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:

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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.

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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

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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: “84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff

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From Goodreads:

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

A book about books, a bookstore, a writer in New York and the lovely city of London. Yes, this one is definitely a book that ticked all of Adrienne the Anglophile’s boxes.

This one had been on my TBR list for a long time. I can’t remember where I heard about it or why I wanted to read it so badly, but I finally checked it out of my local library a couple of weeks ago and read it over the Easter long-weekend.

This book was amazing.

It was very similar to The Potato Peel Pie Guernsey Literary Club, in that it was a collection of letters, but also being oh so English and so lovely all round. The main difference here, of course, is that 84, Charing Cross Road is a non-fiction book and these characters were real people and the events were not fiction. I think this really satisfied my nosy parker self – lately I’ve been craving more stories about “real” people.

I’m going to leave this review as a short and sweet one, just like the book itself. I read this book in one sitting on a comfy Saturday afternoon at home and I strongly recommend that you all do the same!

I would love to find more epistolary novels and non-fiction works of collected letters. Please leave your recommendations below and let me know what you’re reading this week!

Review: “Sisters and Lies” by Bernice Barrington

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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: “Bright Stars” by Sophie Duffy

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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.