#6Degrees of Separation: The Luminaries

This is a blog meme created by the authors Emma Chapman and Annabel Smith, that runs on the first Saturday of each month. Everyone starts with the same book, then links it to another book in whichever way they like, and so on for a total of six links. This month’s starting book is Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, and as that’s one of my very favourite books, I could hardly pass up the chance to join in. So:

luminariesThe Luminaries is the second novel by an author I first read in 2009; and so is…

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld. This book has two parallel plot threads, one running chronologically forwards, the other backwards. Another novel with reversed chronology is…

Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis, which gradually reveals that its protagonist is a doctor who worked at Auschwitz. Another book with an oblique portrayal of Auschwitz is…

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, which was one of the first titles I read in my old book group. When the time came for me to choose a book for the group, I chose…

The Prestige by Christopher Priest, in which present-day characters learn about the rivalry between two Victorian stage magicians. Another novel involving present-day discoveryof Victorian strangeness is…

The Evolution of Inanimate Objects by Harry Karlinsky, which is a novel written in the form of a historical biography. And another novel that borrows a non-fiction form is…

Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton, which is a novel in the form of an auction catalogue, and a book I really want to read.


Well, I didn’t anticipate that I’d end up there when I started writing this post, but the journey was certainly good fun. If you’d like to join in yourself, the rules are below:



A short intermission… and my day in books

It’s time for a short break in blogging, as I’m now in the process of moving house. I won’t have regular internet access for the next few weeks, but I hope to be back to regular blogging in December, or January at the latest.

Before I sign off, here’s a meme from Cornflower Books in which you have to complete the statements with the titles of books you’ve read this year. The links lead to my reviews of each book. Thanks for reading, and see you later!


I began the day by Touching the Void

before breakfasting on Sweets

and admiring The Longshot.

On my way to work I saw Viriconium

and walked by Hawthorn & Child

to avoid The Sisters Brothers,

but I made sure to stop at A Novel Bookstore.

In the office, my boss said, Everyone’s Just So So Special,

and sent me to research The Evolution of Inanimate Objects.

At lunch with Agnes Grey

I noticed Monkeys with Typewriters

in NW

greatly enjoying The Bellwether Revivals.

Then on the journey home, I contemplated The Quiddity of Will Self

because I have Fascination

and am drawn to Joy.

Settling down for the evening in The Apartment,

I studied The Panda Theory,

by The Remains of the Day

before saying goodnight Still.

Ten favourite books read during the lifetime of this blog

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I’m joining in this week because I was really taken with the theme. I’ve been reviewing books online since 2004, but this blog started in 2009, and I’m concentrating on the period since then. What follows here is not a definitive list of favourites, nor is it in a strict order – it’s a list of highlights. It’s a snapshot of what I like to read.

1. The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton

This is a tale of pure serendipity. I was visiting Cambridge, and saw the hardback of The Rehearsal in a bookshop. It wasn’t the subject matter that grabbed me, but the blurbs promising something different. I took a chance on it… and really didn’t get along with its mannered prose style at first. But I persevered and, once I realised what Catton was doing – how completely the novel’s different aspects embodied its theme of performance – I got into it, and ended up absolutely loving the book. The Rehearsal is the fondest memory I have of reading a book in the last few years, and it showed me a new way to appreciate fiction.

2. Pocket Notebook – Mike Thomas

A few bloggers enthused about Pocket Notebook in 2010 – and I really liked its Clockwork Orange-inspired cover – but I never got around to reading it. The following year, I started reviewing for Fiction Uncovered; when I saw Pocket Notebook on their review-copy list, I decided to try it. I was utterly blown away by the vividness with which Thomas created his corrupt-copper protagonist. My only regret is that I didn’t read this novel a year earlier.

3. Skippy Dies – Paul Murray

This book has 661 pages. I devoured the whole lot in a weekend. An Irish boarding-school comedy with added quantum physics, Skippy Dies goes from humour to sharp characterisation to social commentary to pathos to the borders of science fiction and back again, without putting a foot wrong. Stunning stuff.

4. Solo – Rana Dasgupta

When I started this blog, I was just beginning to investigate the parts of the contemporary British literary scene that would most interest me. The website Untitled Books was (still is) a great resource, and it’s where I found out about Solo. I love books with wide-ranging sensibilities, and Solo – with its account of a life that feels like a daydream, and a daydream that feels like life – is that sort of book.

5. Beside the Sea – Véronique Olmi

One of the great joys of book blogging has been discovering small presses. Peirene Press are one of the fine publishers who’ve emerged in the last couple of years, and Beside the Sea is one of their best books. Ostensibly the story of a mother taking her children on a trip to the seaside, darkness gradually emerges from behind the happy façade to build up a brilliant but tragic portrait.

6. Yellow Blue Tibia & New Model Army – Adam Roberts

Yellow Blue Tibia was the very first book I reviewed on this blog. I was wanting to catch up on some of the contemporary sf authors I hadn’t read, and my first Adam Roberts novel just blew me away. My second, New Model Army, did the same the year after – a novel that I can genuinely say did something I hadn’t come across in a book before. I can’t choose one of these books over the other for this list, so here they both are.

7. The Affirmation – Christopher Priest

Being surprised by an unfamiliar author is great; but so is reading an excellent book by a writer you already know. A Christopher Priest novel is a maze of realities and unreliable perceptions, and The Affirmation is up there with his best. Priest’s narrative shifts between realities, and his masterstroke is to make our world seem no more (or less) real than his fictional one.

8. An A-Z of Possible Worlds – A.C. Tillyer

You can’t explore the world of book blogs for too long without coming across books that you’re unlikely to hear of elsewhere. I first heard of An A-Z of Possible Worlds through Scott Pack’s blog, and it really ought to be better known. Lovingly produced by its publisher, Roast Books, this is a collection of stories in a box – twenty-six individual pamphlets, each about its own place. The stories are very fine, too.

9. Coconut Unlimited – Nikesh Shukla

Here’s another way of discovering books in the blog age: finding a writer to be an engaging presence on Twitter; then, a year (or however long) later, reading his or her newly-published book. That’s what happened with Coconut Unlimited, which turned out to be a razor-sharp and hilarious comedy. More interconnectedness: I met Nikesh Shukla last year at a Firestation Book Swap, which Scott Pack usually hosts (although he wasn’t there for that one).

10. The City & the City – China Miéville

The City & the City generated one of my longest reviews, and I can’t remember reading another book that had so many interpretations from so many different people. It’s a novel to argue with, and argue about. At the time, I hadn’t read one of Miéville’s adult books since The Scar; I remember thinking that The City & the City was good enough in itself, but too quiet to catch on as some of his earlier works had. Of course, I was wrong. It was fascinating to see how the novel was received beyond the sf field, and the book blogging community was a big part of that reaction for me.

Teaser Tuesday: Ghost Story

Time for the weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading, where we open the book we’re reading at a random page, and quote two sentences (without spoilers). My quote this week is from Ghost Story by Toby Litt:

The only drama came from the juddercrash of the pilot light catching, or the yawp of the central heating waking up and that was long past, now. Agatha enjoyed listening – doing nothing but listening; she took possession of the house first of all through her ears. (p. 31)

It’s difficult to give a true flavour of Ghost Story just by pulling out a couple of sentences – this is a book that works through long, immersive stretches of prose – but I think these lines give a sense of how the main character, Agatha, becomes preoccupied with the small details of her environment; and so starts to haunt (or be haunted by) her own house.

Teaser Tuesday: Pure

I’ve found this weekly meme over at the Should Be Reading blog: open the book you’re reading at a random page, and quote two sentences (without spoilers). Sounds fun. Today I am reading Pure, Andrew Miller’s Costa-winning novel set in pre-Revolutionary Paris:

When the assault took place, when precisely, no one could ever say with any certainty. Somewhere between very late and very early, some deep, velvet-lined pocket of a winter’s night. (p. 189)

I haven’t actually reached that page yet; I’m intrigued.

55 Reading Questions

I found this meme on Story in a Teacup; I may be coming to it a little belatedly, but I liked the questions, so I thought I’d respond. 55 questions; 55 answers – here goes…

1. Favourite childhood book? I cut my reading teeth, as it were, on Fighting Fantasy and Terry Pratchett books.

2. What are you reading right now? You Came Back by Christopher Coake.

3. What books do you have on request at the library? Nothing at present.

4. Bad book habit? Acquiring books faster than I can read them.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Ghost Story by Toby Litt; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark; State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

Continue reading

Sunday Salon: Favourite books from A to Z

The Sunday Salon.com

I came across this meme on the Musings of a Bookshop Girl blog: for each letter of the alphabet, name your favourite book whose title starts with that letter. I’m not much of a one for naming definitive favourites, so instead I’ll list a favourite book for each letter (with links to where I’ve written about them. Here goes:

A  An A-Z of Possible Worlds – A.C. Tillyer

B  Beside the Sea – Véronique Olmi

C  Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

D  Diving Belles – Lucy Wood

E  Everyone’s Just So So Special – Robert Shearman

F  The Facts of Life – Graham Joyce

G  The Godless Boys – Naomi Wood

H  How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu

I  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

J  Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey

K  The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

L  Legend of a Suicide – David Vann

M  Mr Shivers – Robert Jackson Bennett

N  Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

O  On Roads: a Hidden History – Joe Moran

P  The Prestige – Christopher Priest

Q  The Quiddity of Will Self – Sam Mills

R  The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton

S  Solo – Rana Dasgupta

T  Tender Morsels – Margo Lanagan

U  Under the Sun – Hanne Marie Svendsen

V  Vellum – Hal Duncan

W  We Had It So Good – Linda Grant

X  Xenogenesis – Octavia E. Butler

Y  Yellow Blue Tibia – Adam Roberts

Z  Zoo City – Lauren Beukes

I wasn’t sure whether I’d find something for each letter, but, luckily, The Quiddity of Will Self (which is the last book I read) turned out to be really good, and gave me the Q. (The X is a slight cheat, as it’s the omnibus of a series which I only read as individual volumes, but I think I can be allowed a little leeway.)

Let me know if you decide to do this meme yourself, as I’d love to see how our lists compare.

Today’s little diversion

This meme comes from the Cornflower Books blog — complete the sentences with the titles of books you have read this year. I was quite surprised at how well my year’s reading list matched with some of these.


I began the day with The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

On my way to work I saw The Tiny Wife

and walked by Rivers of London

to avoid A Visit from the Goon Squad

but I made sure to stop at The Night Circus

In the office, my boss said, Where Would I Be Without You?  

and sent me to research Pub Walks in Underhill Country

At lunch with Mr Fox

I noticed The Cornet-Player Who Betrayed Ireland

under The Silver Wind

then went back to my desk Down the Rabbit Hole

Later, on the journey home, I bought Everything I Found on the Beach

because I have Generosity

then settling down for the evening, I picked up The Sense of an Ending

and studied Tree Surgery for Beginners

before saying goodnight to The Islanders

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