Anne of Ingleside by L M Montgomery

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I do try to use the version of the cover that I actually read but in this case, the only picture I can find of it is the size of a postage stamp and it has someone – Anne? Di? Rilla? – looking decidedly grumpy on it.

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The Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton

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Enid Blyton is total comfort reading for me, even at thirty. They’re still likely to be the books I pull out when I’m not feeling well, when I don’t have the ability to concentrate on anything more grown-up but want to read nonetheless.

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Half A War by Joe Abercrombie

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Back in the summer, I discovered Joe Abercrombie’s new Shattered Sea trilogy entirely by accident, in the very week that the second installment, Half the World was published in paperback, which means that I devoured the first two books almost in one sitting. A week or two later, Half A War was published – but in hardback, and I have so many mismatched sets of books that I was adamant, no matter how desperate I was to read the third book, I was more desperate to have it match the other two. For that, I had to wait until March.

I’ve finally read it. It’s not a disappointment. It’s far from a disappointment. However, taking into account that I did enjoy Half A War, I still recognise Half the World as a better book. In trilogies, the middle book is generally the weakest, the one that’s mostly just plodding from the brilliant beginning to the climactic ending. Joe Abercrombie is odd because in both his trilogies, The First Law (which I loved so much that I ordered the third book from a terrible motel on the outskirts of Paris in the hope that it would be waiting for me when I got home) and now the Shattered Sea, the middle book is the best. The first book in both trilogies has a bit of a feeling of having to set the scene and introduce the characters and give some exposition and do the general admin for furthering enjoyment of the trilogy – but not in quite such an appallingly unreadable way as I’ve just made them sound. Both are very good, very solid books. Why would you go onto books two and three if they weren’t? And the last book, of course, has to have the big finale and tie up the loose ends, it’s got plenty it needs to achieve. But the middle book, that one gets to have the fun and provide the meat of the story and Joe Abercrombie has done that pretty well in both trilogies.

But let’s get down to Half A War. So, so many spoilers lurk beneath.

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The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

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I feel sort of awkward mentioning this one because everyone reads it for the one and only reason that it was actually written by JK Rowling.

So I feel like I need to clarify that 1) I’ve never read, and am not particularly interested in reading, The Casual Vacancy 2) the news that JK Rowling had secretly written a crime novel elicited little more than a shrug from me.

I was in Frankfurt in December 2014, armed with a not-brilliant kids’ fantasy series when I spied The Cuckoo’s Calling, in English, in a bookshop under the station and I was immediately filled with an urge to read it. I don’t know why, when I’d never been interested before, maybe because of the gorgeous jewel-toned cover or the unexpectedness of finding an English book in Germany or because I was tired of the books I’d brought. I resisted – English-language books abroad cost an absolute fortune. English-language books bought abroad on the Kindle app on my phone, on the other hand…

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Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

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I said – maybe not here but to myself – that I was going to post about a book every Monday and then I went and missed last Monday. Forgive me, I was preparing for my first interview in eight years and wasn’t really in a book mood, plus I had to go and visit the local Brownies to encourage them on to Guides.

This week’s book is Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding. I read Black Lung Captain, second in the series, a good few years ago and I enjoyed it but apparently not enough to seek out the first in the series.

Spoilers, because I didn’t feel like making the effort to be vague and non-spoilery:

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Kindle: finding a place for it

E-books are divisive creatures, no doubt. The reading world is split between those who love the TARDIS-like nature of the Kindle for transporting an entire library in a handbag and those who will die on the point of a sword defending ink-and-paper books. I used to be firmly in the latter camp and now… well, I hover on their outskirts, close enough to hear conversation inside the tents.

I began to warm to Kindles when my granddad acquired one. He was a lifelong technophobe, in his eighties, probably legally blind and with an alarming prediliction for the works of Jeffrey Archer. Three generations of Frosts thought the Kindle would be back in its box in disgust within hours. But he got on really well with it. He could increase the text size to two words per page so he could actually see it, it came with a built-in light and if he fell asleep, it didn’t lose his page. We were astonished.

I inherited the Kindle. It was a book-thing, an electronic-thing and it was unloved and unwanted. Of course I adopted it. I reset the Amazon account, gave it a wash – yes, with water, but very carefully (incontinent 85-year-olds do not leave all their possessions smelling of roses) – and bought it a new cover.

I still don’t have many books on it. But it came into its own at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe over the summer. You spend a lot of time queuing or waiting and I found that the Kindle, minus cover, fitted much better into my little bag than a real book, and it didn’t care one bit if one of its plastic corners got a bit up close and friendly with my wallet or camera. If I finished a book, most venues had wifi, I could download another one immediately.Handy thing.

Having finished watching episode one of the BBC’s new series, The Night Manager, last week, I was seized with a desire to read the book at 11pm on a Sunday. Oh no, the bookshop’s shut and it probably doesn’t have it in stock anyway! No problem for the Kindle.

What about Scott Lynch’s long-anticipated Republic of Thieves, pre-ordered twice because the original listing got cancelled? By the time it was finally released, I could no longer wait the last two or three days for the book to pop through my letterbox. I got a head start with the Kindle. (I do only do this for special books, I don’t make a habit of buying them twice.)

Finally, although I mastered the art of reading books safely in the bath probably before I could walk, I do like the security of slipping the Kindle into its watertight case.

I will always be first and foremost a fan of real books. But I recognise and acknowledge that there’s a place in the world for the digital book as well.

The School at the Chalet by Elinor M Brent-Dyer

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Last year, I read a lot of Chalet School books. I read them in the bath, mostly. They’re small, slim little books meant for children – meant for children of my mother’s generation, maybe even earlier.

There are sixty-something in the series, depending on how you count them, starting in the 1920s and continuing until at least the 1960s but Brent-Dyer didn’t really keep up with the rest of the world and they never really move beyond their 1940s upper-middle-class sensibilities. It’s about a girls’ private boarding school, started in Austria before moving to Guernsey during the war, before discovering that wasn’t such a good idea and moving to Wales and finally back to the Alps in Switzerland.

Last week, I reread the first one. Madge and Dick Bettany, twins of twenty-four, suddenly need to find something to do to make some money and look after their twelve-year-old sister, who is delicate. Dick works for the Forestry Commission in India but it’s out of the question for the girls to go with him, so Madge decides, being as poor as they are, to buy a huge chalet in Austria, formerly a hotel, and open a school. It’s an idea destined for spectacular failure in the world I live in, and yet by the end of the first term, Madge has eighteen pupils and four more ready to start next term.

The Chalet School begins its tradition of mountain mishaps right from the beginning – a violent storm that comes out of absolutely nowhere and benights the entire school in a herdsman’s hut, and a fourteen-year-old taking on the most serious mountain in the region, which doesn’t seem to require anything more technical than ability to walk uphill for six hours and cross a very short section of path which is narrow and next to an abyss. It really doesn’t sound too terrible to me but Grizel and Joey come to grief on it and Joey nearly dies. Joey frequently nearly dies. I’m so glad her daughters turned out a bit hardier than her.

These books are ridiculous and they are definitely, unmistakably a product of their time. I don’t know that they’ve aged well. And yet there’s something in them that inspires so much fondness among so many people.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is the first real post on my shiny new book blog, the others having been imported untidily from my travel & adventure blog, I Am A Polar Bear. So yay?

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In the corner of the world I live in, people really like Neil Gaiman and it feels like such a cliche to add my voice to that. But the first book I read in 2016 was his American Gods and then, idiot that I am, I thought I’d go and read more about it. I soon learnt that there are in fact plenty of people who are not fans so I’ll write about it after all.

American Gods is a huge doorstopper of a book and I own the Author’s Preferred version, which has 12,000 extra words sprinkled throughout it. I’m not generally a huge fan of enormous books like that. By the time I’m halfway through, I’ve forgotten the beginning and I’m starting to wish the book would just finish already. But American Gods works as a big book. That might – or might not – be because no one, not even the author, really knows what it’s meant to be. It’s a bit fantasy, a bit scifi, a bit horror, a bit thriller, a bit murder mystery, a bit road trip, a bit coming-of-age story and that’s borne out by the fact that it’s won the Hugo, Nebula and Bram Stoker awards, which are literary awards for three different genres.

It’s a big book and a big twisting story that wanders across the USA, it has some horrible moments (one that I spend two-thirds of the book dreading and then hastily skip over when it finally arrives), it’s magic and mystery and belief and murder and fantasy and truth… and I love it. I don’t know what exactly appeals to me so much but I’ll go back to this book pretty regularly. I like some of Gaiman’s other books but none of them have my heart the way this one does, except Good Omens, which is quite the literary gateway drug.