Category Archives: Literary musings

March (*ahem* and February…) Reading Round-Up

I seem to have gone AWOL the past couple of months, with not much time for reading or writing at all sadly, which is why this is a double-edition Reading Round-Up.

In February, I managed to read a rather depressing sum total of ONE book – Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, although even that is stretching it a little as most of that was listened to in January. I got about halfway through A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry but decided to put it back on my shelves for a while as I kept picking it up for 20 minutes here or there and not really giving it the attention it deserves. I also took part in the Literary Blog Hop Giveaway and sent out my prize of Tigers in Red Weather to a lucky reader. I honestly cannot remember what else I got up to in February, aside from working a whole heap and flat hunting! Thankfully, the flat hunt is now over and March has been a quicker month reading-wise.

Capture

In March, I’ve made it through:

Alex by Pierre Lemaître
Gone are the Leaves by Anne Donovan (out at the beginning of May)
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
(proof copy – out in June 2014)
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

I also managed to attend a great event at the wonderful Looking Glass Books bookshop in Edinburgh’s Quarter Mile, the launch of the 4th edition of The Istanbul Review, a literary journal based in both Istanbul and Edinburgh. Elif Shafak did a reading from her novel The Forty Rules of Love and did an audience Q&A, speaking eloquently on all things from Turkey, free speech, spiritualism, gender equality and writing. There’s a great review of the evening over on the Writer Pictures website.

Shafak’s novel Honour is sitting on my Wish List at the moment – I will be reading it soon I hope. It was such a lovely evening, and if you’re in Edinburgh, do check out Looking Glass Books’ event calendar as there is always loads going on!

I’m currently reading Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch and listening to The Son by Philipp Meyer on audiobook and although both are quite different (The Son is pretty brutal!) I am really enjoying both of them. I haven’t got any major reading plans coming up but I do hope to get around to reading The Luminaries at some point – one of my book club buddies also has it on her bookshelf so it would be great to suggest this as our next title. I’m still half-way through my review of The People in the Photo which I will complete soon hopefully.

In April, I’m looking forward to moving house mainly! I’ve cleared out many books already and I feel that I’ve been fairly ruthless by my standards so far, although my boyfriend may not agree… I’ll also be attending London Book Fair for the first time, and no doubt reading loads in preparation. Another busy month is ahead but I’m looking forward to getting in to the spring. Hopefully the weather in Edinburgh will get in gear soon and catch up!

Happy reading in April x

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January Reading Round-Up

I hope you’ve all survived January! It’s gone pretty quickly for me, and I’ve now been back at work longer than I was on holiday for. Those days of lie-ins and lounging about reading all morning are but a distant memory. *sigh*

But, I have managed to read quite a few books despite that (the January social calendar is usually pretty slow!), as well as catch up on a couple of films and TV series I’ve been wanting to watch for a while.

half-of-a-yellow-sun-1stonerHEATWAVE97819083135469781782112129

Books read in January:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | Review
The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti
Stoner by John Williams | Review
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell | Review
The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern | Review coming soon
Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth (proof read for work)

Films watched:

The Thirteenth Tale | Based on Diane Setterfield’s book (read my review here)
American Hustle
(On this note, I also featured on my blog a list of my top 10 book adaptations which was good fun collating)

I’ve been watching the first three seasons of Downton Abbey which is wonderful (it’s become a bit of an obsession) – I can’t quite believe it took me so long to get into it! I’ve also been watching season 2 of the quirky and clever Swedish/Danish crime series The Bridge, I think the characters have developed even more and I’m really enjoying it. What else? Sherlock! I loved the first and third episodes in the new series (wasn’t so keen on the second one) but it’s all over already – how long do we have to wait until the next series, hmm…?

In February, I’m mainly looking forward to the gradually lighter mornings, taking part for the second time in the Literary Blog Hop Giveaway (running from the 4th-8th of February), watching the film adaptation of The Book Thief, wine tasting at Divino Enoteca and tree top climbing at Go Ape.

I’m not sure quite what I’ll be reading yet, but some of my potential reads are:

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (definitely will be an at-home read as it’s far too weighty to cart around in my handbag!)
The Map of Love by Ahdaf Souief (I picked this up at a Book Swap event in my work during Book Week Scotland)
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (I won this as part of the Literary Blog Hop giveaway back in 2012 and thought there was no better time to read it than in the run-up to the next one!)

What about everyone else? Got any exciting plans coming up in February?

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Top 10 Book Adaptations

I’m not much of a film buff, I haven’t watched everything on any ‘100 films to see before you die’ list, and I certainly don’t think anyone would describe my film choices as particularly cool, whatever that means. But, I do enjoy watching a good film from time to time, and I always look out for adaptations of books I’ve read, or books I’d like to read. There are always discussions about adaptations, and I find it interesting that they always divide opinion.

Are you a fan of Leonardo Dicaprio or Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby?

Are you a fan of Leo Dicaprio or Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby?

A perfect example of this is the reception of Baz Luhrman’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby which came out last summer (I loved it, but then I hadn’t seen the 1974 version starring Robert Redford as the inimitable Jay Gatsby).

I think there are often two main areas of discussion around a book adaptation:

1) How faithful it is to the book
2) How it compares to previous adaptations

On number 1, film directors always seem tempted to play with book adaptations, some striving to be as faithful as possible, or others being more adventurous with the format, such as Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (which will always be my favourite adaptation of Shakespeare’s play), or 2012’s version of Anna Karenina by Joe Wright (which I also thought was brilliant).

Another example for point 2 would be Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If you’ve seen the original adaptation, known as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, filmed in 1971 and starring Gene Wilder), then it may have been quite hard to warm to the more recent 2005 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. It’s all a matter of which one you’ve seen first in some cases, as that’s the one you’ll come to associate most with the book. I’ve been thinking about book adaptations and wondering what my favourites have been, so I decided to come up with a list of my top 10 book adaptations on screen (in no particular order).

pride-and-prejudicePride and Prejudice
I loved both the BBC TV series with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, as I particularly loved the actor chosen for Mr. Bingley. I only read Pride and Prejudice last year but I felt that I already knew the story inside out – it’s such a well-known story that it could probably be adapted into many different styles, in fact, the Bollywood version Bride and Prejudice was also good fun.

lord_of_the_rings_the_return_of_the_king_xlgThe Lord of the Rings trilogy
This trilogy will always remind me of those long student winter breaks, and watching the extended versions of the films over the course of a few days with my brother who is a big fan of both the films and the books. I haven’t read the trilogy (I think I’ve read just 100 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring), but the world that J.R.R Tolkien created is brought to life on screen by Peter Jackson and the detail in each of them is astonishing. I miss being able to see them on the big screen at the cinema. There may also be some truth in the allegation that my love of men with beards comes from watching these films. Ahem.

Harry Potter series
I loved the books, as most book lovers of my generation do. Yes, the first few films have some cringe-worthy acting in them, but I love them all the more for it. It’s so nice to see the characters (and the actors who play them) grow up on screen. Perfect films to watch on a rainy afternoon!

Harry-potter-films

Still from the 2002 TV movie of Doctor Zhivago

Still from the 2002 TV movie of Doctor Zhivago

Doctor Zhivago
The version I love is probably not the same as others have seen (I’ve heard many people love the film version starring Omar Sharif). For me it’s a TV adaptation – I think it was an ITV adaptation (starring Keira Knightley in her younger years) that came free with a newspaper many moons ago. I love the story, and it will forever remind me of winter in my old flat as I watched it whilst wrapping Christmas presents and making cards with my Christmas tree twinkling beside me. I haven’t read the book yet but it’s on my list – it’s such a beautiful story and the setting is wonderful which is why I think I fell in love with it. I’d be interested to watch the Omar Sharif film and see how it compares.

pp32424-audrey-hepburn-breakfast-at-tiffanys-posterBreakfast at Tiffany’s
I caught the last hour of this film on TV recently ago and it reminded me of just how much I love it, particularly Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of the ‘genuine phoney’ Holly Golightly. I did enjoy Truman Capote’s novella, but in this case I think the film is far superior. A classic!

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen

The Hunger Games trilogy
I thought the books in this trilogy were brilliant, I read them furiously, spending about a day over each of them. I remember finding it really hard to write book reviews for them as I couldn’t find a way to express how much I’d enjoyed them and was just finding my feet with blogging at that stage. I think Jennifer Lawrence is pretty great as well and look forward to anything she’s in. I have recently rewatched the first film as I hadn’t loved it the first time round – I felt it had been dumbed down (or made less harrowing) to appeal to a wider audience (aka making it a 12A so that kids would be able to see it and they could make more money at the box office). It’s much better on the second viewing, and the second film Catching Fire was far superior, although it seemed loads of details were missed out to get it within a reasonable time. I’m looking forward to seeing the final instalments which have been split into two parts, á la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn from the Twilight series.

The film poster for Bright Young Things

The film poster for Bright Young Things

Bright Young Things
This is based on Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant satirical novel Vile Bodies – the film by Stephen Fry sticks pretty faithfully for it and it’s such a hilarious story. A glimpse of the young and pretty people in 1930s England, it’s as glamorous as the book is and really captures the whole feel of it. An example of an adaptation that sticks quite closely to the original story and works really, really well.

romeo_juliet_1996Romeo and Juliet
Do you remember the first time you studied a play by William Shakespeare in school? This was mine, and I remember watching this adaptation after studying it and appreciating for the first time how the play could come to life on screen and wasn’t solely fit for the stage. It’s a daring adaptation this, a modernised version, but it really works. It has the glamour and bright lights of all the best Baz Luhrman films – it’s magical, and is all the more heartbreaking for it.

Trainspotting
It doesn’t make for easy watching but it certainly packs a punch. It’s a powerful portrayal of the drug culture featured in Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same title and has brilliant performances from Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlisle – it’s one of those films that once you’ve seen it, you certainly won’t forget it. It’s an iconic film that really captures the ’90s so well.

trainspotting-poster

A Tale of Two Cities (1935 adaptation)
I remember using this book for teaching when I was working in Spain and fell in love with a black and white film adaptation which I think is probably the 1935 version. The entire film used to be available on youtube but I can only find the trailer now. If you can track it down it’s well worth a watch!

I’m hoping to watch the adaptation of Diane Setterfield’s gothic thriller The Thirteenth Tale at some point this week as I have it saved on the iPlayer. I loved the book and I’m hoping the film will live up to it! What are your favourite adaptations? And which book adaptations are you looking forward to this year?

Here’s what I’m looking forward to this year:

the-book-thief-poster-books-burningThe Book Thief (UK release on 14/02/14)
Book Review | Film trailer

Under the Skin (UK release on 14/03/14)
Book Review | Film trailer

Gone Girl (UK release on 03/10/14)
Book Review

Mockingjay: Part 1
(UK release on 21/11/14)
Film info

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Wish List Update

It’s been a little while since I have added anything to my Wish List so I thought it was about time I added a book I have been eagerly anticipating. I was first introduced to Donna Tartt by my aunt, who gave me a copy of The Secret History for my 18th birthday, as I was about to embark on a month-long stay working and living in France before I headed off to university. I absolutely loved the book and several years later I got around to reading her second novel The Little Friend which I wasn’t as keen on but still found the characters and scenes very impressionable.

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsSo next on my Wish List is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I’m sure many of you will have seen in bookshops and everywhere across the media. Synopsis is below:

‘Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph – a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.’

I think it sounds very intriguing – and it has also been getting great reviews from the blogging community so I can’t wait to get reading it!

I’ve made a few updates on the Wish List as well to add reviews for books I’ve read from it. So far, I have reviews to The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan and May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes. I’ve also read Life After Life and will be reviewing that shortly. What’s on your wish list at the moment?

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Non-Fiction Reading Challenge

I’ve been thinking recently that I need to make a bit of an adjustment in my reading. As much as I enjoy fiction, I think it may be time to start exploring non-fiction and expanding my horizons a little, become a bit more of a grown-up and learn more about this world. There is so much out there to choose from; biography, journalism, essays, history, natural history, narrative non-fiction, food writing, travel writing… For some reason, I have it in my head that non-fiction is a bit boring compared to fiction and I want to change that. This is why I’ve decided to challenge myself to read more non-fiction, trying out different genres to properly give it a go. I also don’t have a great track record for reviewing non-fiction so part of my challenge will be to review each and very single non-fiction title I read until the end of 2014.

The Book of Tea just kids  In Cold Blood the-diving-bell-and-the-butterfly-book-cover-2

 

 

 

I’ve been trying to think of non-fiction books I’ve loved and there actually have been quite a few, from classics such as In Cold Blood by Truman Capote which I read many years ago and still resonates, to the wonderful and moving autobiography I listened to recently, Just Kids by Patti Smith. Of the books I read last year, only two were non-fiction – the memoir on locked-in syndrome (complete paralysis) The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby and The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura. In 2013 so far, I have read three non-fiction books – the first collection of essays I’ve read in full, Katie Roiphe’s In Praise of Messy lives, along with two autobiographies, Stephen Fry’s memoir of his boyhood and youth Moab is My Washpot and Just Kids.

So, onto the next lot. I’ve been making a list of a few titles I would like to read. I’m challenging myself to read one a month, starting in December. Here’s a summary of my proposed list so far:

 

anne-frank-coverThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Even though I said fairly recently that I struggle with literature dealing with the Holocaust, this is a book that is so central to the canon (and is also fairly well-read by primary school pupils studying the Second World War) that I’m not sure how I’ve gone this long without reading it and I want to rectify this soon.

 

wildwoodtreesWildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin
I bought this a couple of years ago from my local bookshop, I was just so taken with the idea of the book. And yet, I’ve still not picked it up to read. I love trees, something that has been a point of playful ridicule between family and friends for some time now. It’ll be my first foray into natural history and I’m hoping it’ll be the first of many.

 

TellingRoomThe Telling Room by Michael Paterniti
This book is all about a hournalist who moves to Spain after hearing the story of a feud in the village of Gúzman in Spain, over the recipe for supposedly the world’s greatest cheese. I love all things Spanish, and am increasingly starting to feel like a bit of a foodie so this sounds like the perfect book for me.

 

9781782112563.main.jpegWhat Do Women Want? by Daniel Bergner
Recently I have been really enjoying watching Channel 4 series Masters of Sex about the original sex therapists Dr William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the first people to really explore the science of sex and human sexual response. Aside from the period detail akin to one of my favourite shows Mad Men, this has really got me thinking about societal and personal attitudes towards sexuality and gender issues. In this book, Bergner challenges held beliefs on women as mainly monogamous creatures. Should be an interesting read.

female eunuchThe Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer
This leads on perfectly to my next choice, a book I have been meaning to read for years. It’s pretty much essential reading for anyone wanting to explore feminist theory and issues of gender in society. I hope my boyfriend is ready for me going on about how women have been (and still are) marginalised in society!

 

running for your lifeThis Is Running for Your Life by Michelle Orange
This book of essays came out earlier this year and was in a list of best non-fiction books of 2013, with essays exploring the culture in a med-dominated world. I thought it would be a good way to read something new and current, as well as broadening my horizons by adding some essays to my non-fiction list.

 

I don’t want to make this a huuuuge long post some other titles I’m considering are…

Just My Type by Simon Garfield
Artful by Ali Smith
The Gift by Lewis Hyde
Breakfast at the Exit Café by Wayne Grady & Merilyn Simonds
Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Point of Departure by James Cameron
Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay
Along with some essays by Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace and Virginia Woolf.

I have quite a few to be getting on with but if anyone has suggestions for favourite non-fiction books I could add to my list then they will be very gratefully received as I feel like a bit of a novice!

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On eReaders

nookAfter my work gave me a Nook Simple Touch (created by Barnes & Noble) to play about with, I read The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. It was my first experience of reading an eBook in its entirety and I thought it high time that I consider ereaders properly and what my experience on using them were. It is a completely different experience – I’ll admit that I have been slightly against them, always favouring physical books.

There were a few things which I didn’t particularly like – the fact that I can’t flick through the pages to see how long the chapter is; the glare that you get when reading it next to a lamp or something like that; the worry that you’ll run out of battery; I find the buttons on the Nook can be a bit stiff when you’re flicking back and forward; and I kept finding that if something landed on the screen it was really sensitive, and pages would flick back and forth if I tried to wipe something off. The Nook also doesn’t lend itself very well to reading PDF or Word documents, something I find a bit frustrating as it would be quite useful for work to read manuscripts before publication.

Saying all that, I did enjoy some aspects of it – it’s light, fairly user-friendly and I do like having a reading light on it. It is so easy to download loads of books – there is a whole library at your fingertips and if you fancy reading something, it only takes a few minutes to download. Recently, Barnes & Noble had a 3-day 99p sale and I went on a bit of a binge, splurging on books that are currently out in hardback and that I was loath to buy because of that. I bought several books:

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
May We Be Forgiven by AM Homes

I had the same rush and excitement I got from buying physical books but I can’t help but think that flash sales like that do devalue the book as an object somewhat – and yet, I succumbed. It is hard to resist a book at the best of times, even more so when it is so cheap. If I had the physical copy of a book in my flat, I doubt very much that I’d read it on an ereader. I find I read slowly on the Nook and I get the sense that I’m reading this never-ending document. There were also character errors and typos in my copy of The Best of Everything and I just find it all a bit impersonal if that makes any sense. Cold, almost, as if the book has been robbed of its casing and all that’s left is its naked soul. I miss that feeling of contentment when you look at a book on your shelf and you start thinking about it all over again, or pick it up and flick through it to read that passage that you really liked. I am definitely a bibliophile! They are definitely different beasts, ebooks and physical books but I understand the benefits of both. I will be reading on my Nook from time to time, especially the books I bought in the sale, but I wouldn’t consider myself a convert yet, even if books do seem to be filling up my shelves rather rapidly…

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Tearjerkers

panopticonIt’s not often that I cry while reading a book. I’m not really sure why that is, as I find myself crying at TV programmes and films fairly often. I was recently reading Jenni Fagan’s wonderful debut novel The Panopticon and it had me welling up in the middle of my lunch hour. I had to stop reading to regain some modicum of control so I wouldn’t be blubbing into my laptop. (Those salty tears aren’t good for circuit boards I hear…)

So this had me thinking, which books have I found truly moving, enough to have me crying, either at the beauty of the novel, or the tragedy that is unfolding. I’ve come up with a short list:

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

captain corellis mandolinThis is the first book I remember crying over. I was reading it for a critical essay I was writing for my English Standard Grade. I can’t remember why I picked it – I think it may have been a recommendation from my Mum. Anyway, the bit that got me involved a firing squad and an act of bravery. I won’t say much more than that as I don’t want to give anything away but I remember sitting in the back of the car (most likely on one of the frequent trips to Glasgow to see family), having to stop reading so I wouldn’t start bawling and my brother wouldn’t give me a slagging for crying at a book.

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Sunset Song was a formative book in my life, in that it was the experience of reading it that made me realise that I wanted to go to university and study English. I’d always loved books but for some reason it had never really occurred to me before that this could be more than just a past-time. I had dreamt of being an author, of course, and had written short stories and childish novels but that was as far as the dream had gone. But getting back to the crying…I studied this as part of my Higher English course and it really spoke to me – I started looking at the landscape more and thinking more often about national identity and a person’s connection to their homeland. I cried at this in the middle of an English class, while my teacher read out a passage towards the end of the book about Chris’s husband and the First World War. There seemed to be some kind of collective grief going on as I remember several others in the class wiping their eyes as well…

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

j1cmqfdNever have I cried so much at one book than I did when I read Sophie’s Choice. I read it several summers ago, when I was still at uni and my flatmate had gone home for the summer, leaving me all on my lonesome. I was working almost full-time in a pub but even that didn’t seem to fill up my time off so much, so I spent hours and hours just lazing about reading. I love the memory of that summer, days stretching out in front of me… I had picked the book up at the local Salvation Army shop for 50p – it was an old battered edition with a film still with Meryl Streep on the cover. I had often heard comments about Sophie’s Choice but didn’t really know what it was about – boy was I in for a roller coaster ride! It is such a powerful book, and one that I think should be recommended reading for those who truly want to understand the Holocaust and the misery of the concentration camps. It put a lot of things into perspective for me, and despite History classes studying the Second World War, this was the first time that I really comprehended the devastation, cruelty and sheer number of casualties in the war. I would urge everyone to read it – although I’d also warn you that it certainly isn’t an easy-going read.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book ThiefAnd to the Second World War again with this one – it is a young adult book so slightly more accessible than Sophie’s Choice but by no means less affecting. It is the War seen through the eyes of young Liesel, adopted by a family in a new town and trying to understand the injustices and contradictions of the war and life in Nazi Germany. We follow her as she steals books and food, we see her being taught to read by her adopted father, we see her offering some solace to Jews and we hope that the war will not have too devastating an effect on her life. Which is too much to ask of course, the book is narrated by Death, the Grim Reaper, and from the very beginning you know that not everyone will survive. This is a very moving book, and one that is told so inventively.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

harrypotterhalfbloodprinceNow onto something a little more light-hearted (if you can call it that!). If you’re a Harry Potter fan then you’ll know what happens at the end of this book so I shall not divulge in case there is someone reading this who hasn’t succumbed (rather unlikely) to the amazing series that is Harry Potter. I can’t remember if I have re-read this one – I’ve definitely read the first five twice – but certainly every time a certain scene plays in the film I start welling up again…

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

The History of LoveI can’t remember what sparked me off with this book particularly – it was just so beautiful and some of the images of book pages and words were just perfect. I wrote a review of this last year which you can read here if you’d like to know more – it was one of my more essay-like reviews so I think I’ll let it speak for me again!

I love having those moments with books, where you are just so involved and you can’t help but shed a tear or two. What are your tearjerker books? Have you ever cried while reading a book in public? One of these days I know I’m going to end up howling on a bus on my morning commute!

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