Tag Archives: cup of tea

Review: Night of the Party by Tracey Mathias

DfekKqhWsAAzJ7nIt’s lovely when you discover a new book by accident rather than hype. In this case, Tracey is a regular customer with excellent taste in YA novels. And has written one I have proudly added to our shelves – and so should you!

Set in the very near future, England is a place of totalitarianism and suspicion. It is ruled by The Party, a far-right version of the worst of any right-leaning existing political groups, who have clamped down on anyone not ‘BB’ (British Born). There is an underlying atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust in every area of life from school to work, on public transport and online.

Think Nineteen Eighty Four with teenagers. But much more believable. And terrifying.

There’s Ash, a teen obsessed with calculating the passage of time in seconds, mourning the unexpected death of his sister Sophie. And Zara, homeschooled and under the radar, never without her copies of The Four Quartets and Tess of the d’Urbervilles.  Their paths cross during a blackout on the Underground in Camden but their stories are already linked via Ash’s sister Sophie. A chance meeting, a tragic death, dangerous secrets, unknowing betrayal all conflate for this potentially doomed couple. Yes, it’s a love story which nicely lightens the oppressive political tension. The romance is slowly built up, contrasting with a few fast-paced ‘cat and mouse’ sequences with real tension and peril. The teenage protagonists are likeable and believable; they are neither idealised or outrageously flawed. Similarly, parents are both flawed and heroic. (I particularly liked Ash’s dad’s flash new car always referred to as ‘The Mid-Life Crisis’)

What is Zara’s secret? How will Ash react? What happened to Sophie on the night of the party? Will The Party find them?

This is certainly a novel for now, for a society which fears the ‘other’ and seeks to close borders rather than welcome other human beings into a civilised, humane society. At times, the story felt too real; the draconian regime was personal and very, very menacing.

(As an aside, I particularly liked the tying in of Eliot’s The Four Quartets, both his magnificent, mysterious poetry and the setting of Little Gidding. Ironic that we often think of Eliot as a very ‘English’ establishment poet, yet he was an American immigrant, ‘taking’ a respectable publishing job from a BB. My MA thesis was based around 4Q, yet I still cannot say I understand these epic poems; well done to Zara for making some sense of them!)

An excellent read for anyone over the age of, say, twelve; it’s certainly not ‘just’ a YA novel.

Read it – that’s The Party line.


Thanks to Scholastic, and to Tracey for a signed, hand delivered copy (and, of course, for writing this story). Looking forward to more YA chats at Waterstones Finchley Road O2…

ISBN 9781407188003

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Posted by on 02/07/2018 in review


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Reading Week: Day Two

Mainly Twitter. And scrolling news bars.

I’m afraid that with the dramatic events in the UK’s general election last night, any hope of serious reading has gone out of the window now.

I have, however, discovered the point of Twitter. Using it for rolling news, instant reaction to an event, scrolling while watching live tv, this is a perfect medium to keep yourself informed, up to date and entertained. I now love it!

However, the uncertain outcome of the election is driving me back to the novel. Off to take my chosen prizewinning, dystopian, feminist sci-fi novel out for coffee before the school run. At least I’ll find a coherent narrative here, regardless of the news outlets.

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Posted by on 09/06/2017 in Life, Uncategorized


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Reading Week: Day One

I have inadvertently found myself with a week off work; not through illness, just badly timed annual leave. I am still needed for the delights of the school run and the nightly unplugging of the children followed by pyjama-wrestling, so have to make do with a ‘limited hours only staycation’.

I shall read.

Stuff the housework. Stuff cultural destinations (unless they have comfy chairs and nice tea). Stuff the weather. I shall being to tackle the pile of proofs and my TBR bookcase.

Here goes…

I returned from a HarperCollins event with a box of books, to add to the already amassed pile from work.

(Apologies for the poor quality photos; impressionistic only!)

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Posted by on 08/06/2017 in Life, Reading space


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Book Review: The Silent Wife

Is this new addition to the wife-lit/misery-marriage canon worth the hype?
With a similarly dark cover, enticing cover quotes and rave reviews, one cannot avoid comparison with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.
Todd and Jodi have been together for over twenty years; not married although everyone assumes so. They live in an enviable apartment in Chicago; he a property developer, she a psychotherapist. They are childless but are accompanied by their dog, Freud. Their relationship reaches a crisis point as she discovers the latest in a series of affairs. Something has to be done.
Told in alternating chapters, the tension builds slowly. In fact, the cover ‘blub’ evokes a particular expectation which, in the end, is much more subtle.
The characters are well-rounded and engaging; there is much description of the trappings of their lives and its reflection of their unhappiness. This is a very well written thriller. The ending is not quite as expected; a little lacklustre compared to other thrillers. However, part of the enjoyment is in the journey, not just the destination, and I would recommend this ride. It’s worth (most of) the hype.
(received from

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Posted by on 25/03/2014 in Uncategorized


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New Year: New Challenge

No more themes.
No more book buying!
Yes, in an attempt to halt the flow of books cascading through our house, I have vowed not to buy any more books for the whole of 2014. I intend to ‘watch less, read more’.

I'm trying to avoid too much of this...

I’m trying to avoid too much of this…

The ‘no book buying rules’ in full:
1) I shall not buy books for myself for the whole year;
2) I can (if necessary) buy books for others or my children (they cannot have birthdays or Christmas without new books!);
3) I can swap books;
4) There is no limit to the number of books I give away;
5) I can exchange books at Barter Books in Alnwick, as long as I do not pay for them with cash;
6) I cannot download titles I have to pay for;
7) I could download free classics if I don’t already have a paper copy (up for debate);
8) I can receive books as gifts;
9) I can order or reserve books from my local library;
10) There is no limit to the number of books I borrow from my local library.

By the way, as you’ll probably have gathered from the monthly photos of my home library, there is no concern that I will run out of reading material. My bookcases are overflowing, there are books in every room of the house; my Kindle(s) are packed with over 900 books and our local library is excellent.

I anticipate the first few weeks, even months to be difficult. Even the past few days have been tricky. I have been challenged when shopping or late-night browsing. I have disabled my Amazon account and have not gone into my local charity shops in the hope of keeping away from temptation.

However, I hope our finances are improved, my addiction is lessened, and some of those toppling towers of books are out of the house over the coming months.
I am also hoping that by ‘going public’ with my addiction, I will be supported in my resolution.

Do you ‘suffer’ with book-buying-compulsions? Do you seek the thrill of a new (second hand) book? Do you listen to/watch book-related programmes with pen in hand to jot down titles to then order online? Do you love the anticipation of a fresh book joining others on your shelves?
Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of unread paper on your shelves? Do you just not know how to start reducing the number you buy? Do you not know where to start reading?
Do all your efforts at reducing the number you have end up in a half-hearted ‘prune’ of a few tens but with the discovery of more great reads you’d forgotten you had?
Do you have unintentional duplicate copies of novels you’ve not even read?
Welcome to Book-Addicts Anonymous!

The only difficulty now is just what to read?!

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Posted by on 05/01/2014 in Book-ish things, Life, Reading space


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A Victorian End of Year Review (of sorts)

ImageVaultHandler_aspxAnd so, the end of 2013 has passed… and so has my two-year themed reading challenge. It’s been such fun choosing a monthly theme then piling up the appropriate books with fevered anticipation. And then posting gratuitous pictures of my personal library. The total of books read thematically has been less than impressive, as seen on my Good Reads list.

Organising my reading thematically has given me focus, made me take books off my shelves (even if they’re just been piled up and reshelved after a couple of months), and challenged me to discover new authors and genres.

However, it has sometimes been restrictive and the blogging element of the experiment has fallen by the wayside a little. I haven’t reflected on the themes deeply enough, perhaps because the reading in the end hasn’t been so focused. I’m still distracted by all the books I haven’t read, and all the books which keep piling up in our house.

So October’s theme, which melded into November and (oops!) into December, was Victoriana. I loved the anticipation of this and found some delicious looking books on my shelves (see previous post). The few novels I managed to read were successfully atmospheric and (perhaps) overly dramatic. Some were set in brothels with suitable emphasis on sexual proclivities (The Crimson Petal and the White in particular; not too gratuitous but with an engaging narrative style. And stonking good plot). There was swirling fog, gorgeous dresses, and grisly murders (at times). They all seemed to be hefty tomes with complicated plots and lots of sex. Perhaps it’s an attempt to redress the balance of our mis-conception that the Victorians repressed everything. (see Matthew Sweet’s Inventing the Victorians to redress the balance)

Reading contemporary novels set in the Victorian era has been an interesting contrast to the style and content of the ‘real’ Victorian novels I’ve already read.  Some of the Victoriana was almost a self-conscious parody, seeking to recapture the thrills of a Victorian ‘sensationalist novel’ but failing. I’d rather read Wilkie Collins or Mary Braddon, thanks.

I would recommend anyone to try a year, or a few months, reading within a certain theme; whether a particular author, setting, genre, subject matter. I have discovered some gems and authors I wouldn’t have otherwise have tried. Get out of your comfort zone and look in a different part of your local bookshop or library.


And so as I look ahead into 2014, I’m resolving to ‘watch less, read more.’ I have many books piled up waiting to be read and am looking forward to a year’s ‘free reading’, returning to my old habits of reading different books, whatever takes my fancy…
…. but with the twist that I cannot buy any more books for myself for the whole year.

Now, that’s an idea for a year’s worth of blog posts…


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On book-ish things

Yesterday I bought a bag.
Not a very exciting purchase you might think; perhaps not even worthy of mentioning in a blog, certainly not as the opening line.
But just look at the bag:

Yesterday's new things: gorgeous tea, trainers for daughter, bag for me.

Yesterday’s new things: gorgeous tea, trainers for daughter, bag for me.

I simply couldn’t resist it. I have many reusable cotton bags and certainly don’t need any more. But it’s a pseudo-retro-print of ‘Jane Eyre’: the only book I am ever able to decide upon as my favourite book, one of the few books I will happily and regularly read again, and one of those novels which has shaped my life (perhaps a subject worthy of another blog post?)
It wasn’t cheap but it cheered me up. It is also full of library books awaiting their return today: it’s useful and beautiful.
But did I really need it? And why could I not resist another book-related ‘thing’, as useful and gorgeous as this is?

I already have these lovely things:
Book mugs on a book tableBook-ish notebooks (one is half written in; I feel I have to write 'special' things in it, not just shopping lists)

Book mugs on a book-table, book-ish notebooks (one is half written in (I feel I have to write ‘special’ things in it, not just shopping lists)image

Our walls are decorated with books in so many different ways. The poster of Emily was bought on a ‘pilgrimage’ to Haworth when I was 14; framed for my 16th birthday: melodramatic, moi?! Its Wuthering Heights counterpart from The Shipley Art Gallery’s exhibition celebrating Penguin books a few years ago.

I simply love these things; both in terms of design and in what they represent.My book related accessories reflect my book obsession.
If can’t be reading when outside or socialising, then a bag, mug or jewellery is almost as good.
But, of course it isn’t. It’s aesthetic rather than actuality.

I  have this bookcase in our living room (non-fiction):

And the other set in the living room is like this; this one’s double stacked (fiction, alphabetical):


You may be pleased to hear that I am not going to photograph every bookcase or pile of books in our house. I recently realised there are significant

Are you as frustrated as me that you can't see the titles in this 'to read' pile?

Are you as frustrated as me that you can’t see the titles in this ‘to read’ pile?

numbers of books in every room, except for our small bathroom. (The only time a book’s in there is if we’ve left our bathtime reading on the floor, probably perilously close to a puddle of water. Books don’t last long in that room.)

Books are an alternative form of decoration. They’re bright and varied, intensely personal (if you really have chosen them yourself rather than buying them by the yard as I’ve heard of in hotels and pubs), and are a great form of insulation.

And yet, sometimes they are overwhelming. The bookcases tower above me, demanding my time, energy and interest. I feel a sense of guilt of ownership and pressure to read when I realise how many books I own. It’s almost although I’m behind with my homework. (I’m always behind with my housework)

But who’s pressurising me to accumulate, to read, to feel overwhelmed?
Well, there’s this self-imposed structure of monthly reading themes and the discipline of writing this blog (this month’s theme reflection to follow soon-ish). There’s the feeling that I ‘should’ have read certain books, keeping up with the latest bestsellers or filling reading gaps in the classics canon (not many, admittedly; I spent most of my teenage years reading Victorian melodramas).
But why? Who cares what I’ve read?
I do.
And reading is (almost) never a waste of time.

I know books are inanimate, the pressure is internal, the guilt is misplaced. Most books are second hand, charity shop buys; my financial outlay is very modest compared to a habit of mortgage-sized shoes or excessively priced handbags (no, tote bags aren’t included in this!).

And, of course, books are so useful, aren’t they?
They DO something.
Books are much more than items of furniture or decoration; more than something to be looked at, their beauty proclaimed.
Their true value lies within.
Behind the covers you could encounter anything. No matter how new, glossy and vibrant or dog-eared, peeling and dull, the words within have the same potential to thrill and transform, entertain and educate. You cannot judge a book by its cover.
Hang on, that sounds like a profound message, a parable for life.
No matter how our ‘covers’ appear, our true value is within. It is discovered over time. You need to gently pick up the book, start to leaf through the pages, and spend energy, imagination and time in someone else’s company.image

No, there’s never enough.
Perhaps I should be spending the time I lust after beautiful fripperies at The Literary Gift Company reading; the time I spend idly, aimlessly browsing on Amazon, reading; the time I spend looking at new Kindle covers, instead turning on my Kindle and reading; the time I spend browsing in the library, sitting in a corner reading. With a cup of tea in ‘The Common Reader’ mug, of course.

The book accessories are fun and nicely designed but I know they shouldn’t replace my reading resources, either time or money.

But my Jane Eyre cotton bag is so much more attractive than a plastic supermarket bag, don’t you think?

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Posted by on 26/06/2013 in Uncategorized


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