REVIEW: Diary of A Drag Queen

“Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersexual, Asexual and + (not you, straight guy who loves glitter a bit but thinks bum sex is gross). Yes, it’s a long acronym, yes, it’s seven whole letters, but I learned the national anthem even though borders are constructs, so you can learn seven letters.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

I first heard about this book a few months ago and ever since then, I have been dying to read it. It features on my TBR for this month, and as I wanted to expand my knowledge of the LGBTQIA+ community, this book was the ideal match.

What Did I Think?

I don’t know what I imagined this book would be, but I definitely didn’t think it would include so much sex. As a warning to you, if you’re not into graphic and detailed sex scenes, I would strongly advise that you find another book to read. Even for someone who doesn’t mind this sort of content, I found myself taken back. 

Although it does include a hell of a lot of sex, Crystal Rasmussen (otherwise known as Tom Glitter) explores everything from being extremely poor, awful jobs, homophobic abuse, love, friendships and the fashion and media industries. What I found great about this book was that Crystal does not hold back, and really attempts to allow the reader to experience the extremely bad times, as well as the magical times. 

There are a lot of ups and downs for our Crystal, and I have to say I admire her determination and thick skin. But I guess she had to be determined and definitely thick-skinned to get through life and the opportunities that life has thrown her way. Perhaps had she not been as strong-willed as she was, she wouldn’t be where she is now. I also love that this isn’t a kind of ‘coming of age’ book. Crystal doesn’t finish the book in a better place than where she started. Although some things have changed for the better and she has just about to get onto the scene, there is still progress to be made, and the same could be said for the LGBTQIA+ community itself. 

If this book did anything, it educated me on the daily struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community. It opened my eyes to the abuse and violence experienced by those who are queer and how they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t most of the time. It broke my heart that these people aren’t allowed to be their true selves because they fear the violence and abuse that would follow if they did. Crystal frequently discusses the fact that if she is travelling on public transport, she will avoid travelling in drag as the stares, the comments, the side looks, the abuse…it’s just not worth it. How sad. I can’t even imagine what this would feel like. 

“If to be in love means to be human garbage, then love can come and collect me, crush me whole, and dump me in a landfill. I’m done being recycled.”

Crystal talks a lot about queer relationships and how they can be anything people want them to be. Apparently, according to Crystal, queer relationships are often more open to open relationships and that monogamous relations are both difficult and not desired. She also opened my eyes to the clubs and places in the UK and around the world that allow queer people to action their sexual desires in a safe environment. I couldn’t believe that these places still exist today and in a way, I’m proud that they have withstood the test of time. 

What I find most interesting about this book is Crystal’s experience within the fashion and media industries. She is frequently battling the desire to want to be involved in these industries with the constant degrading from the powerful people above her. She is frequently pretending she is someone else just to fit in, and the one time she speaks up against something she doesn’t agree with, she is quickly and efficiently escorted off the premises to be replaced with someone else who will attempt to abide by the rules and ultimately struggle with the same battle.

The stories and topics that Crystal was given to write about made me giggle and roll my eyes. Instead of focusing on the real problems in society, these fashion magazines were more interested in the unimportant, minuscule aspects of life such as hair bands and shoes. No wonder Crystal got sick of using her talent for these types of articles. 

I enjoyed the book, even though it made me blush for the most part. I love that Crystal is a northerner and it shows in her way of never holding back the truth and always giving more detail than needed. Being a northerner myself, I am often never afraid to hold back the truths about all my experiences, and I admire Crystal for doing so too. Yet sometimes, I couldn’t decide if I liked her or not. In some parts she is annoying, self-obsessed and over dramatic. Yet since finishing this book, I’ve realised that perhaps this is part of her act and isn’t everyone self-obsessed and dramatic from time to time. I guess I would be too if I was publishing my own journal. 

Sam Smith named this the ‘gay bible’ and I guess that is exactly what it is; however its not just for queer people. I think the book is fabulous for those who are not part of the LGBTQIA+ community (like myself) as it allows us to understand the experiences of queer people. It allows us the opportunity to understand what love and relationships look like in the LGBTQIA+ community and more importantly, it opens our eyes to the horrific experiences that many face on a daily basis just for being gay. I think it is a vital book for everyone to read no matter what your gender, sexuality or colour is, in the hope that through understanding, change can be made. 

“Turns out your twenties is perhaps about learning that the things you wanted aren’t really ever what you thought they might be.

A Diary of A Drag Queen

Rating: 4 out of 5.

2020: Half-Year Round Up

I must confess, although I am not a Booktuber myself, I love watching Booktuber’s videos and the other day, I watched A Nerdy Book Birdy tackle the Mid Year Freak Book Tag.

So I thought it would be a great idea to recap on the first half of the year and answer some of the questions featured in the book tag.

So far in 2020, I have read 40+ books and I have enjoyed the majority of them. I think there has only been a select few that I have had to DNF or just didn’t enjoy. Below are some ones that have stuck in my mind!

Best Book I’ve Read So Far This Year:

Easily Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield. The storytelling in this book is something I have never experienced before and the whole time that I was reading this book, it felt like I was included on some crazy, magical secret. It was phenomenal.

Best Sequel I Have Read So Far This Year:

I have to admit, I am more of a stand-alone type of girl and therefore, I don’t tend to read many series or sequels.

Now I know that TBSAS isn’t actually a sequel, I am including this book here because I have bought it this year and I intend to read it.

A New Release That I Haven’t Read Yet:

I waited four years for this book to be released and I STILL haven;’t got round to reading it. What are you doing Jess??

The book is gorgeous and Sue Monk Kidd is one of my favourite authors so I must get round to reading this book soon!

Most Anticipated Release For The Second Half of The Year:

Again, Yaa Gyasi is one of my favourite authors, someone I actually had the pleasure of meeting a few years back when I ran a university book club with my best friend.

Her novel Homecoming is one of the best books I have ever read (I’m sure I’ve probably recommended it to you at some point) and I hope that Transcendent Kingdom will be just as good.

Biggest Disappointment of 2020:

Now, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book and as much as I ADORE Bookstagram, unfortunately for me, the hype ruined this book for me.

I was left wanting SO much more from this book and even thought that was probably intentional by the author, I still would have liked it to live up to the hype it got across Bookstagram and Twitter.

Biggest Surprise of 2020:

This was my first read of 2020 and my god, wasn’t it a great one. For those who haven’t read this marvellous book yet, I advise that you go away now and buy it.

It is phenomenal and had me genuinely terrified from only a few chapters in. I even had to make sure I didn’t sleep with my door open in fear of what was in this book would come crawling out.

Alex North’s next book The Shadow Friend is out later this year and I cannot wait!

New Favourite Author:

My new favourite author has to be Taylor Jenkins Reid. I have read two of her books this year and have fallen in love with both of them.

One being the magnificent Daisy Jones & The Six which I have to say, I could read that book over and over again and still fall in love every. single. time.

A Book That Made Me Cry:

Where The Crawdads Sing is a book that I went in to not knowing what it was about and my god, I’m so glad I picked up a copy now.

The book itself it beautifully written but it was the story that has stuck with me since finishing it. The wonderful story about Kya, her strength, determination and uniqueness is one that broke my heart in two. It is also one where I happy cried at the end.

A Book That Made Me Happy:

I read The Flatshare as the first book for Beth’s Book Club and I loved it. It was one of those where I was completely hooked on Tiffy and Leon’s stories and I was gutted when I finished the book.

I loved the ending though and if you haven’t read this yet, I would definitely recommend.

The Most Beautiful Book I Have Bought So Far This Year:

I mean look at it! So gorgeous!

I actually got the signed edition from Waterstones and the pages have actually been coloured this lovely deep red colour. Honestly, I think it may be too beautiful to read!

Favourite Members of The Book Community: 

Here are some of my favourite Bookstagram accounts, so go give them some love, you won’t regret it!

Lucy @ Drafted Dreams

Molly @ Molly’s Book Club

Sophie @ Our Women’s Writes

Eva @ Eva’s Book Corner

Charley @ The Bibliomaniac

Lauren @ Lauren E Reads

Georgia @ Georgia Does Books

Veronika @ Veronika’s Volumes

Em @ Books & Burgs

Megan @ Behind Her Books Blog

Jen @ A Bookish Scientist

REVIEW: Frankissstein

“My creator will not be a madman. He will be a visionary. A man with a family and friends. Dedicated to his work. I will take him to the brink and make him leap. I will show his glory as well as his horror. I will call him Victor Frankenstein.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

I was actually made aware of this book by Molly @ Molly’s Book Club, when she unboxed Frankissstein in one of her daily book mail unboxings. I was aware that for Pride Month, I wanted to read some queer lit, and I love a good modern retelling of an old classic, so this book definitely fit the bill.

What Did I Think?

OK, first of all…WHAT A BOOK. There are many things that this book left me thinking about. During the days spent reading it, and for many days afterwards, I was constantly in discussion with myself, my boyfriend, my friends and basically anyone who would listen, about the topics explored in this novel. I don’t think there was a topic about modern society that Jeanette Winterson left untouched. 

Frankissstein follows two narratives throughout the book; one being Mary Shelley (both pre- and post-Frankenstein), as well as Ry who is a transgender character. Mary was born as a woman but identified more with being a man, and therefore had the breasts removed. The lower part of the body was left as it was, which sparks A LOT of debate within the book about masculinity and whether you need a penis to identify as a ‘real’ or ‘true’ man. I found this debate extremely intriguing and it certainly gave me a deeper understanding of the transgender community and how society has this constant need to want to name people and feelings into a certain box and to keep it that way. 

The story, as with Shelley’s Frankenstein, raises a lot of questions regarding humanity. The character of Ry is a doctor who is helping his AI-obsessed and tech genius friend, Vic Stein, with numerous projects surrounding robots, the human body and death.

“Is his story the result of his madness or the cause?”

Vic Stein (much like Victor Frankenstein) is seemingly obsessed with bringing the dead back to life. When we meet him in the book, he is researching a lot about brain stimulation, and with that comes a whole load of interesting debates on the human body and life, especially in the terms of technology. Vic Stein seems to want to play God, much like Mary’s Victor Frankenstein did. 

Some discussions raised in the book scared me a little, as it highlighted that technological advancements over the previous decades have been monumental in changing how we live today, so what does this mean for our future? Will robots become ordinary elements in our everyday lives? How will that affect employment? If you think about it, factories look a hell of a lot different to how they did only a few years ago, and one thing is for sure…there’s less human resource needed. See what I mean about raising questions? 

What I think is masterful is that this book is disturbing for its time, just like Frankenstein was when it was published in 1817. This book has all the gothic elements that Frankenstein itself had; the spiders, the walking hands, the dissected bodies, the underground, storms etc. You name it, Frankissstein has got it. I think this is superb from Jeanette Winterson and shows her in-depth understanding of how the questions raised by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein are still relevant to today’s society. These questions are raised in both narratives, even though they are completely different eras and stories, showing once again that the humanity question is timeless. 

It is believed that Mary Shelley suffered with the concept of life and death all the way through her life, and Jeanette Winterson does an excellent job in portraying this. From the death of her mother after her birth, to the loss of children at an early age, Mary Shelley’s story is encapsulated brilliantly and now my heart will always have a place for Mary. 

“But now all I see is the fragility of bodies; these caravans of tissue and bone. At Peterloo, if every man could have sent his mind and left his body at home, there could have been no massacre. We cannot hurt what is not there.”

Being from Manchester, like Winterson, I loved the references to Manchester history. From the underground NATO city that lies beneath Manchester, to the discussions around the Peterloo massacre, it is refreshing to see the North’s history being featured and promoted. Manchester is known for its role in the industrial revolution, football and music, but there is SO much more to know about this great Northern powerhouse, which Winterson so brilliantly demonstrates. 

Overall, I incredibly enjoyed this book and I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a book that questions your current way of thinking. Be careful though, once you start reading, your mind will take on a thousand questions at once, and you may find yourself wanting to discuss the topics raised in this book with anyone who will listen, so here is your warning! 

Frankissstein

Rating: 5 out of 5.

REVIEW: Our Stop

“Nadia didn’t believe in soulmates so much as she believed that some people were simply worth making the effort for, and it was about finding the one willing to work as hard as she would to have something special.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

This book was Beth’s Book Club pick for May/June, and I’m making a promise to myself that every book picked for that book club, I will read. Even if its a genre I don’t tend to usually go for. All the books I have read for that book club have been fantastic (even some 5 stars!) so I am determined to keep going.

What Did I Think?

OK, first of all I am and aren’t a fan of cheesy rom-coms. Yes, you read that right. I have to be in the right mood for them, but one thing they do offer is a nice change if I have been reading hard, disturbing books (because I there’s nothing more I love that a great controversial or thrilling book).

So cheesy rom-coms aren’t usually my thing but I enjoyed Our Stop. I devoured it in under two days as the chapters are short and I was desperate to see when and how the two protagonists would meet.

If you haven’t heard of this book before, basically, Daniel and Nadia catch the same train most days and Daniel took a chance to reach out to Nadia by writing to her in the Missed Connections section of the newspaper. They end up exchanging a few short letters to each other to try and meet, but life gets in the way and they are frequently (and unknowingly) at the same places throughtout the book but due to things going wrong or getting in the way, they frustratingly miss each other every time by a slight second!

Laura Jane Williams (LJW)’s debut novel is a good, old fashioned love story and I really enjoyed the modern elements of the story. Sometimes you could tell she was trying perhaps a little too hard to make this story modern and relevant for its time, but I still enjoyed it and it made me giggle in some parts.

What I really liked in this book is how modern masculinity is portrayed. Now, I’m all for women’s rights and equality of the sexes, but hear me out here. What LJW does wonderfully well is exploring how masculinity has changed during modern times. She frequently uses the character of Daniel to showcase the ways in which it is perhaps difficult for men to know where they stand when it comes to dating, when female power is on the rise. I have never seen it from the male point of view and I think LJW does an excellent job of exploring dating and relationships from the perspective of a man who is a feminist.

One event where this is evident particularly stays in my mind and that is when Daniel has just read a dating book for women and decides to test out some of the advice given. He tries to initiate a conversation with two women in the lunch queue at work, and they are simply unimpressed by his attempt; branding him as a weirdo and giving him strange looks as they walk away.

I did enjoy this book but it is very cheesy in some parts. If you’re in the mood to read chick-lit, this is definitely one I recommend. Especially with the ending being completely and utterly magical! I wish I had read this when I was single, as it probably would have restored my faith in humanity and ensured me that fate is in fact very real.

Our Stop

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pride Month: I Asked My Followers For Recommendations And Here Is What They Said

I recently asked my Instagram followers to recommend their favourite LGBTQ+ books and a lot of you asked me to share the answers!

So listed here are the most popular answers that people gave, and I hope they will help you find some great queer fiction to read during Pride Month! Don’t forget to get involved with this celebration of all things love this month!

Boy Erased – Garrard Conley

The son of a Baptist pastor and deeply embedded in church life in small town Arkansas, as a young man Garrard Conley was terrified and conflicted about his sexuality.

Garrard traces the complex relationships among family, faith, and community. At times heartbreaking, at times triumphant, this memoir is a testament to love that survives despite all odds.

Queen of Coin & Whispers – Helen Corcoran

When Lia, an idealistic queen, falls for Xania, her new spymaster–who took the job to avenge her murdered father–they realise all isn’t fair in love and treason.

When they fall for each other, their love complicates Lia’s responsibilities and Xania’s plans for vengeance. As they’re drawn together amid royal suitors and new diplomats, they uncover treason that could not only end Lia’s reign, but ruin their weakened country. They must decide not only what to sacrifice for duty, but also for each other.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M. Danforth

Cameron Post is now living with her conservative Aunt in small-town Montana, who is determined to ‘correct’ Cameron. Cameron must battle with the cost of being her true-self even if she’s not completely sure who that is.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (which is now also a film) is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.

The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta

This is not about being ready, it’s not even about being fierce, or fearless, IT’S ABOUT BEING FREE.

Michael waits in the stage wings, wearing a pink wig, pink fluffy coat and black heels. One more step will see him illuminated by spotlight.

He has been on a journey of bravery to get here, and he is almost ready to show himself to the world in bold colours. Can he emerge as The Black Flamingo?

Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974.”

So begins the breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and her truly unique family secret, born on the slopes of Mount Olympus and passed on through three generations.

Growing up in 70’s Michigan, Calliope s special inheritance will turn her into Cal, the narrator of this intersex, inter-generational epic of immigrant life in 20th century America.

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

When David meets the sensual Giovanni in a bohemian bar, he is swept into a passionate love affair. But his girlfriend’s return to Paris destroys everything. Unable to admit to the truth, David pretends the liaison never happened – while Giovanni’s life descends into tragedy.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born – a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam – and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity.

Juliet Takes A Breath – Gabby Rivera

Juliet’s head is spinning with questions.
Will her beautiful, chaotic Puerto Rican family still love her when they find out she’s gay?
Will an internship with her favourite author help her understand what kind of feminist she wants to be? And why won’t her girlfriend return her calls?!

In a summer full of queer dance parties, a fling with a motorcycling librarian and intense explorations of sexuality and identity, Juliet’s about to learn what it means to really come out – to the world, to her family, to herself.

Mirror Mirror – Cara Delevingne

Sixteen-year-old friends Red, Leo, Rose, and Naomi are misfits; still figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Life isn’t perfect, but music unites them, and they’re excited about what the future holds for their band, Mirror, Mirror. That is until Naomi vanishes before being pulled unconscious out of the river.

Cara Delevingne, the voice of her generation, explores identity, friendship and betrayal in this gripping and powerful coming-of-age story.

A Ladder to the Sky – John Boyne

John Boyne is one of my favourite authors and this book, along with The Hearts Invisible Furies, is one I’m extremely excited about reading.

If you look hard enough, you will find stories pretty much anywhere. They don’t even have to be your own. Or so would-be-novelist Maurice Swift decides early on in his career.

Once Maurice has made his name, he finds himself in need of a fresh idea. He doesn’t care where he finds it, as long as it helps him rise to the top. Stories will make him famous, but they will also make him beg, borrow and steal. They may even make him do worse.

Enigma Variations – Andre Aciman

From a youthful infatuation with a cabinet maker in a small Italian fishing village, to a passionate yet sporadic affair with a woman in New York, to an obsession with a man he meets at a tennis court, Enigma Variations charts one man’s path through the great loves of his life. 

The Art of Being Normal – Lisa Williamson

Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year 11 is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long.

Lote – Shola von Reinhold

Part of the groundbreaking #TwentyIn2020 programme for Black British writing, LOTE is an exquisite, genre-bending novel set in Scotland.

After discovering a photograph of the forgotten Black modernist poet Hermia Druitt, who ran in the same circles as the Bright Young Things that she adores, Mathilda becomes transfixed and resolves to learn as much as she can about the mysterious figure. Her search brings her to a peculiar artists’ residency in Dun, a small European town Hermia was known to have lived in during the 30s. The artists’ residency throws her deeper into a lattice of secrets and secret societies that takes hold of her aesthetic imagination, but will she be able to break the thrall of her Transfixions?

Poptastic – Victoria Holmes

This is a book I had the pleasure of reading earlier this year and I really enjoyed the story and the characters’ personalities. If you have Kindle Unlimited, this book is free to download.

With the wedding threatening to dominate everything for the rest of the year, a bewildering embrace with a devastatingly attractive pop star offers a welcome distraction. Dating Krisha catapults Julia away from the paltry concerns of dress fittings and hen dos, but it also takes her away from her friends, and directly leads to her most disastrous f**k up yet. Much to her surprise, she discovers that embracing the role she’d accepted so reluctantly might just be exactly what she needs.

REVIEW: Beloved

“But her brain was not interested in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to imagine, let alone plan for, the next day.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

I received a copy of Beloved in the Books That Matter subscription box and I shamefully had never heard of this book or Toni Morrison before. I have been wanting to tick it off my TBR list ever since it arrived and now, with everything going on in the world, I thought it was a better time than ever to read the book that won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature.

What Did I Think?

OK, I’m not going to lie, I struggled with this book. I had an idea of what it was about but as I started reading it, Toni Morrison’s writing style took me completely by surprise. I am lucky to have a copy that features an author’s note at the beginning of the book, and if it wasn’t for the context that Morrison supplied, I think I would have had even less of an idea of what this book is about.

It took me a while to get used to the way that Morrison writes. She says so many things without saying EXACTLY what she means. Morrison used A LOT of metaphors and literary devices to create the unclear narratives of the main characters, and it wasn’t easy for me to understand what was happening. Yet I think that is the beauty of the novel. Morrison gives you just enough and in doing so, enables you to make your own understanding. She enables you to let your own mind interpret what it can.

I had no idea it was a ghost story either. I was very confused about this bit of the narrative because (again) it wasn’t clear if the baby was in fact a ghost or not, as the main characters spoke of the baby as if she was real. Basically, our protagonist Sethe, is haunted by the spirit of her two-year-old daughter, whom she killed. A story inspired by a true event which featured in a newspaper article that Morrison read.

As I was struggling with the book, I reached out to my Instagram followers to see if any of them had read the book themselves and what they thought of the book (hoping that I wasn’t the only one to struggle). I ended up having a lot of interesting conversations with people who, like me, were fascinated by but struggled with Beloved.

One conversation, with fellow book lover Amy @ Prose Amongst Thorns, was specifically interesting as she introduced the genre of magic realism, in which Beloved sits. Amy told me she had written an assignment on magic realism in literature and explained to me how the spiritual aspects of the story work to highlight important historical observations about the ever-present trauma of American enslavement. As Dr. Kara Johnson @ The Newberry explains, ‘the magical realist genre could be utilised to pronounce even further and lay bare the horrifying historical realities of slavery, as well as their haunting echoes in post-Emancipation America’.

This therefore helps the book to make more sense. The unusual aspects of the story was completely intentional by Morrison, to help readers understand the unusual position of ’emancipated’ Black slaves in America. Black slaves had their identity taken away and replaced with the White American xenophobic status. They were then ‘freed’ from slavery and cast out into a community where they felt like they didn’t belong and a community that was also riddled with the aftermath of slavery. So Morrison does a fabulous job of helping the reader understand this feeling by placing them in a narrative that is muddled and chaotic; much like the experience of the Black community.

I did enjoy the novel but it really tested my reading ability. I’m glad to tick it off the list but it was one I really had to try with. I wish I had studied it at University so I could hear a lecture on it and to discuss it in a seminar. Ahhhh, to relive those uni days!

“I used to think to think it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do. But it’s not. Places, places are still there. If a house burns down, it’s gone, but the place–the picture of it–stays.”

Beloved

Rating: 3 out of 5.

BLOG TOUR: The Jane Austen Society

Today I’m thrilled to be joining the blog tour for newly published The Jane Austen Society! Having won and been nominated for so many awards already, its no wonder everyone has been waiting the arrival of this highly acclaimed historical fiction novel.

About The Book

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

What Did I Think?

Being a great lover of classics, I love a good modern spin-off. I had high expectations for this book, yet I was unaware of the full story.

There are some really honest and relatable characters in this book and you can really feel the emotion of the post-WW2 era around the town of Chawton. Most characters, in some way, have been affected by the aftermath of such a devastating war, and the way Natalie Jenner uncovers and explores different types of grief is truly outstanding.

I really enjoyed the concept of fighting to save elements of English history, especially when it drives so much tourism to a small part of England. It amazed me how when I read this book, I was immediately transported into the midst of 1940s England.

There is also an audiobook version of this book available, read by actor Richard Armitage, which I can imagine offers you the chance to fully immerse yourself in the town of Chawton. To listen to an excerpt of the audiobook click here.

About the Author

Natalie Jenner

Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry.

She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

The Jane Austen Society is her debut novel, which has been published by St Martins Press.

Changing The World One Book At A Time With The Secondhand Bookshelf

If you’re anything like me, there is nothing better than a book subscription box! There are a lot of small businesses out there doing really inspiring and powerful things when it comes to books and one of them is The Secondhand Bookshelf. 

The Secondhand Bookshelf allows our old books to have a new lease of life by providing one-off book subscription boxes that can be ordered once every quarter. Each box contains a preloved secondhand book, which has either been donated by a fellow book lover or picked up in a local charity shop. Each box also includes some beautiful sustainable items which have been handmade with love by talented local artists. 

The Secondhand Bookshelf also specialises in recycled stationery, ethical bookish gifts and books about slow living and mindfulness, so you can be sure that all your bookish needs are met in a sustainable manner. 

They also offer you the chance to have a blind date with a pre-loved secondhand book in which a novel will be hand-wrapped with some intriguing clues on what the book is about featured on the front! All of these items are available on their website, so please do go and check out what is on offer! 

This fabulous business allows those who want to ensure they are making a positive impact on the planet to take that initial step, one book at a time. I had the opportunity to discuss everything secondhand books and blind dates with the owner, Giv…

What inspired you to create The Secondhand Bookshelf? 

The short answer: my passion for books and my love for purchasing things secondhand. 

The slightly longer story: It was a complete ‘spur-of-the-moment’ and ‘why-on-earth-have-I-not-done-this-before kind of decision. I work in the e-commerce department of a company that sells calendars, stationery and gift and while that role is so much fun, I’ve always toyed with the idea of having something that is completely my own. I have always loved connecting with people online and bringing them closer to the products they love, but I did question myself a lot and wondered what I could bring to the table that is different to what’s already out there.

During the last year, I watched a colleague pack up her things and go self-employed, and I thought, there has to be something similar that I can do, too! I wasn’t quite as bold as her and still work full-time next to the Secondhand Bookshelf, but it made me think about the things I could possibly achieve. The idea of being in charge of my very own online shop kept growing on me and in the end, I simply couldn’t resist!

I have always been passionate about books and reading, and so, it seemed natural to strive for a product that would incorporate that! I loved the idea of book subscription boxes but often felt that a lot of the gift merchandise included would only lie around and gather dust (at least in my case!). I loved the idea of book blind dates and the surprising and joyous effect they can have on others, and I am a passionate advocate for buying things secondhand, so it just seemed to make sense to combine these aspects! I thought I can’t be the only one that enjoys these things, but I also hadn’t seen something like that around, so I felt like I was entering a niche not many had explored yet.

So, all in all, the Secondhand Bookshelf was born out of the idea to create something meaningful. Something that lets others remember how important it is to slow down and take a minute for themselves in this hectic and fast world. And something that emphasises the small changes we can make and shows that living a greener life can be simpler than we think.

Why is it important to you that all your products are ethical and sustainable? 

This will sound rather extreme in the first moment, but there is only one planet we can currently live on and we should, therefore, take care of it as best as we possibly can. 

We already consume so much, and whether we like it or not, that is to some degree hurting the environment and the people around us (think fast fashion, etc.). Unfortunately, no product can ever be 100% ethical or sustainable – that’s simply not possible. The only ethical or sustainable product there is, is the one you didn’t buy in the first place.

However, by choosing to only purchase more ethical and more sustainable items, we’re trying to show that there are other options out there, that you maybe weren’t even aware of. When you do decide that you need a new bookmark, for example, we want you to consider the impact this will have on the environment and the workers who produce the products and so on.

What makes The Secondhand Bookshelf book subscription box unique? 

The most distinctive aspect is probably that we choose secondhand books rather than brand new books. Why should millions of books go to waste, when they could offer someone else the pleasure you experienced when you read that book for the first time? Also, new books can be quite expensive, and some people simply may not be able to afford much, so secondhand books offer an accessible way to enjoy literature nevertheless.

And then when we think of traditional book boxes, it is common that each theme or release features the same book and gifts. At the Secondhand Bookshelf, however, each book is tailored to the person the box is for, making it a truly unique experience every time. You won’t know which book you will be receiving and also, you will be the only person receiving that title in particular.

I think what else makes the Secondhand Bookshelf unique is how closely we work with local makers and small businesses. As a new and small business ourselves, we know what it can mean to support each person involved in a company, brand or business. And what really makes us happy is when we know that our order might cause someone to perform a little happy dance!

What genre of books do you offer? 

Everything and anything! We don’t limit the choice we offer but do ask customers to give us some ideas regarding their preferences when they place their order. We ask for things like favourite genres and authors to get an idea of who we’re choosing a book for, and in 99% of the cases, we always find something that that person will like and enjoy! 

Our choice of books is also strongly dependent on the variety available in the charity shops, as this is where we mainly shop for secondhand books! At this point, I would also like to add, if you do have any books that you would like to give a new home, please get in touch – we’re always on the lookout for pre-loved books and rely on donations and our charity shop finds to offer the best secondhand books available.

I love your Meet The Maker feature on your website, how do you pick the local artists you work with? 

Thank you so much! It was incredibly important for us, not just to include small businesses in the subscription boxes, but to also show who is actually responsible for packing your orders and replying to your messages. It’s been so much fun to talk to different makers and to hear their stories!

At first, we try to think of products that match the season we’re planning for and that we would like to feature in the box. Then we start to cast out the net and search for local businesses and makers that produce the things we are looking for, and that involves lots of browsing on Etsy! Often, we also stumble upon makers while browsing social media and looking for inspiration. The internet is a great place full of wonderful makers if you know where and what to look for!

Do you have any plans to launch other bookish gifts? 

We choose selected products from our boxes to be featured in the shop, too, but at the moment we mainly focus on the single book blind dates and subscription boxes. 

One thing we are looking at, however, is making an actual subscription service available. This may seem a little confusing, but at the moment, we sell the boxes on a one-off purchase basis as we weren’t sure how popular this idea would be. In the future (soon, fingers crossed!) we would love to offer an array of subscription options ranging from 3 to 12-months.

We’re always open for new ideas, so please do get in touch at shop@theliterarytraveller.co.uk if you would like to work with us.

The Secondhand Bookshelf is dedicated to making vital changes in the way we shop and consume products, and if this is something you are also passionate about, be sure to check them out on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

For all my lovely followers, Giv has kindly created a coupon code for us, which ensures 10% off any order over £25 (excluding sale items)! The code is STUCKINTHEBOOK10 so be sure to check out what they have to offer! I received my first box today and I couldn’t be more happier with all the beautiful gifts inside, and my secondhand book was one I’ve been wanting to read for SO long! You do not want to miss out on this little treat to yourself!

BLOG TOUR: Everything To Lose

‘Scientists claim their new sports drug will boost the performance of every athlete in the world. The Lambeth Group send scientist, Gavin Shawlens, to investigate the claim. The product is stolen, top athletes disappear, and the research team are unaware that their product has a dangerous side effect. Gavin must stop the sports drug launch before more people die.

When Gavin disappears – Zoe Tampsin searches frantically to find him before he becomes the next victim. As if Zoe hasn’t got enough on her plate. Past events in Gavin’s life catch up with him. A powerful US general decides that Gavin must die to prevent exposure of a 60-year old secret capable of world-changing and power-shifting events. The chase is on…’ 

Why Did I Read This Book?

I was recently approached by Emma Welton at Damp Pebbles Blog Tours to see if I fancied reading a copy of Everything To Lose and to see if I would like to join the blog tour! I love participating in blog tours, so the more the merrier!

What Did I Think?

Everything To Lose is actually part of a wider book series I believe, and I’m saddened that I’m only just joining the series! The Lambeth Group books follow the secret government investigations of agent Zoe Tampsin; a strong female protagonist with courage, determination, and guile. If the other six books in the series are as action-packed as this one, we are in for a treat.

Lambeth Group is a secret department of the British government with the responsibility of protecting the country. Agent Zoe Tampsin is everything you want from a strong female protagonist; resourceful, brave and tough. She is tasked with the job to look after scientist, Gavin Shawlens, who whilst battling his own grief, is investigating a performance-enhanced drug which seems unbelievably too good. Shawlens is also strongly disliked by some powerful and dangerous people, who will not stop until he is dead. That is where our girl, Zoe comes to the rescue.

What I loved about this book is the character dynamic. Shawlens is the fact and figures guy; analysing everything down to a T. Zoe on the other hand, has the skills but she doesn’t have Shawlens brains. She needs his expertise in this arena to complete her mission, and for two charismatic characters, they complement each other very well (obviously not without some bumps in the road at first, of course!)

This book has everything you need from an action-packed novel, and then more! Credit to the author for creating a story that is filled to the brim with exhilarating and edge-of-your-seat action. If anything, this book has made me want to go and read the other books in the series, to see what other missions Zoe Tampsin can complete!

About The Author: Gordon Bickerstaff

Gordon was born and brought up in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied biochemistry, and worked in several Scottish universities where he did research on enzymes and taught biochemistry. After thirty years of teaching and research, he retired his academic pen and instead picked up a mightier fiction pen. 

He currently lives in central Scotland with his wife and they both enjoy reading, writing, and walking in the hills.

Special thanks to Emma Welton at Damp Pebbles Blog Tours for organising the blog tour, as well as author Gordon Bickerstaff, and publisher Histameen for providing me with a copy!

Books To Help You Kickstart Your Love of Running

Ahhh running. Some of us love it, some of us loathe it. Some of us have never even tried it. I can relate to you all. There was a time a few years ago when running was my only exercise and I became OBSESSED with going for an evening run after a full day of studying. It gave me that moment to turn my brain off and let my legs take me on a little journey around the block. Now I think about it, running (or any type of exercise really) is a great way to save your mental health.

Some of you may have been using your 1 hour outside the house to find your love of running. Maybe some of you have never run before lockdown and now you have all the gear; the trainers, the phone armband, the watch, the tracking apps etc.

So if you are currently loving your new hobby or you perhaps need a little push to get motivated again, here are my best picks of books about running that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Jog On and Running Like A Girl have especially helped me, but hopefully there will be some books here that will help you too.

Jog On: How Running Saved My Life – Bella Mackie

Divorced and struggling with deep-rooted mental health problems, Bella Mackie explains, with hilarious honesty, how she managed to get her life back by pulling on a pair of trainers and going for a run.

What I love about this book is that Bella tells the story of someone who has never run before and it is refreshing to see how she deals with the high and lows of being a ‘runner’.

Running Like A Girl – Alexandra Heminsley

Defeated by gyms and bored of yoga, Alexandra Heminsley decided to go for a run. Six years later, she has run five marathons in two continents. But, as her dad says, you run with your head as much as with your legs. So, while this is a book about running, it’s not just about running.

This book highlights that although there may be some days when the world is against you, you can still achieve more than you ever thought possible if you have the right mindset.

Born To Run – Christopher McDougall

McDougall tells this story while asking what the secrets are to being an incredible runner. Travelling to labs at Harvard, Nike, and elsewhere, he comes across an incredible cast of characters that will demonstrate the strength of the human body.

At the heart of this book lies a story about a mysterious tribe of Mexican Indians, the Tarahumara, who live quietly in canyons and are reputed to be the best distance runners in the world. McDougall explores their secrets, as well as getting involved in a 50-mile run!

Running With Kenyans – Adharanand Finn

After years of watching Kenyan athletes win the world’s biggest long-distance races, Runner’s World contributor Adharanand Finn set out to discover what it was that made them so fast – and to see if he could keep up.

Packing up his family, he moved to the running capital of the world, and started investigating. Was it running barefoot to school, the food, the altitude, or something else? I love this book because it explores a whole different culture and way of life, in which running is a vital element.

Epic Runs of The World – Lonely Planet

This book is basically a runner’s companion. It features 50 of the world’s greatest running routes – from short city runs to must-do marathons, as well as courses around the globe for runners of all abilities.

There was a time where I would have loved to travel the world to participate in running events, and this book allows me to do so from the comfort of my own home. And the pictures inside are MINDBLOWING!

Just as an end note, most of these authors have also written additional books about running and sport, so if you read one of these and enjoy it, make sure you see what other books they have to offer too!

Happy running!