Ketchup Clouds, Penpals and Prisoners

It’s been a while since my little book corner was active, what with cancer getting in the way somewhat. I’m hoping to welcome more guests here now that I’ve accepted my illness, even if it means I can’t offer you as many cakes and I may tire earlier than I used to.

Please forgive the photograph; Rincewind was determined to get in on the act and photobombed everyone I took so I  relented and have given him a share of the limelight!

‘Ketchup Clouds’ by Annabelle Pitcher was one of those spur of the moment, library gems for me which I picked up whilst waiting for my turn in the queue to check out my books.  I’m glad I did as it gave me food for thought even after I’d finished reading it.

From the back cover:  ‘Zoe Collins has a dark and terrible secret that she dares confide in no one. But one day she hears of a criminal on death row who knows all about secrets. And lies. And betrayal. Desperate to confide in someone, Zoe picks up a pen. These are the letters she wrote.’

Firstly, I promise not to spoil this book for you by telling you Zoe’s secret! This isn’t her real name by the way, just a pseudonym she adopted along with a fake address just in case the prisoner she writes to should ever be released from death row and come to find her.

I enjoyed the format of the story unfolding amongst meandering teenage thoughts within Zoe’s letters to Mr Harris, a convict serving his time on death row. Unlike a diary however, we only get to read what Zoe feels comfortable sharing to this distant man while she gradually hints at then reveals bit by bit the source of her guilt, shame and grief as she sheds the secrets weighing her down to the only person she believes can understand.

There were parts of the book where I had to flick back to remind myself how old the character was, as the writing seemed more childlike compared to others, such as those where we see the awakening and exploration of Zoe’s sexuality. Reflecting on that though, perhaps I’m forgetting the turbulent teen rollercoaster of feeling so grown up one minute then wanting to be taken care of the next…

Zoe’s siblings and parents also go through challenges which are divulged in snippets throughout her letters. The times when she writes about her busy family life show the stark difference in the pre- and post-event Zoe, when she has become an anxious, withdrawn wraith-like character within her home.

‘I’ve done something wrong. What I’ve done is awful. And do you want to know the worst thing? I’ve got away with it.’

I was intrigued with Pitcher’s concept of writing to a prisoner and a quick search on the web brought me to a site which would allow me to do just that. I wondered how people selected who to write to so began to filter my search. A search which allows you to learn more about the prisoners’ sentence and offence. I was fascinated by the events which had led to their incarceration but felt acutely like a voyeur, so didn’t linger too long. Killing their spouses, murdering their children, drug-fuelled killing sprees… I admit that I can’t imagine what their lives were and are like.

I also pondered on what would make someone read that a prisoner had shot their fleeing child then tried to drown them after they killed the first and think, “yep, that’s the pen pal for me!” I don’t mean to sound flippant there but I couldn’t honestly put myself in their shoes so I quietly closed the site and returned to finish the novel.

It’s difficult to say too much without spilling the beans but if you enjoy a diary style first person perspective, with a tale that has you suspecting you know what’s happened but aren’t entirely sure how it came to pass, this book is for you. It certainly has me still thinking about guilt and forgiveness.

And now our brief visit must come to an end until I have more energy again but thank you for dropping by; I’ll try not to leave it so long to open the door to my little bookworm hidey-hole again.

 

A Dusty Bookshelf

Oh hello, I thought I heard someone at the door. Do come in and make yourself at home. Would you like a drink? I seem to have all kinds of fruity teas and flavoured coffees that I buy when I fancy trying a new flavour, but they usually end up confined to the back of the cupboard when I realise that they never taste as nice as they smell…

Right, now that we have our cuppas in hand, we can have a proper catch up. Oh don’t worry about the cat; Rincewind will curl up somewhere else if you move him and be asleep in seconds.  It’s been ages since you and I last chatted and so much has happened.

Gadget Man decided he wasn’t a Bookworm kind of person and moved on to pastures new and modern. But that’s ok, I had a feeling it had run it’s coursewith us.  Besides, it’s made space for someone much more like us booky types to join our little family. Here’s hoping…

I’ve read a number of books since then but there hasn’t been as much writing since my muse seems to have gone trekking through Indonesia.

Enough small talk, lets get down to the books. I’m currently reading Amy Schumer’s book which is a diversion from my usual form but it takes my mind off of things and it doesn’t matter if I get distracted really.

As hard as it feels to say this, it seems The C Word is the one on our street. No, no, no – not THAT C word!! You and your naughty mind! If only… you see, I’m waiting for confirmation of a breast cancer diagnosis.  Yep. That’s me. And the lump which has rudely taken up residence in my right boob. I mean seriously, how rude!

I think it’s heading for an ASBO or something because it’s apparently made the breast clinic team “very worried”. Surely to get an ASBO it needs a name? But which one?

Halloween movies and scary books have taught us that once a priest knows the name of the demon they can control it. In that case, given how fast this not so little blighter has grown, we had better name it quickly…

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m scared. Scared of getting the result, which the team seem to think is going to be a “what stage” rather than a “what is it” conversation.  Scared of my little bookworms finding out or worse, not having a bookywook in their lives any more. Scared that there are so many books I haven’t read yet. Scared of what’s to come.

The first horror book I read was Stephen King’s It. Perhaps I should call it Pennywise. Or Lasher from the Anne Rice trilogy about a ghost haunting generations of a family. I’m sure I’ll know the name when I read it.

Don’t  look like that, please, I’m ok honestly. Well, alright, I’m not, but I need to keep busy so chatting to you is a great distraction.

So I’m on a mission to find a book to help me through this spider web of thoughts and fears. Any recommendations will be gratefully received. I’m off to clean my dusty book shelf to make room for some of your ideas, which I hope will inspire or guide me. Or at the very least help me to get the terrifying image of Pennywise out of my mind!

 

 

 

 

Dusting the Cobwebs Away…

Hello friend, oh I’m sorry about the dust – a glass of water may help your cough. It’s been a while since I was in my book corner I’m afraid so I’ll need to do a bit of cleaning to make it homely around here again.

The bumps and cracks in the pavement of life over the last month left me feeling a little unbalanced so I have been gathering my resilience before taking on the world again. 

Once I’d brushed the cobwebs away I learned that the new Richard and Judy Book Club list has been published. Gadget Man very kindly treated me to the books that made their Summer Read shortlist so I have a lot to get through!  

Let me explain about my love of the Richard and Judy Book Club. My Mum was an avid bookworm and passed her love of reading on to me. I remember the scent of her perfume as I cuddled up to her for a bedtime story when I was a child. Those moments evolved in my teenage years to the two of us reading together in companionable silence broken only by a sip of coffee or pages turning.

When I moved out to live with my boyfriend our reading continued with phone calls and catch ups, which inevitably turned to the books we were enjoying. My Mum stumbled upon the Richard and Judy Book Club and we began to digest and dissect the novels together. As she was retired, Mum got through the books quicker than I did so she began to read books from their previous lists while I caught up with the current ones after work. 

And then she died.

Just like that.

One day we were talking about novels, my little Bookworms, her planned visit and the next I received the call that shattered my world. 

There’s never a good way to lose the closest person in your life but to have her snatched so quickly left me shocked and lost. Having the little Bookworms helped me get out of bed each day. Gradually I stopped expecting her daily phone call, learned to stay my hand to stop myself texting her when I heard something funny and more importantly, I moved to a place where I could examine the memories I had locked away in my mind and cherish rather than fear them. 

Mum never got to read the whole back catalogue of the Richard and Judy Book Club so I am slowly working my way through them for her. 

She is buried in a beautiful churchyard with an open book for her headstone. Wherever she is, I’m sure she’s reading still and would have been as excited as I am to start the Summer Reads. 

So this post is to thank Richard and Judy for encouraging Mum and I to read books outside of our usual genres and giving us so much to talk about.

And it is dedicated to Mum. My mother, my teacher, my friend. 

‘Blood Sisters’ and a Book BFF

After having my car broken into yesterday my best friend, we’ll call her Book BFF, has invited me for a sleepover with wine, pizza and chocolate.  

I’ve just been reading Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Book BFF’s beautiful baby girl who was fascinated with turning the pages while I was looking at the little holes in the food that the caterpillar has crawled through. It seems like only yesterday when I sat cuddled up to my mum and poked my fingers through those same size holes in the book; now I have to do so by proxy, watching Book Baby take the lead. 
Although I packed my kindle to read a book tonight I also had to bring a big library hardback copy of ‘Blood Sisters’ by Graham Masterton. I have only 16 pages to go before I finish it and it’s impossible to wait until tomorrow to find out how it ends! 

I’m relatively new to Masterton’s DS Katie Maguire series and I was hooked from the first chapter of novel that I randomly opened in February.  Now as soon as I have finished one book I order the next as they seem to be a popular choice in my local library. 

DS Maguire is a senior police figure in Cork, holding her own against career criminals, drug barons, human traffickers and serial killers. Not to mention the sexism she encounters from those jealous of her position and cynical about a woman being effective in that role. 
Maguire is not without dramas in her personal life and the reader follows her bumpy relationship road and family crises throughout the series. That said, each novel can be read as a standalone. 

Masterton’s use of local dialect and phrases really makes me feel like a fly on the wall in Cork and the surrounding areas as Maguire works with her team to bring justice to the victims they encounter.  The characters of Maguire’s colleagues also develop along the way, as do those of some of the criminal bosses who appear as either background figures or with a larger share in the plot. There are times when Maguire has to use those people she despises to help her catch another offender. 

The acts of murder and subsequent crime scenes are gritty, detailed and at times gory so depending on your constitution, these books may require a little bit of skimming over some paragraphs. I came across one scene towards the end of Blood Sisters today where I slammed the book shut at something which happened as it the description seemed so realistic that I could imagine standing next to Maguire witnessing the horror that had just unfolded. It wasn’t enough to stop me reading though and I can’t wait to see how Masterton finishes this book off. 

I have recommended this series to several friends, none of whom have been disappointed. If you are a crime fan who is yet to encounter DS Katie Maguire, I suggest you may enjoy making her acquaintance. 

And now it’s time for a refill. And maybe a few more sneaky pages before our pizza is ready…

No Evening With Paula Hawkins For Me

I normally offer blog visitors a cup of tea and a sit down but this evening you’ll have to fend for yourself I’m afraid. Please don’t mind the mess for I am a little upset.

I was planning to post a picture later of a signed copy of Paula Hawkins’ new novel, Into The Water, as I’ve been looking forward to an event I was due to attend tonight: A hosted discussion with Hawkins and Sarah Schmidt, who has just released her debut novel, See What I Have Done. 

Unfortunately that is not to be, thanks to the lowlife who has broken into my car. Instead of meeting these two talented authors and participating in the discussion session, I am at home alone having just bid farewell to the scene of crime police officer.

Various things have been taken out of the boot and glove compartment of my car but the thing that upset me most was seeing one of Book Wizz’s Jacqueline Wilson books lying bent and crumpled in the footwell. This person has touched the book my daughter treasures and because it isn’t of value to them, they treated it like rubbish. 

Aside from feeling somewhat violated about someone rummaging through my belongings, it’s sad to see her favourite book in that state and treating books in that way feels a little sacrilegious. I’m going to buy her a new one before she returns on Friday and I’ll claim I accidentally spilled something on it rather than have her know about what’s happened in case it scares her. 

I have to say a huge thank you to Waterstones in Liverpool; I had reserved copies of the authors’ books to get signed tonight and rang the store to explain that I wouldn’t be needing them after all and to give my ticket to someone else since I couldn’t leave until the police had been. Instead, the lovely book seller sold the books to me over the phone and took my details down so she can get them signed with a dedication then post them to me. What a jolly good egg.

I try not to think vengeful thoughts about people and am desperately trying to keep the images of a book related injury occurring to the thief; instead I think I shall write this person into my novel and have something humiliating happen. They’ll never know of the written revenge but it will hopefully allow me to feel that a smidgen of just desserts has been doled out. 

‘Someone Else’s Skin’

Well hello there, what a delight to see you! I’ve just put the kettle on if you fancy a cuppa…

It’s been a beautiful spring day here but unfortunately my day has largely been spent indoors attending to various tasks, including a declaration of war on pests and a victory over technology.

A few cheeky ants have managed to breach my kitchen today, much earlier in the year than usual and certainly not by the back door where I’m used to tackling them.  They seemed to magically appear by my sink with no warning, no obvious direction of approach and no fanfare – one at a time, they’re randomly just there.  Rincewind and I spent an obsessive 25 minutes keeping watch before I left to stock up on my tools of war and in that time he only noticed one to run away from (honestly, he’s such a coward!).

My victory over technology involved making a printer submit to my technical wizardry when I set it up today.  Alright, wizardry is perhaps too strong a description for my skills;  maybe sheer luck and pleading is a more honest description!  It may not sound much but given how I usually wail in frustration and call someone to help me when it comes to these things, I’m rather pleased with myself.

And now on to my review of a book that I finished reading earlier this week.

Someone Else’s Skin was Sarah Hilary‘s debut novel which follows Detective Inspector Marnie Rome as she finds herself at the scene of an attempted murder in a women’s refuge, opening the door on a trail of lies, deceit and domestic violence.

The book challenges some assumptions society can make about domestic abuse and this makes for some interesting plot developments along the way.  Although cool and collected most of the time, DI Rome’s frustration is palpable as she hovers between professional conduct and a darker temptation to get results for the victims by any means necessary.  The reader also sees her gentler side and her battle to understand a horrific incident from her past.

As the novel progresses, a niggling feeling develops that something isn’t quite adding up in the situation with two key women from the refuge and the true picture remains tantalisingly close but just out of grasp until the climax of the story.  Intertwining the past and present lives of the characters gradually builds a realisation of manipulation, fear and abuse in often unexpected ways.

Like a gothic horror movie, Hilary only allows the reader a glimpse around the corner, never revealing what’s really happening, increasing the sense of unease.  Each time I was sure I had it all figured out, another curve ball was thrown, leaving me grasping once again in confusion as I tried to make sense of the new reality.  At one point towards the end I thought it was all over then realised that with several chapters to go, I couldn’t relax yet.  The ending did not disappoint, with surprises right up to the last page.

This skilfully woven plot serves as a caution that ghosts of the past can haunt someone’s present and with the right (unfortunate) combination of toxic circumstances, can lead them to feed on this darkness to become the nightmare that will later plague others.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book even if you are not a crime fan;  the theme, twists and characters make it a riveting read.

As a final note, I should perhaps mention here that I grew up next door to a family who suffered at the hands of the man of the house.  Everyone knew what was happening when the wife, I’ll call her Claire, wore dark sunglasses even in winter and had yet another sprained wrist from “falling over the dog.”  The police were called on countless occasions when the screaming and thuds became ever louder but in the late 80’s, they said their hands were tied unless this man attacked his wife outside of their front door.  Eventually he turned his attention to his 13 year old stepson and this gave Claire the strength to leave.  The man was never charged.

I truly hope that anyone reading this who has suffered or is suffering from abuse in any of it’s devastating forms is able to seek support and be safe.

And now to lighten my mood, I’m off to make another cup of tea and try to convince Rincewind to move away from where we saw the ants.

My ‘Bookywook Book Book’

It’s been a relaxing bank holiday today, which is great considering I blame the talented Sarah Hilary for keeping me up into the wee hours when I couldn’t put down her book, Someone Else’s Skin, last night (review to follow tomorrow)!

Whenever I finish a book, I write the author and title in my ‘Book Book,’ pictured above.  This is something I started doing on 1st January, 2006, after one of my friends on Boxing Day 2005 asked me asked how many books I get through in a year since I seem to have one attached to me at all times.  I had no idea so decided to keep a log for the year to find out.  I read 53 books in a range of genres and enjoyed looking back on my reading choices so much, I decided to keep the log going.

The books I was drawn to throughout each year tell their own story of what was happening in my life;  I’ll share some of the literary highlights and the occasional anecdote in some future posts.

I sometimes wonder if I should add a rating system to the ‘Book Book’ but the novels really enjoyed (and the ones I forced myself to continue reading to the bitter end) tend to jump off the page immediately.

The little stationery devil sitting on my shoulder sometimes entices me to buy one of the bespoke book journals which are available.  The stationery angel, with his practical approach and sensible shoes, reminds me of how my ‘Book Book’ has been with me through thick and thin over the last 11 years, so I have managed to resist upgrading so far.

I love seeing that Book Boy has started keeping his own book list too, albeit on a scrappy piece of paper which seems to attract all manner of inky fingerprints and sticky patches.  Perhaps it’s time to add a Book Boy ‘Book Book’ to his life so we can sit in 11 years time and reflect on his reading journey too…