Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker

Skyfaring

If you see me sat at the same gate as you in an airport, change your flight. I am the worst flier; I have a pathological fear of it which has in the past resulted in me screaming “we’re all going to die” whilst the plane was still on the ground, not that I remember that particular episode. The funny thing is, I’m utterly fascinated by flight. I love everything about it except flying itself.

Walking past a lovely non-fiction table in Waterstones, I happened upon Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker. As a pilot for British Airways, Mark has been flying 747s for years and has now committed some of his experiences to paper. And what experiences they are. He turns the most mundane experiences (long-haul flying) into glorious looks at the beauty of our planet and the loneliness that comes with being a long-haul pilot. One passage in particular about radio frequencies in the sky is haunting and wonderful. I read it over and over. Things you’d never think about as a passenger are touched upon, such as flying with a team of people you met an hour before take off, place-lag versus jetlag and how non-pilot friends don’t entirely understand Mark’s life. How he finds himself startled to be back in London after flying to Africa and back in a day, but grounds himself whilst washing African soil off his boots. It’s an astonishing look at pilot life, and has really opened my eyes to what can be seen out of an aeroplane window.

To date, I’ve never met anyone who understands what I go through when I fly. It starts when I decide to go somewhere, ramps up when I book and in the weeks running up to the flight I’m plagued by dreams and nightmares about flying. There’s no reasoning with me and no point telling me it’ll be okay. I’ve had people suggest hypnotism, have thrown off valium and sleeping pills, had flying courses suggested and even taken a lesson, but none of that has helped. Skyfaring is the only book I’ve read, and probably will read, which has taken away some of the terrible fear I feel about handing my life over to someone else.

It’s a truly lovely and reassuring book to read.I fly for the first time in four years next week, and I can honestly say I will most likely be clutching my copy of Skyfaring with tags for my favourite passages to remind me that whilst what I’m about to do is unbearably terrifying to me, there is beauty in it if I can just calm myself down long enough to see it.

I hope if I fly long-haul again Mark is one of my pilots. I’d really love to meet him and thank him for making the ordeal just a tiny bit easier.

2014top10: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

In the weeks running up to New Year I’m going to post reviews of the best ten books I read this year. They will be in no particular order until the final one which is my favourite of them all.

As it stands they include four YA books, three adult, one fantasy and a graphic novel (ish). 70% of them are written by women, two are debuts and all bar three have been newly published in the UK this year. One of them is a hardback I lugged around for a few weeks, one I read in an hour, another I read twice in three hours and one of them is the most challenging books I’ve read this year.

They’re my favourites because of what they say, how I came across them, who gave them to me, how I felt reading them, their writing and how I remember them.the bone clocks

Reading The Bone Clocks isn’t far from how I’d imagine falling down the rabbit hole would be. I’m really not sure how to describe David Mitchell’s most recent book. Aside from being completely brilliant and engrossing, going into detail will give me a headache. It’s another interweaving stories book and has a wonderful habit of bringing in characters from Cloud Atlas (and apparently his other novels, but I’ve only read two so I wouldn’t know). It’s the book that made me gasp and look around at my fellow tube passengers in a sort of “why aren’t you excited by this” way. Why does the world insist on carrying on when you’re reading/watching something that needs a minute or two to be considered?

Anyway. The Bone Clocks is an absolute masterpiece. Granted, it’ll need a couple more reads, but I couldn’t be more excited about going back to it. I’m slowly buying his backlist so I can read them all in order as I recently heard him speak and he said he’s inadvertently created his own world where all his characters live and books take place. That’s such an exciting idea and I want to follow his creation from the beginning.

After Cloud Atlas, I wasn’t sure I’d read anything better by David, but The Bone Clocks is so wonderful and different, at times terrifying and all of a sudden magical and it makes him one of the most exciting authors I’ve discovered recently. I really cannot wait to read his next book, and for that matter, his first.

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2014top10: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

In the weeks running up to New Year I’m going to post reviews of the best ten books I read this year. They will be in no particular order until the final one which is my favourite of them all.

As it stands they include four YA books, three adult, one fantasy and a graphic novel (ish). 70% of them are written by women, two are debuts and all bar three have been newly published in the UK this year. One of them is a hardback I lugged around for a few weeks, one I read in an hour, another I read twice in three hours and one of them is the most challenging books I’ve read this year.

They’re my favourites because of what they say, how I came across them, who gave them to me, how I felt reading them, their writing and how I remember them.

Isla

The majority of the time, I read a book because I’ve heard so much about it that I want to know what the fuss is about. It just gets annoying seeing people tweet so much and talk so much and review so much about something that I’ll read it just to understand. That’s what happened with Anna and the French Kiss. So many people talked about it that finally I went to my local Waterstones and bagged a copy.

But this isn’t about Anna. This is about Isla, and I’m going to show my appreciation of this book through gifs.

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2014top10 – Madame by Antoni Libera

In the weeks running up to New Year I’m going to post reviews of the best ten books I read this year. They will be in no particular order until the final one which is my favourite of them all.

As it stands they include four YA books, three adult, one fantasy and a graphic novel (ish). 70% of them are written by women, two are debuts and all bar three have been newly published in the UK this year. One of them is a hardback I lugged around for a few weeks, one I read in an hour, another I read twice in three hours and one of them is the most challenging books I’ve read this year.

They’re my favourites because of what they say, how I came across them, who gave them to me, how I felt reading them, their writing and how I remember them.

Madame

A very great friend of mine started out as a film buddy (we met at London Film Festival) and has now become one of my favourite people to discuss film, art and books with. Often our conversations revolve around what we’ve read recently, what we want to read and if you catch us in a bookshop, you’ll never see two people enable each other more. So when I visited her in Rochester, I discovered a town littered with second hand bookshops, not unlike Hay in Herefordshire. Naturally we nosed around all of them picking out things to laugh at and consider. It wasn’t until the last one when my friend suddenly gasped and pulled a book off a shelf. It had a black and white picture of an elegant woman on the front and a one word title: Madame. An English translation of a Polish book, she immediately bought it and gifted it to me, giving me my first book by a Polish author, and one of the first European novels I’ve read. (Shocking I know, but I tend to stick to American and English titles. I don’t know why.)

At first I was a little scared of reading it. It’s one of her favourite books and what if I don’t like it? But then I started reading, and another world opened up to me. Set in 1960s Poland, it follows a 17 year old school boy as he becomes infatuated with his French teacher and tries to get her to see him as more than a pupil.

It’s a book that assumes the reader is intelligent. There are few explanations, numerous passages in French without translation and a sophisticated style of writing. I mean this in the best possible way; very little is spelled out and it makes understanding the protagonist much easier. The writing flows and the story is engrossing. Oddly, it was one of those books where the idea of reading it stalled me, but every time after a few sentences, I was pulled in. It took me AGES to read it. Three weeks for me is a bloody long time. I can usually get  through at least one book a week but Madame requires time and thought, and the writing is such that it needs savouring.

After finishing it, I couldn’t think what to say to my friend. I love Madame so much it couldn’t be conveyed in a text. Luckily, we met up soon after to hear David Mitchell (author, not comedian) talk and afterwards we spent a good while talking about Madame. The characters are all wonderful, the writing is wonderful, the final line is wonderful. I cannot recommend this book enough, and I’m so glad my friend gave it to me.

2014top10: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In the weeks running up to New Year I’m going to post reviews of the best ten books I read this year. They will be in no particular order until the final one which is my favourite of them all.

As it stands they include four YA books, three adult, one fantasy and a graphic novel (ish). 70% of them are written by women, two are debuts and all bar three have been newly published in the UK this year. One of them is a hardback I lugged around for a few weeks, one I read in an hour, another I read twice in three hours and one of them is the most challenging books I’ve read this year.

They’re my favourites because of what they say, how I came across them, who gave them to me, how I felt reading them, their writing and how I remember them.

ready player one

I don’t know what drew me to Ready Player One. Maybe it was the cover or the odd comment about how brilliant it is, but at one point earlier this year, I found myself reading a book I wouldn’t normally have picked up and being utterly captivated by it. It’s one of the funnest books I’ve read in a long time. The world Ernest Cline has created is bizarre because it’s part reality and part a gigantic online game which has pretty much taken over the world. People attend schools in virtual reality and can create entire planets to escape the bleak world they now live in. Wade Watts is one of these people escaping to OASIS, and is also a gunter; someone hell-bent on solving the game within OASIS its creator James Halliday created before he died. Whoever solves it wins Halliday’s trillion-dollar fortune and ownership of OASIS. It’s been five years, and no one has come close to solving even the first clue.

As you might imagine, Wade manages to solve it the first clue and starts a race between himself, other gunters and IOI, the company looking to monetise OASIS. It’s a thrilling read and I’m sure there are a number of references those interested in gaming will get, but Ernest Cline has succeeded in writing a book that welcomes gamers and non-gamers alike. The only references to games I’m ever like to pick up on are ones about Spyro Gateway to Glimmer, but it doesn’t take anything away from this really quite astonishing debut.

I’ve heard a film is in the works and honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. Whilst I would love to see a film adaptation of Ready Player One, how it would be done is a mystery. The majority of the story takes place in OASIS where everyone has an avatar and it’s only about a quarter set in the “real” world, as it were. I hope it’s good. The book deserves an excellent adaptation.

This is another book my friend (same one as before) is holding hostage and it’s probably just as well in this case because I would read it over and over until I knew it off by heart. That’s not a bad thing really, but there are thousands of books out there to read so as long as she’s got it, I won’t be distracted. At some point I’m going to demand it back, and I look forward to getting completely lost in Ernest’s world again. Award for best world created in 2014 definitely goes to Ernest.

2014top10: Plumdog by Emma Chichester Clark

In the weeks running up to New Year I’m going to post reviews of the best ten books I read this year. They will be in no particular order until the final one which is my favourite of them all.

As it stands they include four YA books, three adult, one fantasy and a graphic novel (ish). 70% of them are written by women, two are debuts and all bar three have been newly published in the UK this year. One of them is a hardback I lugged around for a few weeks, one I read in an hour, another I read twice in three hours and one of them is the most challenging books I’ve read this year.

They’re my favourites because of what they say, how I came across them, who gave them to me, how I felt reading them, their writing and how I remember them.

plumdog

Anyone who knows me knows I can’t see a dog without pausing mid-sentence for an “awww”. On my first day at work my boss took me to lunch and a dog was in the restaurant. I have never put so much effort into concentrating on someone in my life. I must have looked like this:

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Anyway. Plumdog is the lovely graphic novel-ish book by illustrator Emma Chichester Clark about life told through her dog’s (Plum) eyes. It’s adorable and I love it and I want a dog like Plum. Featuring thoughts on walks, sticks, Christmas and cats, a year in Plum’s life is exciting and colourful, sometimes sad but always wonderful to look at. Emma’s illustrations are gorgeous and Plum’s comments are often hilarious (see: The Great Spoilsport of Our Time).

The best part about Plumdog is it doesn’t finish with the book. I could bang on and on about how wonderful and lovely it is, but I’m not going to. Instead, I’ll point you towards Plumdog Blog where it all started, and where it carries on.

Here you go. 

Thoughts on a YouTube sensation

Let’s talk about Zoe Sugg, the YouTube sensation turned author.

This girl has caused some arguments. I tried to make my case and have an interesting debate about her with someone who didn’t agree with me, and that person stormed out of the conversation and hasn’t spoken to me since. What’s that all about?

These are my thoughts. You don’t have to agree, I’m not forcing them on you and you can click away if I annoy you, but I’m entitled to my opinion as is everyone else.

In my line of work (I’m assistant to a children’s book agent), news of David Walliams and the new Wimpy Kid selling tens of thousands of copies a week can be rather galling. On Tuesday, when the news came in that Zoe’s book had sold 78,000 copies in its first week, we were stunned. 78,000 copies is an obscene amount. No one has sold that many in a week, not even JK Rowling. So yes, we and a lot of other people were stunned by this news.

And then it got depressing.

See, there are so many authors out there who have toiled over book after book after book and who have never and may never reach the level Zoe is on. It just seems so incredibly unfair that someone who has never written a book before can just waltz in and smash all records, basically because she has millions of followers who are desperate to buy her book. The most depressing thing is all the help she’s getting.

She doesn’t need the support of bookshops and advertisements and posters. All you have to do is put her book on a shelf and wait – it will go. She’s quite honestly the last person who needs publicity support and yet it’s all going on her. Why not support those authors who don’t have hugely successful YouTube channels and millions of followers? Why not put them in the limelight? They’re the ones who need it, and yet it happens time and time again. Girl Online sells itself just by having Zoe’s name attached to it. Other books don’t and they do need the time and posters and bookshops behind them or their chances of getting noticed are so slim.

So yes, I find this all incredibly annoying.

UPDATED – There are two counterarguments that I can’t, and won’t ever, contest and they are if Zoe’s book is getting kids who wouldn’t normally read reading and keeping bookshops in business, then that’s great. And it will always be great. I hope they discover the joy that is reading through Girl Online and I hope it gives bookshops the boost they may need.