Life on Other Planets by Matt Cook

It’s 1997 and Ben Carters Great Aunt Pearl has just died. Ben arrives with his Dad, Victor, and various Aunts and Uncles meet at the dilapidated old house in order to get cracking with the sorting out and organising of the funeral. Nothing unusual about that, where there’s life, there’s death. Where there’s families, there’s stress. Goes hand in hand.

However, no one can seem to find Aunt Pearls Will, which is a tad problematic. Patience is tested, the families true colours begin to emerge and relationships take a bit of a toxic turn. And then there’s the discovery of something called the ‘Church of The Holy Heavens’ which causes no end of questions and suspicions. Things begin to get as messy as the stale old house itself.

At first glance the title and cover hints that the story is going to be somewhat ‘out there’. Other planets, things that are not of this world, the suggestion of alternative life and beyond.

But the story within couldn’t be more grounded to planet earth and the people on it if it tried. I found myself becoming quickly absorbed and at one with the trials and tribulations of the Carter family.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 47 years of being on planet earth, it’s that humans can be pretty crap when it comes to familial stress. Moving house, new jobs, new schools, relationships, babies, doing the monthly ‘big shop’, health, money, death. It all plays a part in what we all become as we age and slide into that older generation category. (I’m not quite there, yet…!)

As we age, the more knowledgeable we become, yes? Well, actually, having just spent 266 pages with fourteen year old Ben and seeing his family unit through his young eyes has triggered a bit of a rethink actually.

Matt Cooks writing gave me a bit of a zap when I started reading. I knew from a very early point that this was going to be a thoughtful, relatable story, with nuggets of dark humour dropped in throughout.

So, this zap, let me explain. On starting a book, sometimes you read a paragraph, or one sentence in the first few chapters and you already know that you’ve got yourself some quality writing. That’s exciting. That’s the zap.

‘The refrigerator was a riot of mould and malfunction; ancient foodstuffs of unknowable content glistened and furred and hatched plans.’

I mean, who’d think to link crusty-labelled jars of the unknown with dodgy best before dates in the back of a cupboard with the ‘hatching of plans’? Matt did, and it made me laugh far too hard, I completely got it. I’ve rummaged through a similar cupboard or two myself!

That’s how Matt writes. His humour has a slightly dark, yet soft, spiritual side. He has a real understanding of the human psyche, which shines throughout the book. This is particularly prominent with his characters. He must of cast his mind back to his fourteen year old self numerous times.

Matt has created a heartfelt story that is full of life, even though the plot is predominantly about death. Humans are simply being human. Teenagers loitering on the sidelines, often invisible, yet brimming with ideas and carefully trying to work out their own lives. Adults in the thick of it, unknowingly (and probably knowingly) cocking things up.

Many of us have been there, lived it, seen it.

But have we properly seen it?

Fact: Matt has.

I think he’s a bit of a ‘people watcher’. He sees things from a different angle, this helped in creating his characters, the descriptions and situations.

‘I tried again to speak, to clear things up, but my voice was a chewy substance that fell straight out of my mouth on to the floor’.

Matt has a way with words, his story telling has a flow that is so immersive. Before I knew it I had read well over half the book, I’d only picked it up for a chapter or two. A sure sign of a great book is when you’re lost in those pages and don’t realise you have been until you stop, and jump back out into real life.

I would highly recommend Life on Other Planets to everyone. It’s the kind of book which would appeal to adults, teenagers, or a senior human being. It’s got an abundance of emotion, and what stood out most of all was it’s readability. It’s so readable, you don’t even feel yourself getting sucked in. I felt like I was hiding in a cupboard in Pearls hallway, earwigging and spying on the family.

So as you’ve probably gathered, I absolutely loved it and I’m looking forward to seeing what else Matt has up his sleeve. Marvellous stuff!

Thank you Matt for sending me a gifted copy, it’s found it’s comfy slot on my forever shelf.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

OK, so this mysterious book has been doing the rounds and luckily I didn’t come across any spoilers prior to starting it. Thank goodness!! 

Right, how to write the vaguest of vague reviews yet keep it interesting. Now that’s what I call a challenge!!

How have readers reviewed this without letting the cat out of the bag I’ll never know. It’s a tough one to write. But I’ll do my best. 

What/who’s it about then? 

Well, Ted, predominately. A recluse of a man who lives in a boarded-up house on the street in the books title. It’s situated on the edge of a wooded area somewhere in NW Washington state, US. 

He lives with his young daughter, Lauren and his religious pet cat Olivia. Yes, you read that right, a RELIGIOUS CAT.

There’s history of children going missing in the area, but none of them have ever been found and the crimes have never been solved. 

This is the first time I’ve read a book, finished it, and then had the pleasure of watching it being discussed on television. I was determined to watch Between the Covers on BBC2 last night with the smuggest face ever. Yes, even the guests talking to Sara Cox also struggled to say much about it in case they leaked spoilers!

Throughout reading I had to stop and hold onto my head for fear of my brain exploding! I lost count of how many times I said ‘wait, what, hang on a minute, that can’t be right’. I was re-reading sentences, dialogue, descriptions multiple times because I could not believe what I was reading. 

The Last House on Needless Street is a book I will never ever forget. I went to bed last night thinking about it. Working out how to write a review that would do it the justice it deserves.

I awoke this morning absolutely none the wiser so just thought I’d get a very basic synopsis down and then go from there. 

To be honest, you just need to read it. If Stephen King loved it, then it’s got to be something pretty special don’t you think? 

I will say that Kings’ fans will definitely see a few nods to the man himself throughout the book. Clever, Catriona, very clever indeed!

I can’t say any more about it really, apart from if you buy one book this year, make it this one. It will blow your mind. 

‘People who have lived together for many generations share a special kind of madness’.

Apparently the film rights have been snapped up already and it’s translation rights have been sold in 18 territories. 

Catriona Ward is an exceptional writer and story teller. I’ve read stacks of horror and to discover something of such high quality within this genre is a bit of a rarity these days. It’s dark, clever, incredibly well researched and it could quite possibly be my Book of the Year. 

One last thought, if I were to read it again, knowing what I know now, it would be a completely different story. I don’t re-read that often, but this one is just begging for it!!

It’s Tuesday! I’m talkin’ BIG BOOKS. It’s #Tomesday!

Good morning/afternoon/evening!

Today I’m chatting about books of size. Once in a while, I fancy something big and thick to hold (stop it! 😆) and I dig around my shelves for some inspiration of epic proportions.

I’ve a tendency to be drawn to mahoosive tomes, particularly when I’m in my favourite place ever, the book department in my local charity shop. (For which I have a self- imposed ban on until 2020, but that’s a whole different story).

What do you consider to be a Tome-sized book? 500+ pages? 700+ pages?

Well, Did You Know?

Tome comes from Latin tomus, which comes from Greek tomos, meaning “section” or “roll of papyrus.” Tomos comes from the Greek verb temnein, which means “to cut.” In ancient times, some of the longest scrolls of papyrus occasionally were divided into sections. When it was first used in English in the 16th century, tome was a book that was a part of a multi-volume work. Now a tome is most often simply a large and often ponderous book.

PONDEROUS. I just love that word! Here’s the gorgeous Jodie Comer from Killing Eve pondering how to kill her next victim. (Any excuse to add her to my post, I JUST LOVE HER!)

Okay, books, BIG, FAT, JUICY BOOKS THAT WEIGH AS MUCH AS A BREEZE BLOCK.

Let’s get some pictures, that’s a lovely stack wouldn’t you say?

Okay, I’ll quit messing with you, let’s get on with it. Here’s four Tomes of mine that are all 700+ pages.

Let’s start with the wonderful Kingsbridge series by Ken Follett, the first of my tomes for Tomesday. I do believe there’s a third in this series which I have yet to purchase. Just take a moment to feast your eyes on these beauts.

Pillars of the Earth is 1076 pages long, but World Without End is a whopping 1237 pages!

The Independent quotes on the cover for WWE;

‘You won’t be able to put it down’.

To be fair, I couldn’t pick it up for long either as holding it for more than half an hour gave me tennis elbow! (I’m an in-the-bath reader). Anyway, I’ve read them both, and they are ‘up there’ with my all time favourite in the Historical Fiction genre, both receiving five star ratings from me on Goodreads.

Next, I have two tomes that I’ve not read, but were bought in a charity shop for such a ridiculously low price, how could one resist?!

The Theatre of the World by C B Butler.

‘England 1586. Elizabeth I’s privateers are called into service to save England from its greatest peril’.

Another big chunk of history, the main character having been born in Southampton, my home town. I’ve got to get cracking on this one ASAP. I’ve just reminded myself how excited I was when I found it! Purchased at the British Heart Foundation for a quid! At 771 pages, it’s not as big as the two Folletts, but heavy enough to knock someone out cold.

And finally, my last tome for Tomesday is By Gaslight by Steven Price.

‘A dark tale of love, betrayal and murder from the slums of Victorian London, to the diamond mines of South Africa…’

And it is still on my TBR, I forgot all about it until today! Oh my life, honestly, I was DESPERATE to read this when I bought it. But off I popped it onto the shelves of oblivion, only to be found again today. *sighs*.

Note to self: leave it in full sight, a place where I stub my toe on it’s 731 page bulk.

So there we have it, four giant-size books, two I’ve read, two TBR.

What massive books do you own? Do you enjoy a book that you know you have to invest a lot of time into? Let me know in the comments. Or you could even do your own #Tomesday post. Don’t forget to tag me so I can pop over and have a read!

Right, I’m off, it’s sad, but I must dash. (Any excuse to use another Jodie GIF 😉😆)

Thanks for dropping by, and until next time, cheerio!

The Regrettable Actions of my Bookish Younger Self

So today I’ve decided to take a trip down Book Memory Lane. You know what us oldies are like for reminiscing about days gone by, all nostalgic, when times were better…

As you’ve probably all experienced in your own lives, us book lovers simply run out of shelf space. Unless of course you’re one of those lucky sods with a massive spare room/library to house every single book you’ve ever owned. (No bitterness or jealousy at all there.)

I’ve done many a charity shop donation with books I just didn’t have room for. Okay, admittedly, some I was glad to see the back of, but most were ‘I doubt I’d re-read, but I still like yous’. I have been known to *ahem* buy them again if seen for a bargain somewhere though.

In superb technicolour, here are the actual editions I have loved and lost.

[Click on the covers to find out more!]

And there we have it. A mixed bag of books from my past that I would love to have back on my bookshelves. Did any of these ring any bells? If you were a child/teen of the 80’s, I’m sure some of these covers will take you back!

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend folks!

How my bookishness began..

Casting my mind back to the early eighties, I remember when ‘the book club’ people used to bring a pile of books into the foyer of my junior school.

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Now, I was never a spoilt child, I rarely had the latest trends, my parents mainly replying to my wants with a ‘I’ll make you one’, (a Care Bear cuddly toy – Mum), or, ‘you don’t need a climbing frame, here’s 20 yards of rope, I’ll tie it from the apple tree to next doors fence!’ (- Dad). So I generally just made do. One of my most vivid memories was the slide Dad knocked up in the shed, made from an old white MDF dressing table. It lasted probably ten minutes because the splinters in my ass kind of put me off playing on it!

But, when it came to books, thankfully, that was a completely different story! 😉 So, off home I’d skip with the order form flapping away in my hand, because that day, I knew my parents would say ‘it’s book club time is it? Here you are, have five big juicy pounds, choose whichever ones you’d like.’ Oh the joy!

I was like a kid in a sweety shop, I can tell you! Working out how many books I could order for my five pounds. Now, back in 1980, five quid was a HUGE sum of money for any kid, and the fact that I was getting something that wasn’t home made filled me with utter glee!

The ‘book lady’ used to visit my school probably three times a year, and on every visit, I was one of the rare kids who ALWAYS had the full fiver to spend. My parents obviously knew just how important reading was, and dished out the maximum spend allowed, no questions asked, and no threats of ‘making me one’.

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So these exciting moments of my childhood have stayed with me. I can vividly remember receiving my little bundle of books, held together with two large elastic bands in a cross fashion. Even then, I was greedily sniffing the newness, rushing home to get stuck in to Roald Dahls’ The Twits and Revolting Rhymes.

As I got older, obviously I progressed to longer stories with less pictures. And then, one day on the book table at school, I discovered a series of books called ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’. Oh. My. God. 😮

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That was it for me, a book that you don’t read IN PAGE ORDER?!! What IS THIS?!! Well, all I can say is, I rarely left my bedroom! My Mum was like, ‘Lisa, it’s a glorious day, why don’t you go outside and play, get some fresh air?’ Um, I’m in the middle of a great adventure at the moment, so maybe later. Or not.

As I headed into Senior School, my tastes changed somewhat. Sat in an English class one morning, circa 1986, one of the lads in my class was discreetly reading, holding the book under the desk. He was absolutely engrossed. ‘What ya reading?’ I asked, with an air of (fake) disinterest. (I didn’t want him to think I was genuinely interested, that just wasn’t cool!) ‘Oh, you won’t like it, it’s gory and horrible’ he replied.

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I WANTED THAT BOOK. That very weekend, I visited my local library and borrowed A STACK OF HORROR from the adult section, and I was converted into a James Herbert fan overnight. Horror was now my bag.

That’s my story of my earliest feelings of book-love, and it’s stayed with me all my life, and I thought I’d share it with you 😀

What’s your earliest bookish recollection as a child? I’d love to hear your stories!