Book Reviews





18 things I'll miss about cambridge

 So - This week, I move to Bristol. And while I'm sure fun and frolics await me in the West, there are a lot of things East Anglia - and especially Cambridge - will be missed for:

1. Wandering through "the back way". Cambridge is a small city, and much of it is extremely safe when compared with bigger places like Nottingham and Sheffield. It means taking the scenic route never takes long, usually throws up some suprises, and gets you from A-B without having to take the busy commuter route.

2. Cambridge cycling. Love it or hate it, Cambridge's reputation as a cycling capital gives the city a charm. I'm very much a Cambridge cyclist, but I like to think of myself as one of the safe ones(!): stopping at red lights, signalling, heeding one-way roads etc. It's the best way to get around the city and though I will be cycling in Bristol, I have a feeling it will be more hectic/scary!

3. Knowing EVERYTHING is an hours walk / 30 min cycle away. The size of Cambridge means you can, should the mood take you, walk anywhere. I hear the modes of public transport around Bristol are unpredicatable, and it's far too big to walk one side to the other in any good time. I'm going to miss not having to plan every journey before I leave the house.

4. Mill Road. Mill road tried to fight a flippin' Tesco! It's badass. And you still won't see more than 4 people in that leech of an establishment 4 years on. I love Mill Road. Stay independant!

5. Summer students. While living in Cambridge, I actually live to fear the influx of European summer students that flock in around June and stay til September: the buses are crowded, roads become dangerously full of "bike rental tourists", the city centre is full beyond capacity, you can't find space to have a tea and a quiet read anywhere... But you know what... I might grow to miss it ;)

6. Nightlife. Ok, so Cambridge has the most absymal nightlife selection of any city I've known... but I can't deny I have had some amazingly fun night with friends in Ballare, The Place and Lola Lo (maybe not so much The Fez...) Keepin' it classy! Nightlife is cheap and cheerful in Cambs, and you're always bound to bump into someone you know!

7. Punts! Cambridge and it's punts is like Venice and it's gondolas. If the punts ever left, it just wouldn't be Cambridge anymore. The same can be said for the annoying "chirpy"  Cambridge students they employ to bug you to get on one. There's a reason their parents didn't want them back for the summer!!! - LEAVE ME ALONE!

8. The Corn Exchange. The only venue that thinks putting Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat on every Christmas for 6 years is enterprising. However... Good nights had at many stages of life there. Under 18's discos, queuing for small-time bands coz it was "the cool thing" to do, dragging my mum to see Regina Spektor... Good times.

9. Stereotypes. Every time I see a Cambridge student in a tweed jacket and striped scarf I die a little inside. I don't know what they're trying to hold onto there... But man, I'll miss them and their fluffy heads of MENSA grade Einsteinian amazingness.

10. Not having a team in The Boat Race. I'm pretty sure noone outside Cambridge, Oxford and London gives two hoots about The Boat Race, but it was part of growing up for me. Now, I guess I'll have to find an affintity with Bristol Rovers?!

11. The Library. Cambridge Central Library is a Mecca: a bona fide Mecca of knowledge. Having all these brainy students around pays off when you need a quick read on DNA genomes and whatnot... *ahem*

12. The Folk Festival. My childhood home was right by the Folk Festival site. Listening to it on the wind on warm summer nights, with a glass lemonade, is a great memory.

13. 2-4-1 at The Snug. Probably not something I should be proud of missing, but splitting the price of a cocktail with a friend before the 7pm cut-off is something I wish I could still do!

14. The Cambridge Beach! So, as I leave, as I type this very sentence! plans are in the making to turn an old chalkpit in Cambridge into a beach. NO. KIDDING. If it materialises, I'll wish I was here so bad!

15. Spinning at Kelsey Kerridge. For anyone looking for a fun workout - try the Thursday night spin. Callum is a great instructor and I don't think I'll find another spin class as good as this one :( I might have to cycle to work every morning with Nicki Minaj blaring from my headphones just to make up for it!

16. The view from the Varsity Hotel Rooftop Bar. On a clear Summer night... just beautful.

17. The pubs. There are some great (and historic) pubs in Cambridge. Among them: The Blue, The Eagle, The Kingston and The King Street Run (which probably isn't to everyones taste, but I meant some amazing people in there!)

18. The University. So, it may have given us a trend for tweed jackets and a reputation for elitism the city can't quite shift, but the Uni also gives us: The Festival of Ideas, Science Week, Psy-Fi and Word Fest. All good things!

Cambridge, I'll miss you!


Before I Go To Sleep - Review

I'm on a roll this month - a sweep of books being finished! Even better, a sweep of very good ones.

Today's review is Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson, a phychological thriller surrounding Christine, a woman who's memories are erased every time she goes to sleep.

We are introduced to Christine's character as she wakes up one morning, and together we discover her story. As she learns (in quite a shock) that she is middle aged, so do we, as she learns she is married, we too realise the man she woke up next to is her husband, Ben, and as she pieces together the fragments of her past from what her husband tells her, her story begins to unfold to us:

Christine was part of a violent accident which left her incapable of remembering anything beyond her early twenties.

While Ben works, Christine secretly meets with a doctor in an attempt to regain her ability to remember things, and finds out she has supressed a lot more than just the circumstances of her condition.

I found Before I Go To Sleep to be a past paced and fully engrossing novel - from the first few pages I could barely put it down. Secrets were revealed at just the right moment to keep me wanting more and the atmosphere created was tense to the point of exhaustion. As the reader I felt wholly aligned with Christine - whenever I felt I was kept in the dark, I realised it was because the character felt the same - she immediately started searching for answers at the same time I felt like I wanted them!

I felt the portrayal of amnesia as a condition that not only affects the sufferer was very well written. Through Christine's discussions with her doctor, we see amnesia from the point of view of those who surround her - those who help her, those who treat her and those who love her.

I would definitely recommend this book to you if you are after an engrossing read. It's perfect for long journeys, holidays and lazy days in the garden. It is hard to tell you too much about this book without ruining the surprises, but be warned: this book commits one of my pet peeves as mentioned in my "about me" page. I won't tell you which one ;)

Happy reading!

A small aside:

This book is quite similar in context to a YA novel called Forgotten by Cat Patrick. For young readers / fans of YA, I very much recommend this novel too - and if you have already read and enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep, I think you'll love it. Please take a look at my earlier review for it on the blog.

The Tudors: Not just a giant turnip

I just finished reading The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory. I love her novels when I'm after some easy reading, melodrama and escapism - but I have come to thinking that this shouldn't really be the case... Yes, a book should entertain you and offer all of the above, but at the end of the day the characters in her Tudor Court series were once real. Perhaps it's a little wrong of me to delight in the misfortunes of five successive queens? In fact, it is! Two of these women really did walk across sawdust to lay their head upon a slab... it's barbaric! And yet, as I pick up one book after another in this genre, I look forward to the scandals, the manipulations and the deceit I know awaits me within the pages. I look forward to the decadance bordering on grotesque. It's what usually goes into a good story. The best books always have the hardest struggles.

The thing is - it is so hard to see many books about the reign of Henry VIII as anything but fiction. Speaking for myself, it is only when I reach Elizabeth that I ever really think "wow, she was alive once. This woman existed. How on Earth did she do it?"

The fact is, the "truth" (using the term loosely there!) of the Tudor era is like a perfectly planned novel: so many scandals, secrets, plagues, wars... and beheadings! In fact, if a novelist had created what we learn as History at school, I would have it rival Lord Of The Rings and Song Of Ice and Fire for epicness.

The Tudors never really seemed real to me... history lessons at primary school presented the hulking giant of Henry VIII as a comic figure: we knew he had six wives, but we didn't really understand what that meant. They were just a rhyme: "Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded SURVIVED!" It was funny to us that a man could eat 12 courses at dinner, that he dressed in a way that made him look like a turnip, and that he wore tights and a flouncy hat. Like a girl! As far as I can remember, the severity and fear of a life dictated by the madman that was Henry was never much impressed upon us.

Henry's wives never became much of a focus in their own right until secondary school, where we finally learned the significance of England's longstanding religion being entriely rewritten to allow Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. But still, though the magnitude of the event was known, it seemed too massive - too big for one man to have achieved on his own. It still held an element of fiction...

Further on, the fact that he actually beheaded two of the women he supposedly loved the most takes on a romantic tragedy of its own being. Sometimes, I think about the Tower of London. I try to imagine it as Tudor historians document it to be. I close my eyes and try to imagine Queens and crowds... I try to imagine "the block". It's impossible. For two women - one as young as Catherine Howard too - to have faced their violent deaths in that spot, it's just impossible to imagine. If you've been there, I wonder if you agree? There are some places in the world where you still feel the ghosts of the horrors that took place there. London has it's fair share of ghosts, no doubt, but when it comes to Queens I fancy it more as "disbelief". It still feels like fiction.

Beyond this, there were princesses disowned, princesses locked up in faraway castles, sickly sons, religious inquisition, plague, social climbers, warring families, planned coups... It's almost (is) ridiculous.

Although I hugely enjoy and appreciate the slew of historical fiction surrounding Henry VIII's court, and those around him, I do wonder whether people ever really do believe this stuff is true. I hope that after reading these books, people explore into the history behind the words in a less "novel-y" light and see it in it's stark horror. Perhaps slowly, those like me may endeavor to feel an historical affinity with it, rather than looking back on it as just an entertaining muddle of craziness that had something to do with bigamy - as many accounts/educators may have us believe in early life!

So - having now read most Tudor novels of note except Wolf Hall (Im still waiting for that leviathan of a book to drop below £5!) I think I might venture into the world of Tudor non-fiction. Any suggestions?!

Why I love ghost stories

"If a book has ghosts in it, I'll read it. No matter what." (Me)

Ghost stories are my favourite genre of book. Ever since I can remember, "ghosts" were the first thing I looked for on a blurb. I had a huge collection of Goosebumps when I was young, closely surrounded by various "Point Horror" publications and ghostly "true stories" fact books. I thrilled in making up my own ghost stories at sleepovers - huddled under duvets with friends - torchlight in our faces like we'd seen in films. Not only would I scare my friends, but I would petrify myself, too! Even now, ghost stories are like the last drink at the party you don't say no to. The extra spoonful of custard at dessert. I know the ill effects of reading them, but I just. can't. stop.

I guess it must be the same thing people get for horror films, or whiteknuckle rides, or... bungie jumping... No matter how much blood tormented your dreams that night, or how sick you felt on the rollercoaster drop, or how close to dying you got jumping from a bridge; you'd do it again. In a second. Of course you would! It was GREAT! And so the same can be said for me and ghost stories. Here's why:


I'm very particular. I like my ghost stories old school: haunted houses, victorian era, kids, maybe a governess thrown in. I like them subtle, and lingering, and moody - probably set in England where it's cold and grey. Because (and here's where a book beats any ghost film) books can't make you jump. They can shock you, they can make you gasp and your heart beat faster, but they cannot cause physical surprise. And so ghost stories, to me, have become the epitome of scene setting, tension building and making my mind feel like it's about the buckle under the weight of suspense. A well written ghost story pulls me so deeply into the world of the book that it's easy to get lost in it. Usually, ghost stories are set in one location and you get to know it intimately as you spend time there amongst the chapters. You feel, by the end of the book, that you can almost taste the air. The microcosm a haunted house etc. provides, helps the reader fall into the stories trap. And if you're reading a book, why would you not want to be taken so wholly along for the journey?!


Ghost stories take your everyday, your daily routine, and they make you question it. They make you nervous of it. Beyond late-night creepy doll stories at sleepovers, I am no longer fearful of ghosts. However, they do affect me. When I have finished a book or a film involving the whispy white dead, I actually tense before looking in mirrors, unsure of what I'll see. I begin to run from the bathroom to my bed when the light's out, not wanting to linger in the shadows for too long. I wonder why I'm suddenly cold at night.
I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that although I may or may not believe in ghosts, I definitely believe in their possibility. I don't believe that they're "horror story" devices - I don't think they will jump out and attack me and scream and wail - but I do begin to imagine them just... being there. I begin to think that one day I might turn round and *BOOM* there it is: a ghost. Just there. Lingering. Light-mongering. Whatever they do. And what would I do? What would I say?
Ghosts appear in your every day life, and in books they usually use the most normal of things to communicate: breath on cold glass, trembling water, reflections, temperature. Suddenly your morning cup of tea becomes an invitation for paranormal activity.I might actually pitch that one to Paramount...

Misplaced fear

One of the things I love most about ghost stories is that very often, the ghost is not the threat - it is the living characters, and their reaction to the ghost, that is dangerous, and yet we all fear the apparition more. Ghosts simply represent a wrong-doing in the living. However, I'm still scared to see a ghost - not because I would fear the ghost, but because of what that ghost might mean! ... which leads on to my next point quite nicely!...

A genius of a literary device

Often in stories, ghosts simply represent a secret or a desire of the character that sees or fears them. Ghosts are often nothing more than literary devices: symbols, masques, redherrings and lies. But they become these in such an affecting way. They are the human element of all the "evil" in their reason for being. They physically hold and embody pain, suffering, betrayal, loss, loneliness, wrong-doing. Sometimes, they do this almost beautifully - and sometimes, they do this in loud, house shaking, window breaking sorrow. You never see a ghost who just hung around to drink tea, do you? (discounting Harry Potter ghosts here!)

So, finally...

Ghosts are great. They make for great mysteries, great character development, great atmosphere, great denouments and great emotions. There is nothing bad to a ghost story. Nothing at all. Unless it's a teen romance... ;)

Top 5

Here are my top five favourite ghost stories, if you would like to try some for yourself:

  • The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James
  • The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
  • The Signalman - Charles Dickens
  • The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
  • Florence and Giles -  John Harding

(Special mentions to "Second Glance" by Jodie Piccoult and "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger too, for using ghosts so endearingly)