I’ve been asked to write a guest post about my research process! I’ve written three books since late 2017 (two not being out yet), and all three of them have had their own individual research approach, so this will be fun.
Non-fiction is a bit of an odd genre for me because I love documentaries and regularly start books about subjects I’m interested in, but I almost never finish non-fiction books. So I went hunting through my book piles and picked out the three I found the most interesting, and I’m going to try and finish them this Summer!
The True History of Chocolate by Sophie and Michael Coe*
Chocolate – ‘the food of the Gods’ – has had a long and eventful history. Its story is expertly told here by the doyen of Maya studies, Michael Coe, and his late wife, Sophie. The book begins 3,000 years ago in the Mexican jungles and goes on to draw on aspects of archaeology, botany and socio-economics. Used as currency and traded by the Aztecs, chocolate arrived in Europe via the conquistadors, and was soon a favourite drink with aristocrats. By the 19th century and industrialization, chocolate became a food for the masses – until its revival in our own time as a luxury item. Chocolate has also been giving up some of its secrets to modern neuroscientists, who have been investigating how flavour perception is mediated by the human brain. And, finally, the book closes with two contemporary accounts of how chocolate manufacturers have (or have not) been dealing with the ethical side of the industry.
Chocolate is a good chunk of the food I eat so when I started reading this during Lent after I gave up chocolate, this book felt a little like torture. I’ve spent hours wandering the chocolate museum in Köln and find the whole process fascinating so I’m looking forward to taking a really deep dive into it’s history, as well as the current market and ethics. What I’ve read so far is wonderfully written and ideal for reading with a cookie or five.
Please Take Me Home: The Story of the Rescue Cat by Clare Campbell
In Please Take Me Home, Clare Campbell takes us on a journey with the nation’s rescue cats, from being treated as pests throughout history to being the pet of choice today.
For a long time, stray cats in Britain were seen as a nuisance and hunted down as vermin. Having invited this wild, independent creature into our homes, humans did not extend their welcome for long. Over time, thousands of cats were subsequently abandoned and left to live on the margins of survival.
There were, however, the kind few who sought to help. But these good spirited people were often scorned, even derided as ‘mad’. A Princess of Wales was even told to stop helping lost cats in order to avoid a royal scandal; the story was kept a secret of state for years. It would take over a century for strays to become the beloved rescue cats of today, with some now gaining celebrity status, such as Downing Street’s Larry or Street Cat Bob.
Please Take Me Home is a fascinating and insightful history through the ages of the struggle for cats to exist in domesticity alongside mankind.
I began fostering cats in 2017 and since then, it’s become about 70% of my personality. I’ve literally had to stop writing this post three times because of kittens climbing onto my desk and standing on my keyboard (look at this silly boy). So I’m really interested in the history of the rescue cat and the people that began the charity work I do now! I have a feeling this is going to fill me with righteous indignation about the ten-and-a-half million cats estimated to be on the UKs streets, and how it’s all humans fault.
Fighting Proud by Stephen Bourne
In this astonishing new history of wartime Britain, historian Stephen Bourne unearths the fascinating stories of the gay men who served in the armed forces and at home, and brings to light the great unheralded contribution they made to the war effort. Fighting Proud weaves together the remarkable lives of these men, from RAF hero Ian Gleed – a Flying Ace twice honoured for bravery by King George VI – to the infantry officers serving in the trenches on the Western Front in WWI – many of whom led the charges into machine-gun fire only to find themselves court-martialled after the war for indecent behaviour. Behind the lines, Alan Turing’s work on breaking the ‘enigma machine’ and subsequent persecution contrasts with the many stories of love and courage in Blitzed-out London, with new wartime diaries and letters unearthed for the first time. Bourne tells the bitterly sad story of Ivor Novello, who wrote the WWI anthem `Keep the Home Fires Burning’, and the crucial work of Noel Coward – who was hated by Hitler for his work entertaining the troops. Fighting Proud also includes a wealth of long-suppressed wartime photography subsequently ignored by mainstream historians. This book is a monument to the bravery, sacrifice and honour shown by a persecuted minority, who contributed during Britain’s hour of need.
I actually got this for a story I was planning on writing for my creative writing module and needed to do some research about the gay men who served in WWII. Now it’s stemmed into the whole idea behind my Camp NaNoWriMo project so, unsurprisingly, it’s really good. My only issue is that I can get really sad reading some of the stories that don’t have the happiest endings so I have to take it in small chunks. It’s a really powerful and important book.
My name is Imogen, and I’ve never written a novel. But today is the 1st of July and that means it’s the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo. Scrivner is downloading as I type and I thought it would be interesting to track this a little, after all, one day I would like for some of you to read it! So here are my workable goals for Camp NaNoWriMo 2019, helped by the 5 things I learned from an unsuccessful NaNoWriMo.
Read one of my research books
I have a couple of books I’ve bought for research when it comes to my planned projects, but I struggle with non-fiction sometimes. I actually think reading more academically and making notes will help me get through them- my old teachers might be shocked to hear that!
Write a good chunk of notes
I’m not a great planner when it comes to writing but if I’ve learnt anything from my past couple years at the Open University, it’s that I do better when I have at least a little bit of an idea of where I’m going. So I took one of my immaculate notebooks off the shelf and wrote in it! I even made a spelling mistake which is truly the sign that a notebook is used. I want to get an outline, a couple of mind maps and use a couple of Rhianne’s incredible resources from her website to really get a grip on my project.
Write the ending
Here’s the thing, I know my characters quite well already and I know where I want them to end up. I know ho I want this story to end, I just don’t know how I’m going to get them there. My hope is that once I’ve got it out of my head and actually in words, my brain will be free to figure out a little bit more.
Slow and steady wins the race, as they always say. There are 31 days in July and I’d like to write around 200 words a day. That feels manageable since I know that there’ll be busy days when I won’t be able to write anything, and hopefully some productive days when I write quite a lot. Heck, this blog post is more than 200 words. Wish me luck!
Aurora came to me with almost no information and sometimes it happens that way; no big story of neglect or being found on the side of a busy road, just a cat that’s been found as a stray or the owners have surrendered them for personal reasons. One day you have an empty room and the next, there’s a big ball of fluffy ginger fur in your favourite chair.
I didn’t bond that much with Aurora for a couple of reasons, and I get asked a lot about how I manage to say goodbye to my fosters so I thought I would mention some of the reasons that I don’t bond with every cat and it can sometimes be really easy to send them off to a forever home.
The main reason is probably that I only had her for ten days. Sometimes I have cats for a long time, my longest being four months for a pregnant cat who had kittens, and sometimes they’re snapped up the moment they’re advertised. I don’t know if it factored into her adoption specifically but the rarer a cat, the faster they seem to get adopted. Ginger females are outnumbered by ginger males about 1/4 because the ginger gene is on the X chromosome and females need two to be ginger. She’s also long-haired, which a lot of people prefer despite the extra grooming. And she was cute as heck!
I joked on Twitter that I had never bonded with a long-haired female cat and that it was clearly the impact of 12 years of all-girls school but in reality, just like with humans, sometimes personalities don’t click. This is why I always recommend meeting a cat before you adopt them if you can. Sometimes people end up leaving with a different cat then the one they originally came for!
The last thing is that the reason I started fostering was that I had a ginger cat, creatively named by 7-year old Imogen as Ginger, who passed away and I wanted to help. Seeing a ginger cat that wasn’t my Ginger was jarring at times. Luckily, my area is overrun with black-and-white cats so I haven’t had a ginger cat since!
I’m going to catch up on these monthly wrap-up posts, I swear. Starting with November when half the books I read were co-written, which is an odd little coincidence! I really liked most of the books I got around to in November and even now, months later, really want to re-read at least two of them because of how much they impacted me. So!
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
I listened to the audiobook of this and it was so dang good even though I knew whodunnit (the BBC show was great too). I was genuinely spooked as it ramped up towards the end and the atmosphere was just so well-developed. The narrator, Hugh Fraser, does a lot of Agatha Christie audiobooks so I’m really looking forward to listening to some more when Autumn rolls around, which is really the perfect Christie season.
Magisterium: The Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
I agree with my initial review on my re-read of this! Although I did rate it slightly lower; four stars rather than five, as I find that ramped up cliffhangers tend to make me rate books slightly higher the first time around. Plus, with the reading one right after the other, I found a continuity error and that is the kind of stuff that bothers my nitpicky soul when it comes to entertainment.
Magisterium: The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
I posted my full review of this just a few weeks ago here!
Sometimes he forgot how small she was because her bravery loomed so large in his mind.
Magisterium: The Golden Tower by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Unsurprisingly, I loved the final book in this series and it even had me laugh out loud at some points. Everything was tied up and rounded out well, it’s what you hope for in a final book really.
My main problem with the series and this book, in particular, is just how rushed it all feels. On one hand; they’re both pretty busy authors, Holly Black has her new series and Cassandra Clare seems to have a couple series on the go. And the Magisterium series didn’t get much attention after the first book had its week on YouTube. On the other hand, I just wish they had taken their time with it a bit more. I gave books two to five, four stars and I genuinely think they could’ve all been as good as the first book with just a little more fleshing out.
I do hope Holly Black and Cassandra Clare work together again in the future. I’d love a companion series set in this world that delved into the European mages and their hatred of Chaos magic.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Literally everyone I spoke to when I was starting to read Austen’s works said that this was their favourite, even my mother who has pretty great taste. But it was my least favourite of the five I’ve read so far. I just didn’t connect with these characters at all and it really lacked some of the playfulness that her other works have. Maybe I’ll re-read it in a few years and my opinions will change but I’d much rather dive into Sense & Sensibility again.
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren
Fun fact about me: Ebooks trigger my migraines so I mainly borrow them from the library as a way of deciding if I want to buy a physical copy. I also don’t read very fast. I dip into books in short bursts rather than long stretches. I read this book in ebook form, in one night. And ended up buying a physical copy too.
I’ll be doing a full review of this one because it blew my mind.
Christmas with the East End Angels by Rosie Hendry*
You can read my full review here!
Heartstopper: Volume 1 by Alice Oseman
I really like the Heartstopper comic, I read it online and decided to back it on Kickstarter and now it’s traditionally published! It’s adorable but, maybe because I read a lot of comics, I just don’t think the art translates well in print.
An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris
I love Charlaine Harris but alternate history Wild West stories might not be the genre for me. The main vibe of the book that has stayed with me is an uncomfortable relationship with sex throughout. You’ve got an older male character ‘waiting’ until a female character is old enough to sleep with, and while there is an openness about sex work, the term ‘whore’ is thrown about. I guess because of the time? I’ll still probably read the next book. I can’t just not read a Charlaine Harris.
“-I stood looking up, seeing the vastness above me, nothing between me and the hereafter. I had my place, standing here on this dirt.”
There are a few series which I never stop talking about; this is one of them! I loved book one, impatiently waited for book two, loved book two, impatiently waited for book three and took it on holiday where I read it in three days. You know I love a series where there’s a paper trail on my blog that I can link you through!
Ever since she was a child, Jane has longed for a cloistered life as a nun. But her large noble family has other plans, and, as an adult, Jane is invited to the King’s court to serve as lady-in-waiting for Queen Katherine of Aragon. The devout Katherine shows kindness to all her ladies, almost like a second mother, which makes rumours of Henry’s lustful pursuit of Anne Boleyn—who is also lady-in-waiting to the queen—all the more shocking. For Jane, the betrayal triggers memories of a painful incident that shaped her beliefs about marriage.
But once Henry disavows Katherine and secures his new queen—altering the religious landscape of England—he turns his eye to another: Jane herself. Urged to return the King’s affection and earn favour for her family, Jane is drawn into a dangerous political game that pits her conscience against her desires. Can Jane be the one to give the King his long-sought-after son or will she meet a fate similar to the women who came before her?
I have to start by saying… Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen* was my least favourite book so far. I only rated it… four stars. Shocking, I know! I’ve loved this series so much that this was a surprise to me, even though I still really enjoyed it. I guess not everyone can be a Katherine of Aragon or an Anne Boleyn. Jane may have been Henry’s favourite but she isn’t mine.
It’s just that Jane as a character is just a little bit boring. The book doesn’t reflect this because it’s really interesting but as a character… Everything happens to her, which, yeah, she was a woman in the 1500s but rarely is a decision made that she actually sticks to. Then she’ll blame someone else. And her relationship with the King! She literally says at one point that “no sane woman would want to entangle herself with such a man” but goes on to talk about his vulnerability. She’s that friend you have that keeps going back to her ex even when he’s clearly a terrible person.
Reflecting, I’m not a huge fan of the choice to add the supernatural aspect of ghosts to the story. It was interesting, but it strays a little too far into the fictional side of historical fiction. It’s my pet peeve in science-based crime-dramas on TV when they do this and it’s always such a jump-the-shark moment for me, especially since there’s no historical base for it. If she had written a letter mentioning a ghost, sure, but as you can tell from the title, this Haunted Queen kind of overshadows the actual person.
As always though, Alison Weirs Author’s Note is truly fascinating as she goes into her method of writing historical fiction; her sources and choices. It makes me wish more authors would go into their thought processes and writing methods, it’s fascinating. I really have to pick up one of her non-fiction books these days.
It’s been a while since I read a really good cosy crime novel so when the opportunity to be on the blog tour for A Clean Canvas* came up, I jumped at it. And I’m so glad I did because this was a blast. So much so that I’ve asked my local library to get in the first book because I really want more of Lena and her investigations.
Crime always leaves a stain…
Lena Szarka, a Hungarian cleaner, dusts off her detective skills when a masterpiece is stolen from a gallery she cleans with her cousin Sarika. But when Sarika goes missing too, accusations start to fly.
Convinced her cousin is innocent, Lena sweeps her way through the secrets of the London art scene. With the evidence mounting against Sarika and the police on her trail, Lena needs to track down the missing painting if she is to clear her cousin.
Embroiling herself in the sketchy world of thwarted talents, unpaid debts and elegant fraudsters, Lena finds that there’s more to this gallery than meets the eye.
A Clean Canvas is the second book in the Lena Szarka mysteries with a Hungarian cleaner solves crimes in London, and if that doesn’t appeal to you then I don’t know what will. There’s something about reading about cleaning and a main character who genuinely enjoys it that just inspired me to do a bit around the house. I even found myself running a wet rag over the skirting boards! I’ve read a cosy crime series about a cleaner before (the Lily Bard series by Charlaine Harris) and this was so much more realistic to me.
I’ll admit, even with a good many detective books on my shelves, I didn’t see who the thief was until the very end. I had many theories along with Lena and it felt like we explored them together rather than being led down a path then told it was a dead end. There were twists and turns and lots of intersections with other life events crossing over our main storyline. It’s a great example of cosy crime and why I tend to reach for it more than other styles of crime books.
I liked that even in a light-hearted read, there was still a fair bit of social commentary on how the middle-classes treat people who work for them, especially immigrants. When something is stolen, it seems like everyone’s first thought is Lena and her cousin. When things go missing from a clients house, the suspitions are immediately aimed at Lena. It was interesting to see that addressed and not treated as a joke.
The only thing that didn’t work for me was the portrayal of OCD. I felt it came across as quite stereotypical, like a caricature of a person with OCD. However, at 280 pages, I imagine it would be quite difficult to dive into it. The rest of the book was so wonderfully diverse that it really was the only blip.
A generation ago, Constantine Madden came close to achieving what no magician had ever achieved: the ability to bring back the dead. He didn’t succeed… but he did find a way to keep himself alive, inside a young child named Callum Hunt.
I love the character development that’s happening book-to-book. The kids are kids but they’re slowly growing up at a reasonable rate, and it’s just such a realistic timeline. There’s no jumps to suddenly being a grown-up, like some other books I’ve read. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that the Jasper/Callum friendship is a treat and it continues to be great, they’re kids being kids!
“You’re the only one I can talk to, Call,” said Jasper.
“You mean because I’m chained to this floor and can’t get away?”
I really appreciated the addition of queer representation in this book as well. An established character told the story of falling in love and it wasn’t a big thing. It was just a man loving a man and it was so normalised. More of this, please. Although, I still wish there were a few more female characters. It’s really the only thing that lets down the series for me, but we’re talking two female to five or six male characters and I really hoped in my review of the third book that this would even out. It hasn’t, which is a bit disappointing.
Since starting, I’ve always been waiting for these books to go full Harry Potter dark on me, but I’m pleased to say that they haven’t. They keep up their overall optimism and I love them for it. They even balance out the sadness with some comedy which made me laugh out loud.
For the past couple years I’ve been trying to curb my book buying habit. No more book hauls where I never end up reading the books, no more TBR that could crush a human, no more! Then this year, I said no more to that. I told myself that as long as I read them, I could buy them. So…
I haven’t read many of these yet… but I’m working on it!
Starting with the oddballs, Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews has been on my radar for a while and I decided to finally pick it up after finding myself craving urban fantasy.
Déjà Dead by Kathy Reichs on the other hand, was just because I was catching up on Bones and boy, did it jump the shark. I’m hoping that the source material has the vibe that I fell in love with the TV show for.
And Collected Stories by Vladimir Nabokov was because I’m studying Creative Writing and I needed to read some short stories for reference. And I love Nabokov’s Lolita so he was an obvious choice.
I love-love-loved The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams after reading it last year so, of course, I needed her first trilogy. The Copper Promise, The Iron Ghost and The Silver Tide by Jen Williams are at the top of my TBR right now and I’m even thinking about doing a reading vlog because I have a good feeling they’re going to be one of those series that I’ll always wish I could read for the first time again.
I’ve always found military history interesting and lately I’ve been curious about the LGBT+ soldiers. After searching around, I found the non-fiction Fighting Proud by Stephen Bourne and the fiction The Charioteer by Mary Renault. I’m really excited to get to both of them once I finish Regeneration by Pat Barker, a book I already owned that got me interested in the topic.
More LGBT+ books that made it to my shelves this season were The Heart Begins Here by Jacqueline Dumas, Been Here All Along by Sandy Hall and Autoboyography by Christina Lauren. I actually read Autoboyography last year and loved it so much that I needed my own copy, and needed more like it, which is why I bought Been Here All Along, another M/M YA romance. In comparison, The Heart Begins Here is an adult book about a feminist bookstore run by a lesbian couple at a time when independent bookstores started feeling the heat of chains and the internet.
I’m slowly catching up on these reading wrap-ups and I have to say, October of last year was a pretty amazing reading month for me! It definitely helped having a holiday to Iceland but I was just really enjoying picking up books and reading in October. I think as the seasons change, I’m more inclined to curl up on the sofa with a blanket and enjoy a good book with a cup of cocoa.
Dominion by Jennifer Ridyard and John Connolly*
This took me a good couple years to get to. I loved the first two books in this trilogy so much that I got stage fright when it came to the final! I built it up in my head that it felt near impossible that it would reach my high expectations. Despite this, it did.
I cringe from the word ‘banter’ but there really is no other way to describe the charming back-and-forth between the cast of characters. An entire cast who are all fleshed out with insights into their backstories and personalities, no matter how minor. There are no throwaways here. But the thing that stands out the most to me is the use of time. It was impossibly clever but impossible to go into without spoiling the first two books so look out for that in my series review. These books are truly the best YA that I’ve read and I recommend them to everyone.
The clear water still lapped in her mind like all the tears ever shed in the universe, and she found her tears were wet with it.
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare*
I decided to re-read the Magisterium series when the fifth and final book came out for a couple reasons; I actually read along with the release dates for the most part so it’s been quite spread out, and I never finished my full review of the fourth book and I wanted to refresh my mind a little before I got to it.
I wrote a full review of this book back when I first read it three years ago and for the most part, I still agree. If anything, I love it more! No longer do I find the tunnel school creepy, but charming and I actually prefer this world to Harry Potter. And the foreshadowing? Incredible.
The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare*
In my initial review of this I wrote: “I think it has great re-readabiliy” and y’know what? I was right! Go read that review because everything I wrote there stands up three years later including for when I found this hard to get into at the start. It was still a little tough for the first couple chapters.
“I always have a plan”, she said, raising her eyebrows. “Sometimes even a scheme. You should take lessons from me.”
Service with a Smile by P. G. Wodehouse
I’m truly so impressed with how the threads of Wodehouse’s plots tangle and untangle over the course of the book. He is a master even if it does get a bit repetitive. At least if he’s self-aware;
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I had a go at reading this in Summer last year, but didn’t get very far and moved on to other Austens. However, in October I discovered that Audible had released the audiobook read by Rosamund Pike, who read Pride and Prejudice to me last December which I loved! She really brings the characters to life.
And y’know what? I really liked this! I wish the relationships ended up a different way than they did but it was really funny and I might actually prefer it to Pride and Prejudice as my favourite Austen. I’ll have to re-read both at some point to see.