and I have just returned from our two-week honeymoon – and life hasn’t got any less busy! I am still reading away, and making notes for reviews, but I just haven’t organised myself in the last few weeks to post reviews. BUT there are some in the works and I plan to return to posting next week. Upcoming reviews include:

  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • Labyrinths by Catrine Clay (a biography of Emma Jung)
  • Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh (brand new second novel from an author I love, out in July)
  • By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart

I’m still reading all your lovely blogs, and am still over on Twitter @lizzi_risch (my new name!), and I will back to reviewing next week.

Happy reading!

WWW Wednesday, 1st March 2017

I’ve only participated in WWW Wednesday once before, and that was ages ago, so I felt like giving it another try. The idea is to post three things:

  • What you most recently finished reading
  • What you are currently reading
  • What you will read next

Hence ‘WWW’! So here goes:

What I recently finished reading: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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I read this last month after having meant to read it for years, and I’m glad I finally did. I was spurred on by the upcoming TV adaptation, and also by the fact that this mad dystopia seems oddly relevant these days, especially in the States… my review is here.

What I am currently reading: Labyrinths: Emma Jung, her Marriage to Carl, and the Early Years of Psychoanalysis by Catrine Clay

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I am almost at the end of this book and have loved it so far. I knew nothing about Emma Jung before I read it, and she has turned out to be an engaging and fascinating character. I would recommend this to anyone interested in the field and period. You can see the book on GoodReads here.

What I’m going to read next: The Good People by Hannah Kent

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I loved Hannah Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, and so when I heard she had a new book coming out I just knew I had to read it. This one has a similarly beautiful cover, and I think it will be just as fascinating and wonderful as its predecessor. You can read more about it on GoodReads here.

So there you have it! What are you WWW Wednesday books?

New affiliate: Blackwell’s

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I am pleased to announce that I am now part of the affiliate programme for Blackwell’s!

Blackwell’s are one of my favourite bookshops and the Oxford branch (just up the road from me) is an institution. The downstairs section, know as the Norrington Room, is the largest single room selling books in the world (!) and is also often the venue for their amazing in store events. They also organise events that are held around the city. Two of the best I have been to were ‘An Evening With’ type things with two of my favourite authors – Sarah Waters and Donna Tartt. Both events were held in the beautiful Divinity School, which is next to the Bodleian LIbrary, and is part of Oxford University.

I’ve added the Blacwell’s logo to the right hand side of the site (just scroll down a bit) so you can click through and browse some lovely books! I’ll also add a link to buy books at Blackwell’s at the end of reviews, along with Wordery and Foyles.

Happy reading!

Looking back on the books of 2016

This is another overdue blog post, but one that I’ve really been looking forward to writing. I read 31 books in 2016, of varying quality, but overall it was a good reading year. I tried to branch out, accepting a total of eight review copies from publishers – which is a lot for me these days. Of these the highlights for me were (links go to my reviews):

The last of these is not out until May 2017, so my review will come a little closer to the time. It was offered to me by Georgina Moore at Tinder Press and I am very glad I accepted. It is a wonderful blend of crime fiction and historical fiction based on real events, coupled with multiple narrators (all unreliable) and some really beautiful writing. In case you didn’t know, it’s about Lizzie Borden, and I loved it. You can read more here. And just look at that beautiful cover!

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(image via goodreads.com)

I read a lot of history books in 2016, both fiction and non-fiction. One other historical novel I must highlight is The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell. I’d been intimidated by its length (over 900 pages) but finally gave it a go earlier in the year – and I was not disappointed. It is a fictional autobiography of a former Nazi officer which the author spent five years researching, and it is one of the best novels I have ever read. Not only is it brilliantly written but it is deeply philosophical and challenging, and I greatly admire Littell for somehow managing to write it.

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I read a handful of other books about the Second World War and three of the best were written by and about women, real women of the War who faced huge challenges and trials but who remained strong and determined throughout. The first of these was Gone to Ground by Marie Jalowicz Simon. The book is a compilation of her stories (recorded on tape and put together by her son) from her time living in Berlin during the War as a Jewish woman. She lived ‘underground’, in hiding, using an alias and constantly moving. It is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. Similarly, I also read A Woman in Berlin. It is an anonymous account of the last few months of the War by a German woman living in Berlin. She is not persecuted as Jalowicz Simon was, but her whole life is destroyed and she suffers immensely. It is a harrowing but necessary book and shows the cost of the War on ordinary German people that often gets overlooked. I read these two books close together and wrote about them in one blog post (linked above) and they have really stuck with me. I think they are vital reading for anyone considering the experience of women in Europe during the Second World War.

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Another book that fits into that category is If This is a Woman by Sarah Helm. It’s a massive book so I waited until it was out in paperback before I read it, the delay making my expectations quite high – and they were all met. It is the first book dedicated to the story of Ravensbrück, the only Nazi concentration camp built specifically for women, and it was one of the most incredible books I have ever come across. I had read If This is a Man by Primo Levi so I had some idea of what to expect; but of course each story is unique, and these women all had incredible stories. Sarah Helm is to be hugely admired and respected for telling these stories, for doing the research and making sure each name is mentioned, each life is honoured in some way. I will not soon forget this book. I should note that in America the title is simply Ravensbrück.

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Towards the end of the year I wanted to branch out from history, and so I read The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson, which was just brilliant. I was already a fan of Jackson’s writing but I’d never actually read any of her short stories. Some of these are still quite fresh in my mind (least of all the title story) and I am desperate to read more. Luckily I was given two more volumes of her short stories for Christmas, so I have those to look forward to. These were Let Me Tell You and Dark Tales.

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The other highlights of my reading year, which I don’t have space to write more about here, were:

I have enjoyed reading other ‘best of 2016’ posts – it was a good year for books – and I look forward to a great 2017 filled with marvellous things to read. I am on my second book of the year at the moment and frankly I am dying to get back to it, so I shall finish here. Happy 2017!

 

Overdue update on Christmas and birthday books

As I said in my last post, life has rather gotten in the way of blogging over the last month or so (probably more than that), so I am only just getting around to organising posts I meant to write and publish a while ago…

First I must ask you to cast your mind back to the excitement of getting presents at Christmas, and then double it, because my birthday is just after Christmas and so I get lots of presents around that time. Not too bad.

I actually received fewer books than I expected to, seeing as I asked for quite a few, but I am so pleased with the ones I did get. And aren’t they pretty!thumb_img_9248_1024

These were all on my wish list apart from The Prose Factory, which was a pleasant surprise from my fiancé’s mother.  I’d never even heard of it but it looks fascinating so I’m looking forward to getting into it at some point.

I’ve just finished reading the book about Katherine Howard and have a blog post in the works. It has made me really want to read more about the women of the Tudor period, particularly Henry VIII’s other wives, as well as Elizabeth I and Mary. I am particularly keen on reading about my namesake as she has always held a certain mysterious magic for me and I would love to understand more about her life and reign, and her character.

I also asked for every Shirley Jackson book that I haven’t already got, and I am very pleased to now have Let Me Tell You and Dark Tales, especially as the latter is a very nice little hardback with a bright green back cover. I can’t wait to get back into more of Jackson’s eerie and wonderful short stories.

I asked for The Devil in the White City as it’s something I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while. The book is set in 1893 and “tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the [Chicago World’s] Fair’s construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.” (quote from GoodReads). I think both these men have interesting stories, and it just sounds like a fascinating time. It also doesn’t hurt that H.H. Holmes was the inspiration for the character of J.P. March in American Horror Story: Hotel – and for the hotel itself.

My fiancé’s amazing brother and sister also got a set of Vintage Classics editions of Virginia Woolf, which was a lovely surprise.

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I’ve some of these but not all, and I’m very glad I get to read them in such lovely editions! I plan to start with A Room of One’s Own as I’ve never actually gotten around to reading it…

So there you go – lots of amazing reading to be getting on with. I did also get vouchers for Foyles so there may even more books soon, what a surprise!

Happy reading!

A little update!

Hello dear readers! My apologies for my absence. Life has been a wee bit crazy in the last month or so, but we have finally moved into our new house and things are evening out… I actually have the time to sit down and write a blog post! Yay! I’m sitting at the dining table in our new house, and I could not be happier about it.

Anyway. I have read a few books since my last post, and I have lots of reviews to write! Here are some of the books I have read recently that you can expect to read about here soon:

  • Zodiac by Robert Graysmith
  • The Ice Child by Camilla Lackberg
  • In the Labyrinth of Drakes and Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

I am also going to do a belated Best of 2016 post very soon, so watch out for that too! I’m currently reading Josephine Wilkinson’s book on Katherine Howard and loving it, so I’ll write about that when I have finished it. I also received a few books for Christmas, and expect to get a couple for my birthday, so I’ll post about that those as well. So lots to come! Your patience will be rewarded!

In the meantime, happy reading and happy new year!

So, about TBR20…

Earlier this year I pledged to ‘do’ TBR20, the reading challenge created by Eva Stalker and taken up by many book bloggers. The aim is to pick 20 books that you own but have not read, and pledge not to buy any more books until you’ve read those 20. Seems like a good idea right? We all have a lot of books we haven’t read. I know I do. So I thought it would be a good idea for me. Well…

I put together my 20 books. I was full of hope. I read a few. But then I realised I didn’t want to read many of the others. A few more yes, but some of them – no thanks. There was a reason they had been sitting on my shelf, unread, for so long. I just didn’t have the interest/desire to actually read them. Some were unsolicited review copies that had appeared, so I think those are fair enough, seeing as I didn’t choose them in the first place.

The thing is, if I want to read a book, I will. If it’s still on the shelf, it either means it is a long term goal (like The Madwoman in the Attic and The Second Sex), or I’m just not that bothered about it. The latter happens quite a lot, and a lot of those books ended up in TBR20.

So, a couple of week ago, I got fed up and took myself to Waterstones. I bought three history books (I’m on a non-fiction kick at the moment), and devoured them all within a week and a half. Two weren’t as good as I had hoped, but it didn’t matter – I had still bought and read books that I really wanted to read, just for me. Not for a challenge, not for a review deadline or the expectations of a publisher or anyone else – for me. And that is something that is supposed to be at the heart of this blog. So I’ve decided I will only do reading challenges if they really suit me, or if I come up with them myself. TBR20 is off, a book clear out is imminent, and reading purely for myself is in. And I’m all the happier for it.

A Love Letter to… Letters

My cousin and I used to write letters to each other when we were about seven. I have always exchanged letters with my aunt who lives in Austria. I have written to my old teachers. But I don’t write as many letters as I used to – too little time, too easy to write an email, or a text, or a Facebook message. Sigh. Modern life.

Hipsters these days like old photos, taken with disposable cameras and scanned into their Macs, and posted on Instagram. And you know what, I like them too. We are saturated with new technology, and we all (right?) love to watch the Apple events. It’s a fascination – I’m not going to buy an AppleWatch, but I need to know all about it. Obviously. My point is that all this futuristic crap makes us nostalgic for the old stuff, for old cameras and record players, for quality over flash. And I, a blogger, miss writing things down. Since leaving education I (mostly) only ever write to make notes, to jot things down, and my handwriting has suffered for it. I write the odd letter; but I would like to write much more.

Through my faffing about on the internet I have discovered The Letter Writers’ Alliance, an organisation aiming to promote letter-writing and getting people ‘back in touch’ after all this time just communicating on screens. You can become a lifetime member for $5, and get access to all sorts of cool stationery and new pen pals. Check them out here. Don’t you love it?

I also stumbled across More Love Letters. It’s a very sweet project that highlights the best and most charitable side of human nature. The website lists people, nominated by those close to them, who would benefit from receiving some nice letters. They are widowed grandparents, struggling teenagers, children bullied at school – people trying to get on with life despite all the things being thrown at them. They are people that need to know that others care. It’s such a good idea, and I’m thinking about getting involved.

I’ve also been writing a few letters this week – to my aunt, to two of my friends, and to an old teacher I haven’t seen or spoken to since leaving school, but whose teaching I still value (guess what, she taught English Lit). I’m also super up for exchanging letters with you, my fellow bloggers, my ‘other’ community. Communicating on Twitter and our blogs is one thing, but nothing can beat sending and receiving letters and little notes. If anyone already does this or would like to, let me know! Who would you like to write to?

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Of course I had to buy some beautiful new stationery!! Come on.

#TBR20

In my last post I wrote about the troubles of having too many books to read. I also posted recently about using a book jar, something which I have, and am able to use – but haven’t yet, because really I haven’t needed to. Really it’s there just in case I need it. But frankly it isn’t helping me to work through my TBR. Ah, the TBR. The thing that book bloggers both love and loathe. Our To Be Read list (often a physical heap) is something that gets us happy and excited, but also make us nervous, and can sometimes be overwhelming.

So what is TBR20? It’s basically a way to cut through the TBR, and I think it’s fantastic. It was created by blogger Eva Stalker, who tweets and posts about it regularly. A lot of bloggers I follow mention it often enough for me to have considered doing it. And now I’m gonna!

The premise is: in order to help you work through your TBR, you pledge/actively decide to read 20 books from it before you buy any more. Simple enough, but not buying books is hard. Not any at all?? Not even one? Nope. Doing the TBR20 puts an embargo on book purchases and forces you to pay attention to the books you have, some of which might have been waiting weeks and months (or years…) to be read. Which is just silly and pointless.

So which books do I choose for the list? The only way to do this was to sit and stare at my unread books, look at them all over and over until my boyfriend gave me a funny look, cut out a few, add a few, take away more… and finally manage to wittle the list down to 20. And here they are in all their glory:

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My apologies for the slightly crappy photo. The books on the left are:

  • Havisham by Ronald Frame
  • Freud’s Sister by Goce Smilevski
  • The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell
  • Red Room: Short Stories Inspired by the Brontes
  • The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood
  • Girl at War by Sara Novic
  • Tracks by Robyn Davidson
  • The Blue Tattoo by Margot Mifflin
  • The Ladies of the House by Molly McGrann

And the books on the right are:

  • Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss
  • The Inheritors by William Golding
  • Nagasaki by Eric Faye
  • The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov
  • Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
  • Chasing the King of Hearts by Hanna Krall
  • Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death by Otto Dov Kulka
  • Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  • The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  • The Vatican Cellars by Andre Gide
  • Nothing Holds Back the Night by Delphine de Vigan

I’ve included the proofs I currently need to read (Girl at War, Ladies of the House, The Ecliptic) as well as several books I’ve been meaning to read for a long (long) time. I’m currently just under halfway through A Clash of Kings, so this project will start once I finish that, so… mid March I expect. I will be posting my reviews as well as my thoughts on the process as I go along. Wish me luck!! Anyone else done/doing the TBR20? The #TBR20 hashtag on Twitter is the perfect way to join in!

In Praise Of

In the interests of my making my blog as varied and interesting as possible, and also to stop it from becoming what Kim Forrester recently called “ another (unpaid) marketing cog in the machine”, I have decided to start a new series – In Praise Of.

So what will I be praising? Firstly it won’t be just me, I want you to tell me what you think needs some praise, and I want YOU to write about it. I’ll be writing too, of course, and will be ‘curating’ the whole thing, making a few editorial suggestions for your posts and making sure they look beautiful.

Now, to the things being praised. The criteria are:

  • Something that is a bit niche or underappreciated
  • Things that most people seem not to like, or that get a lot of perhaps undue criticism – but that you think are great
  • Something overlooked in literary history

 

But, it could still be something that a lot of people love, that you want to shout about – this doesn’t have to be In Defense Of – this is Praise! Deserved praise!

Ahem.

This series will run every other Wednesday, and the first post will be up on 17th September. I would very much like to have several other writers/bloggers involved, so get in touch if you have something that you think needs some overdue attention drawn to it, or something that you just love that much. I want the posts to praise but also to explain why that praise is due and what it is that you get out of this thing that is so great.

 

Visit the Contact page to get in touch, and I look forward to hearing your suggestions!

 

Lizzi x