According to Fiction, Swindon is the dullest place on Earth!(?)

I’ve never actually been to Swindon, Wiltshire in England BUT according to two novels I read in the last week, it may actually be the dullest place on Earth.

I’m almost begging readers out there to tell me I’m wrong… but i’m just getting the feeling that it’s a bit of a running joke that nothing really happens in Swindon and it’s just not, well, stimulating.

Here’s how I’ve come to this opinion via the two books I’ve read this week.

The first book I read this week was “The Eyre Affair “by Jasper Fforde:


First of all, this book was a big hit with me because it was like the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch and the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett  merged together into this awesome book. I’ll definitely be reading the next in the series as I am a bit of a fan of the female protagonist, Thursday Next (yes, such a cool name!).

I really loved the urban fantasy/alternate history/sci-fi mixture that was at the heart of this book. I tried to read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke recently and I feel like Jasper Fforde was able to carry off that awesome concept of “characters coming out of the book” and into real life.

Now, the main character is a Special Ops officer in there LiteraTec department (dealing with crimes to do with literature) and moves from London to her home town of Swindon after a particularly nasty clash with a criminal mastermind.

The fact that this character comes home to Swindon to recuperate after getting injured in a battle and everyone is surprised that she’s “downgrading” from her job in London, to a lower one in Swindon, shows to me that Swindon is probably not the place to be if you want to get places in life. This is just what I’m getting from the book and no offence at all meant to the people who live in Swindon. Again, this is just what I’m getting from the books and I am genuinely curious to see what the real Swindon is like!

On the flip side, I also read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon this week.


This book reminded me of a lighter version of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”. Set mostly in Swindon, this book is written by the main character Christopher Boone, a young boy of 15 whom we start to understand is likely on the Autism Spectrum. I thought it was charming and I really felt for Christopher as he uncovered certain things about his family and couldn’t quite understand them and process them as other people not on the Spectrum would.

Christopher actually says at one point in the book that he is happy that he lives in Swindon because it is a place that helps his brain stay quiet. This is directly contrasted with a couple of moments in the second half of the book when he tries to get to London by himself and stays there for some time. Again, that contrast with London and Swindon really makes me think that they are polar opposites! I mean, I acknowledge my own bias since I’ve spent some time in London (and love the place!) and have never been to Swindon, but come on two authors have painted this picture of Swindon as this place that is a haven for people mentally and physically broken and who need a time-out for London. I don’t know if that’s really a selling point. (But seriously, do people take vacations to Swindon or is this just a “i’m just passing through” place? Seriously, I’m really curious about this!)

I chose to read these two books from my To-Be-Read list because my local library happened to have copies of these books and they were also both put on my Goodreads TBR shelf one after the other about 5 years ago. As per my previous blog post, I’m trying to eliminate my TBR in a methodical (probably OCD-ish) way.

I absolutely did not know that both of them were set in London/Swindon but I’m really glad it just happened to be that I read both of these books in the same week.

Now my Dear Reader, let me know what your thoughts are on Swindon, Wiltshire, because I really am so curious about this place. I may even have to plan another trip to the UK for some… um… research.


Review: “The Night Watch” by Sarah Waters


For some reason this book has been on my To-Be-Read list for 5 years (according to the trusty source that is Goodreads). I can’t even remember why I put it on my TBR list to begin with, since it’s more or less a romance novel set in England during World War 2.

I’ve tried to stay away from novels about World War 2 because it’s just too close for my likingMy grandparents were both from different sides of England and were serving respectively in the ATS and Royal Navy when they met and fell in love during World War 2. They just happened to be at the same pub in Liverpool (again, not where either of them were from) and the rest, as they say, is history. So growing up I had always heard things about World War 2 and as a reflex, my eyes would start rolling out of my head.

Now that I’m older and a lot more aware about the pretty shitty things going on in the world, I’ve begun to appreciate just how much the War meant to my grandparents and their generation. Now it makes perfect sense to me that they would constantly bring it up. It was a pretty big deal and “The Night Watch” really gave me a sense of the fear and uncertainty of that time.

I think that my recent trip to the UK (my second one ever) has also renewed my interest in the War. I spent a lot of time walking the streets randomly, just observing the different styles of architecture, and noticed how there were big scars running through sections of the city. I don’t mean that any part of London that I saw was ugly. I just noticed the bits where bombs had clearly dropped and new buildings were built or old buildings were repaired but not quite blended in with the original structure. For an architecture AND archaeological nerd like myself, I found it a great way to immerse myself in the city’s history.

Back to “The Night Watch”… I was actually quite surprised at the homosexual element of the story. I don’t actively look for novels with lesbians as the central characters and I guess it just surprised me because I’m so biased towards World War 2 novels set in England to begin with. When I think “English wartime novels”, I think of very stereotyped gender roles with perhaps some feminist undertones peeking through (but of course nothing to wild because, you know, they’re English) .Quite frankly, I assumed this would be a novel my grandmother would happily sit down and read on a Sunday afternoon… but I’m not too sure I would give this one to her. She may have a heart attack *touch wood*.

I’m glad I was surprised by this novel though. It’s probably the reason why I kept reading it. The only drawback about it was the structure. I didn’t quite understand why the 3 separate parts were in reverse chronological order and I really think the last bit could have been chopped out altogether. Also, I found myself skimming the parts relating to the only central male character named Duncan. I just didn’t find myself caring enough about him.

So Reader, have there been any novels you have found yourself really surprised by recently? Do you have certain topics/periods in history you just can’t bring yourself to read about? Let me know in the comments!

I hope this week has treated you well.

A x



Review: “Sisters and Lies” by Bernice Barrington


One hot August night, Rachel Power gets the call everyone fears. It’s the police. Her younger sister Evie’s had a car crash, she’s in a coma. Can Rachel fly to London right away? With Evie injured and comatose, Rachel is left to pick up the pieces of her sister’s life. But it’s hard fitting them together, especially when she really doesn’t like what she sees. Why was Evie driving when she doesn’t even own a licence? Who is the man living in her flat and claiming Evie is his girlfriend? How come she has never heard of him? The more mysteries Rachel uncovers the more she starts asking herself how well she ever really knew her sister. And then she begins to wonder if the crash was really the accident everybody says it is. Back in hospital, Evie, trapped inside an unresponsive body, is desperately trying to wake up. Because she’s got an urgent message for Rachel – a warning which could just save both their lives . . .

I really started this year off with a bang, reading-wise. This was the first book I read in the New Year as I trudged from my door to the train to work and repeated the same miserable exercise during peak hour to come home to an empty apartment. My fiancé was away for two weeks, so I had minimal distractions from reading but when it came to bed time and going to sleep – EVERYTHING was a distraction. I’m pretty sure I had convinced myself every single night that someone was breaking into my apartment. Reading a novel so full of suspense like “Sisters and Lies” did NOT help my paranoia either.

Just from reading the blurb, I knew I was going to like this book. Set in London, the two protagonists/narrators are sisters AND there’s a whodunnit element to the novel? You had me from the very start, Ms Barrington. I loved this novel and it kept me guessing until the very end. Usually I’m a bit hesitant to jump into novels where the narrators switch every so often and I think it may be because some writers out there just have difficulty keeping the momentum and pacing right with each turn. From what I can tell, this is Bernice Barrington’s debut novel (if i’m wrong, please feel free to correct me in the comments) but this book is so well written and unputdownable that I definitely would not have guessed it was a debut. I strongly recommend this one and I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: “Whispers Through A Megaphone” by Rachel Elliott


From Goodreads:

Miriam hasn’t left her house in three years, and cannot raise her voice above a whisper. But today she has had enough, and is finally ready to rejoin the outside world.

Meanwhile, Ralph has made the mistake of opening a closet door, only to discover with a shock that his wife Sadie doesn’t love him, and never has. And so he decides to run away.

Miriam and Ralph’s chance meeting in a wood during stormy weather marks the beginning of an amusing, restorative friendship, while Sadie takes a break from Twitter to embark on an intriguing adventure of her own. As their collective story unfolds, each of them seeks to better understand the objects of their affection, and their own hearts, timidly refusing to stand still and accept the chaos life throws at them. Filled with wit and sparkling prose, Whispers Through a Megaphone explores our attempts to meaningfully connect with ourselves and others, in an often deafening world – when sometimes all we need is a bit of silence.

This book kind of reminded me of “A Visit From the Goon Squad” – I can’t put my finger on it, other than the fact that both of them are contemporary fiction, but I make the comparison in the nicest way possible.

The characters are all flawed (some incredibly so) and have their own regrets/crises that they need to deal with throughout the novel. Some are resolved, some are left for the reader to think about, but I suppose this isn’t the type of novel where we need happy, complete endings to each of the characters’ trials and tribulations. The irony is definitely not lost on the psychotherapist that needs to “get lost in the woods” to “find himself”.

Personally, my favourite (and teeny, tiny) character in the novel is Alfie Delaney, who dresses like The Doctor (Matt Smith’s incarnation) and carries a little Amy Pond doll. I may be biased though, since I am myself a freshly recruited Whovian.

I know that this book won’t be for everyone, but if you do like contemporary fiction about people dealing with mid-life crises and some rather disturbing childhood trauma manifesting itself in adulthood agoraphobia, then I say you should definitely give this one a go.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review!

Review: “Running Against the Tide” by Amanda Ortlepp

From Goodreads:

Running Against the Tide is a novel about long-held grudges, prejudices and love triangles in a small town where lives are tangled too closely together.

Erin Travers is running away from her life and taking her two sons with her to a small town on the Eyre Peninsula. This small, beautiful township is interwoven with happy childhood memories for Erin. But the past never stays the same and she is bringing a whole lot of baggage with her. When the peaceful community is disrupted by arson and oyster theft, everyone has different ideas about who is responsible. Old grudges are brought up, and fingers are pointed and secrets unmasked.

I’ve always lived by the motto “Life is too short for bad books”, so as I was going through a bunch of new Netgalley e-ARC’s I was being ruthless in my pursuit to find the book that was worthy of my time on a Sunday afternoon. I culled quite a few (probably over 10. Eek! They shall remain nameless. Sorry Netgalley.) before I got to this one. I am so glad that I’m such a fussy reader – who knows how long it would have taken me to finally get to this one?

I read this book in one sitting on that rainy Sunday afternoon. I’m always on the lookout for Australian authors that -lo and behold – write about Aussie characters in Australia. This book was everything I could ever hope to find from an Aussie author and the next time one of my overseas friends or family members ask me “Do you have a good Australian novel you could recommend?”, I’ll gladly wave this one under their nose.

The story had me hooked from the beginning and there were twists in the story that I did not expect – if a book can throw me (read: spin me around until I’m really fucking dizzy), then I know it’s a winner. The characters were fairdinkum (genuine, for my non-Australian friends) and I think that’s also what kept me reading – I love it when characters pop off the page and I can still see them in my mind after I’ve finished reading the book.

Not only was it a page turner, but I can’t believe how much I learned about oyster farming. And I don’t mean that in a “Ahh, the story is great, but you might want to skip past the shit about the oysters.”. It genuinely captivated my attention and now when I go away on holidays near the beach I’ll be able to strike up some great conversations about oysters with the locals.

I highly recommend this book and I can’t wait to see what Amanda Ortlepp does next. I’ve honestly not been this excited about stumbling upon an Australian author in a while!

This book doesn’t come out until March next year (2016) – so this book doesn’t have a cover just yet (that’s right, I couldn’t wait to rant about it – It’s just too much of a great read.). A big thank you to Netgalley and Simon and Schuster for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

You can pre-order the book on Amazon or Booktopia!

Review: “Bright Stars” by Sophie Duffy


From Goodreads:

Four students are involved in a tragedy that rips their friendship apart. What happens when they are reunited 25 years later? 

Cameron Spark’s life is falling apart. He is separated from his wife, and awaiting a disciplinary following an incident in the underground vaults of Edinburgh where he works as a Ghost Tour guide. On the day he moves back home to live with his widowed dad, he receives a letter from Canada. It is from Christie.

Twenty-five years earlier, Cameron attends Lancaster University and despite his crippling shyness, makes three unlikely friends: Christie, the rich Canadian, Tommo, the wannabe rock star and Bex, the feminist activist who has his heart. In a whirlwind of alcohol, music, and late night protests, Cameron feels as though he’s finally living; until a horrific accident shatters their friendship and alters their futures forever. Christie’s letter offers them a reunion after all these years. But has enough time passed to recover from the lies, the guilt, and the mistakes made on that tragic night? Or is this one ghost too many for Cameron?

I was absolutely sucked into this book from the beginning. I actually thought this would be a chick lit novel because of the cover and title, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I wouldn’t say that I liked any of the characters much, but I think I was hooked by the two incidents that Cameron keeps referring to throughout the novel – one incident during his university years and the other in his more recent working life. When the details of both are revealed, the story takes a sharp turn and I can honestly say that I didn’t expect the story to pan out how it did. It kept me on my toes and that’s when I know that the book that I’m reading is worth reading.

Also, any story involving Edinburgh and a protagonist that can rock a kilt, is a must read for me.

If you’re looking for one of those stories that suck you in and you don’t want to get emotionally attached to characters – you would probably like this book.

Review: “A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler


From Goodreads:

‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’

This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before.

And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself.

From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we see played out the hopes and fears, the rivalries and tensions of families everywhere – the essential nature of family life.

A few weeks ago when I was perusing the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize 2015, I thought “A Spool of Blue Thread” looked like a book I would enjoy. I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but I really enjoy intergenerational stories. Even better if they flick back and forth through out time like this one!

In terms of plot, there isn’t much of a story or a big conflict. I suppose the big problem in the novel (and the bigger picture and take home message) that really stuck with me is the fact that eventually, we will all lose our parents and become old and fragile before we know it. A bit bleak, I know, but that’s just the reality of it all.

I’ve read my share of “old people with dementia” stories this year, but I feel like Tyler did a lovely job of showing how a typical family could be turned upside down because of this condition.

I feel like I really sped through the first half of the novel and then the first half was a bit more difficult to get through. I suppose more things “happen” in the first half, than in the second, but in 358 pages I feel that it contained a sufficient family history with enough little plot points to keep everything moving nicely – and I think that’s a great feat for Tyler considering 3 generations in one book could get rather long and boring under someone else’s watch.

I would recommend this book to fans of intergenerational novels, however if you’re looking for something with a lot of drama, you can give this a miss.